Greg Cole entertained the idea of doing a community leadership program for 15 years before “the timing felt right”.

In hindsight, he said “prioritising time” for Gippsland Community Leadership Program (GCLP) would have been valuable while growing businesses, parenting and community volunteering.

However, he is equally grateful at 52-years-old for his leadership development and networking within the 2021-22 GCLP cohort.

“I am now a more measured and considered leader,” Greg, who was sponsored by Gardiner Foundation, said.

“I would recommend the course to any potential and current leader. It’s a great program for anyone who wants to make a difference in their community.”

“I have a passion for Gippsland and helping unlock its potential, whilst securing the future of agribusiness for generations to come,” Greg said of his motivation to do GCLP.

“There were so many highlights; one of the biggest was building friendships with 26 people (aged 22 to late 50s) who were like-minded in wanting to develop leadership skills.

“I expanded my network of people and organisations beyond my patch of Gippsland, while becoming a better leader for my staff, family and community.”

Among the tangible outcomes for Greg was transferring the program’s session on the ‘Above and Below the Line’ pyramid into his every-day life − and implementing as a business policy.

Heartbreak to hope

Another highlight of the regional leadership program was Greg’s syndicate’s community project Heartbreak to Hope; a published collection of East Gippslanders’ stories in the wake of drought, bushfires and COVID restrictions.

Greg’s syndicate – dubbed ‘Keeping Up with the Jones’ after 2017 GCLP alumnus and mental health advocate Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey – collated and edited the 150-page fundraising book.

The five-member group raised $45,000 to print 1000 copies, with all proceeds from sales ($75 each) supporting mental health services at Bush Nursing Centres in East Gippsland.

Designed and printed by a local business, the book features heartbreaking and soul-warming recollections of the region’s 2016-19 drought, 2019-20 bushfires, and the impact of COVID-19 on recovery.

“When COVID hit in March 2020, not long after the fires, our communities were separated and hadn’t had a chance to get together and tell their stories,” Greg said.

Heartbreak to Hope gave people a chance to get things off their chest. Some of the feedback we’ve been getting has been amazing.”

On receiving their copy, one storyteller said: “Beyond the fundraising effort…It’s allowed people to say their piece, from their perspective, without interruption, and outside of the kinds of echo chambers that can form after big and challenging events.

“So for me, to read others’ stories, even those who are in more of an official capacity, has helped me to get a broader sense of what was happening at the time and why it impacted me the way it did. Beyond that, why other people responded the way they did.”

Perhaps the “profound” legacy of Heartbreak to Hope means the “time was right” for Greg to finally join the GLCP.

“There were some amazing stories,” he said. “I didn’t expect the outcome or the feeling it created. I’m really proud we did this project.”

To apply for a place in a Gardiner sponsored Community Leadership Program in 2023, visit or email Richard Meredith at

For more information or to order a copy of Heartbreak to Hope, visit