Suzie Jacobs is passionate about helping her dairy community create a positive narrative for the future.

Living the last 10 years in Ballendella, near Lockington in northern Victoria, Suzie wants to “plant the seeds of possibility” to enable the community in times of challenge.

“From challenges, comes opportunities,” she said.

“I want to share that mindset. I want to help the community build capacity and resilience to change; to seek alternatives which help keep the community alive and vibrant.”

Suzie said Lockington was a “wonderful, proactive community” which had faced its share of adversity: drought, flood, low milk prices, diminishing number of family farms, and now COVID-19.

Suzie has planted her own “seeds of possibility” by undertaking diplomas and a leadership program to increase her ability to do more for her community and dairy industry.

Describing herself as a “natural introvert”, the mother of three is glad she stepped out of her comfort zone to participate in the 2020 Loddon Murray Community Leadership program (LMCLP).

“I applied for the program for personal growth, to become the best person for me and my community,” she said.

Sponsored by Gardiner Dairy Foundation, Suzie has found the leadership program “life-changing”.

“As I drove away from the opening retreat in February, I said goodbye to my inner critic and welcomed my inner coach,” she said.

Suzie said a common theme for effective leadership was the importance of self-reflection and appreciation of other people’s communication styles.

More self aware

“I am a lot more self-aware. A lot of the presenters have spoken about leaders needing to know themselves.

“Now that I am starting to understand myself, I can work on leading my community through change.”

Suzie, who is East Loddon Food Share Program vice president, has learned to understand and value her innate style of leadership.

“I see myself as a seed planter. I am not a person who leads from the front, I push from behind,” she said.

While employed as Rural Aid community representative last year, Suzie encouraged rural communities to apply for the Tens Town Makeover, a $100,000 grant for town development.

“I promoted the grant in a lot of towns, but not everybody was interested,” Suzie said.

“I went into a business community meeting in Lockington and told them about the grant, and they applied.”

To Suzie’s delight, Lockington Business Group was among Australia’s 10 successful grant recipients.

Grant success

“When Lockington received the grant, the business community was so thankful to me, and I said ‘I didn’t achieve this, you did all the work; you submitted the application, I just gave you the idea.’ ”

Prior to the Rural Aid role, Suzie and her husband were three years into operating a dairy farm in the region when the 2016 milk price crisis hit. They made a business decision four years later to cease operation.

“Our business was in its infancy, so it was quite hard,” Suzie said.

“I looked at it as we didn’t fail, but what could we do better?”

For Suzie, doing better was advocating and supporting farmers through Rural Aid.

Now she plans to support her community in more ways through the lessons learned in the LMCLP.

Gardiner Foundation supports leadership opportunities for people working in the industry and in dairy communities because the vibrancy and health of dairy communities is as important as what happens on farm or in milk factories.

While the leadership program has moved online due to COVID restrictions, Suzie continues to be inspired by the diversity of presenters, topics and participants in the program.

She said she is “embracing every opportunity” to build her confidence, leadership skills and networks with the aim of inspiring her community to also “seek opportunities”.

“The leadership program has opened my mind,” Suzie said.

“I feel so empowered. I want to empower others.”