Gippsland dairy farmer Lauren Finger was told that if she was going to apply for one leadership program, Australian Rural Leadership Program should be it.
As she nears completion of the 15-month program, that advice has proven to be spot on. "I was told the program would be a life-changing experience and it has lived up to expectations," she said.
The Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) has taken Mrs Finger across Australia and beyond and has inspired her to continue forging a path as an emerging dairy industry leader.
She was supported by the Gardiner Dairy Foundation, which sponsors a Victorian dairy applicant each year.
Mrs Finger, her husband, Simon, and their eight staff run two farms while raising their children Matthew, 10, Claire, 9 and Rachael, 7.
From starting out share-farming 12 years ago with 200 cows, they currently milk 950 Friesian and crossbred cows on their home farm at Yannathan and a second leased farm at Labertouche.
Mrs Finger's mother grew up on a beef farm and even though she lived in the city, Mrs Finger always harboured visions of becoming a farmer.
She has fully embraced the dairy industry and as deputy chair of GippsDairy is keen to further contribute to a positive future for the industry.
The ARLP brings together a group of about 30 people each year and aims to develop stronger leadership within the communities and industries of rural, regional and remote Australia. It takes place over five sessions across Australia and Asia.
Mrs Finger said the program was inspiring, with many great presenters, but much of its success came from learning with and from other participants.
"It's an interesting program; very much about learning by doing," she said. "You're with a group of 30 leaders from a range of industries all connected to rural, regional and remote Australia and you're put you through a diverse range of experiences. You learn from each other and from the situations you experience together."
Mrs Finger found many experiences had parallels with her own situation and could be taken home to apply to family, business, workplace and industry.
She has attended sessions in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, Toowoomba, Qld, Tasmania, and a two-week overseas program to Indonesia to learn about leadership in another country. The final session is in Canberra.
Participants are given challenges to work on in a range of contexts and explore opportunities to become an intuitive leader, able to influence others and build positive relationships.
Mrs Finger said the program gave time for self-reflection. "It brings a much greater level of self-awareness of how your actions and behaviours are perceived and the impact you have on others," she said.
"By observing and working with different leaders, you can use techniques and tips from all of them and similarly you can observe things that might not be so useful. It helped me to be more aware of myself and others; how to get a better understanding of the motivations of others and how I can work with them."
The 15-month program is a big commitment, but Mrs Finger encourages other farmers to apply.
"It is an amazing opportunity. There are very few scholarships of this magnitude and depth," she said.
"I was very fortunate that the Gardiner Dairy Foundation continues to support the program. There is no doubt it is increasing the capabilities of leaders in the dairy industry."
Mrs Finger said dairy farmers could be challenged by the time commitment but she urged them to find a way to make it happen.
"It's a huge program; it ends up about 60 days over 15 months but it's a life-changing opportunity; it's worth the effort," she said.
"You'll be amazed at how people step up to keep the farm running and the benefits are well worth it. It certainly makes me want to give back to the industry that has supported me."
It is an amazing opportunity. There are very few scholarships of this magnitude and depth.
Gardiner Dairy Foundation chief executive Dr Clive Noble said Gardiner's sponsorship of Mrs Finger provided a pathway to develop her natural leadership skills.
"Supporting dairy farmers like Lauren has always been a high focus area for the Gardiner Dairy Foundation," Dr Noble said.
"Lauren has shown strength and determination through all her endeavours and truly embodies the makings of a fantastic leader and asset to the dairy industry.
"We know that with her training through the ARLP, she will continue to make a positive contribution to the industry."
Applications for the 2020 ARLP scholarship are now open and will close on August 30. Victorian dairy farmers interested in applying can visit https://rural-leaders.org.au/our-programs/arlp/ to submit their application.
Contact: Richard Meredith at the Gardiner Dairy Foundation, mobile 0438 553 052, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story first appeared on Australian Dairyfarmer