The Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) doesn’t promise immediate results, but that’s been the experience for the current wine sector participant.
Belinda Chambers says the lessons learned – directly and indirectly – from the first four sessions are already being applied at Lake Moodemere Estate, which she owns and operates with her winemaker husband Michael, and are shaping her thinking about the future of the Australian grape and wine community in general and her beloved Rutherglen in particular.
‘The opportunities to just talk with people, take and give advice, and work on higher-level activities in terms of short, medium and long-term goals, bringing the whole team together with the same passion, is incredibly valuable’, she said.
‘It’s given us some really effective strategies that we are employing in our business and we’ve already seen the difference it makes. Sharing our goals and taking on board the team’s goals to ensure we are all working together, has changed the direction our business will take.’
Of particular value has been the chance to understand different perspectives on an issue close to Belinda’s heart, the responsible consumption of alcohol.
‘There are 5 indigenous participants among the cohort of 33 and it has been interesting to hear first-hand their perspective on alcohol consumption, and there has also been great input from the others. I’ve been surprised by some things and discussed shared concerns that have heightened my sense that this is an area that needs attention.’
Belinda with fellow ARLP participants in the Kimberley
The final session of this year’s course should be valuable in that regard: Canberra, with a focus on political lobbying. Not that Belinda is a novice in the field. She did a fair bit of work behind the scenes on the Wine Equalisation Tax reform in her role as Chair of Winemakers of Rutherglen.
Her term in the Chair expired at the end of 2017, just as the demands of the ARLP were ramping up. Like most participants before her, she has found the program both physically and mentally challenging.
In the Kimberley, they undertook a range of activities more akin to a pre-season football camp (think caving, abseiling and night treks) that required teamwork and planning to ensure everyone pulled through. As a result, Belinda says, she has made a number of lifelong friends.
In Toowoomba and Brisbane, they combined media training with a focus on personality assessment, while in Cairns they spent a week listening to inspirational speakers and working together on a major initiative to affect rural, regional and remote Australia.
‘I found Cairns one of my most difficult sessions mainly because of the combination of a lot of really strong personalities. The course is for established leaders so you’re working with people who are quite commanding and used to being in charge and you all have to pull together. Even finding a common goal was a challenge.’
The fourth session took in three cities in Indonesia, with the focus on cross-cultural negotiations.
Belinda in the fields in Bandung, Indonesia
Throughout the program, Belinda has been able to bring her experiences to the table to get colleagues from other industries thinking. Even more importantly she has benefited from exchanges of ideas that has resulted in a change of her approach in the wine sector and her own workplace.
‘The wine sector is probably more sophisticated than some others in terms of working together constructively, getting our product recognised and extending into export markets. In those ways there are participants who have an interest in learning from my sector experience.
‘Our business spans the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors so that’s different as well. We’re also in hospitality and there has been interest in how we bring all those factors together to manage them in one business.
‘There are a lot of interesting conversations had from all perspectives. As a result of my experience in the ARLP I have good friends throughout Australia with a wide diversity of industry and cultural experience.’
Belinda’s participation in the ARLP is sponsored by Wine Australia.