By Sarah Collier

Investing in emerging leaders and fostering regional leadership programs is important to creating  sustainable and profitable regions. Leadership Great South Coast, an annual community leadership program, plays a pivotal role in building the capabilities of people working in the dairy industry and beyond.

Claudia Klunker, who currently works on a 1,000-cow dairy farm in Warrnambool as a calf rearer, recently completed the program. Her place was funded by Gardiner Foundation. “It’s an amazing course. I loved to see and experience the different ways community works and connects and what we can do to improve it,” she said.

Originally from Germany, Claudia has been working on farms for fifteen years. “My parents have a dairy and sheep farm in Saxony (Germany) and my mum makes her own cheese. I did an apprenticeship as a dairy farmer, and when I was nineteen I caught a plane to Australia and never looked back,” Claudia said.

One of the primary objectives of the leadership program is to nurture and develop the leadership capabilities of individuals in Southwest Victoria. Strong leadership is essential for navigating the ever-evolving landscape of working in rural Victoria.

Through carefully designed training modules and exposure to real-world challenges through field trips and group projects, the program equips participants with the skills and knowledge necessary to drive positive change in their roles. “The tools they gave us to create a project for the community were amazing,” she said.

An integral aspect of the program is the emphasis on building relationships and networks between businesses, community, and government sectors. These connections not only benefit individual participants but also enhance the overall resilience and adaptability of the dairy industry. “We developed three great projects in the community. One was a food rescue, where we harvested food out of people’s backyards, and then shared them with the community. Volunteers will come in to pick apples for example from someone who can’t do it for themselves anymore. We then share the food with homeless people and anyone in the community who needs it,” she said. “Another project was a farmer’s night out, a mental health project that involved local meals, mental health speakers, comedians and singers. And the last project was centred around climate change and how to improve the environment with a few simple steps.”

Investing in emerging leaders has a flow on effect on the broader community. As program participants grow into leadership roles, they bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and a commitment to sustainability and ethical practices.

“The experiences I had during the course were invaluable. I learned how a community works and how important it is to the regions,” Claudia said.

As participants progress through the program, they gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the region. This awareness motivates them to actively contribute to community development. “The course taught me about structure, time-management, how to talk to people, and to make sure to give feedback and how to give it correctly,” she said. “The leadership course means you can be an everyday leader, it doesn’t mean you have to be a boss. It means to become a better person and lead in life and in your community,” she said.

Anyone can be a leader, no matter their age or circumstances. “It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are. Don’t be afraid. Apply for it. Get to know your community and help. Help bring people together. The course isn’t just about leading but also the community,” she said.

Applications for the Leadership Great South Coast Program are currently open and close 19 October 2023. For more information and to apply please visit