By Sarah Collier

The Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) builds a network of people who are committed to participating in thriving communities and industries across Australia’s regions and communities. Graduates are action-takers and thought leaders.

Aaron Thomas participated in Course 29 with a Gardiner Foundation sponsorship. He grew up in Yarram and the Mornington Peninsula, before moving to Southeast Gippsland in the early nineties.

“The program is an investment that’s coming straight back to the industry tenfold. It’s crucial to rural development and growth. The difference it has made for me personally and professionally has been immense,” Aaron said.

The program challenges participants to grow as leaders, expanding their perspectives and growing their knowledge across Australia and the Asia-Pacific. Over fifteen months, in the most unique learning environments, 30-35 leaders from different backgrounds, industries and communities come together to learn.

During his travels, Aaron noted one theme successful rural communities had in common. “Strong rural leadership is absolutely paramount. From my travels to date with the program, one of the things that happened in every successful community was strong leadership. That includes the aboriginal communities in Galeru Gorge in Western Australia to rural communities in East Gippsland,” he said.

Through immersive experiences, participants elevate their leadership in a collective environment – one that is reflective of our communities. Through lived experience methodology as opposed to class-based coursework, leaders connect and learn in a real-life context.

“Everyone has a different perspective on leadership. I used to think leadership meant leading by example. But after doing the program, I quickly realized that there is a portion of that but a big part of it is the ability to stop and listen and take things on board. And that’s now playing a big role in my leadership style,” Aaron said.

“I really doubted myself and didn’t think the program was the right thing for me. But subconsciously something inside me said you need to do this. I’m so pleased I’ve done it, as it’s changed me in so many ways both professionally and personally. It’s changed who I am. I’ve done a 360 degree turn. It’s been incredible,” Aaron said. “Gardiner has given me an unbelievable opportunity and I hope to make a difference in rural communities.”

Applications for Course 31 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) are now open and close 2 July 2023. For more information and to apply visit the ARLF website.