Rhonda Henry believes leadership growth is a lifelong journey.

As an experienced leader in her profession, the mother of three adult children had reached a life stage where she wanted to broaden her community contribution.

In 2017 the Warrnambool agri-business banker joined the Leadership Great South Coast (LGSC) program, sponsored by Gardiner Dairy Foundation.

“I was already a leader in my profession, but I wanted to explore what was out there to provide me with the opportunity to give back to my community and region after my professional life,” Rhonda said.

While retirement is not on the cards, Rhonda has already built what she learnt from the leadership program into her work and dairy region.”

The impact was immediate: during the program, Rhonda joined WestVic Dairy board, and is now on the executive committee as treasurer. She also chairs meetings of WestVic Dairy’s Risk and Audit Committee.

“Being on the program gave me the confidence to apply and accept the board position,” Rhonda said.

She also joined the LGSC board the next year and was recently elected deputy chair.

“I enjoyed the leadership program so much I didn’t want it to end.

“I feel I have a lot of knowledge and experience to share and I would like to help develop future leaders in the dairy community, the community in which I live, and the banking community.”

Rhonda also volunteers and runs meetings at a local cancer centre.

“The leadership program really opened my eyes about the needs of my community,” she said.

“Even though I have lived here for 50 years, I was focused on my industry and family, so was naïve about other regional issues.

“The program is not only about building leaders in the community but finding out what is in the community.”

For this reason, Rhonda enjoyed the “deep dives” into regional topics which she had little knowledge about, such as issues around law and order, and health.

As a banker of more than 40 years, including the past 15 years in agri-business, Rhonda enjoyed the diversity of the program topics and participants.

“Right from the initial interview, through the opening retreat and our program days, I felt challenged, out of my depth and at the same time total engaged and wanting to know more,” Rhonda said.

“After attending the program days my views and awareness of leadership skills and key issues in our region were turned upside down.”

Among the program days which particularly resonated with Rhonda, were the sustainability and eco-tourism sessions.

The sustainability program day included a visit to Jigsaw Farms, north of Hamilton, to learn how the farm had doubled production and created environmental benefits by becoming carbon positive.

“This day and some of the practices I observed is something I speak about regularly with many of my clients,” Rhonda said.

A waste depot experience on the same day incorporated a bin examination “in 38-degree heat”, which also left a lasting impression on Rhonda to make her home, office and world more sustainable for future generations.

It also helped inspire Rhonda’s idea for a community project, a requirement of each syndicate group within the leadership program.

Her syndicate’s Caffeine Dream project raised regional awareness around the billions of disposable coffee cups filling Australia’s landfills.

The group encouraged cafes to discount coffee for customers with reusable cups, and register with Responsible Cafes, placing them on a mobile-responsive map of participating cafes.

“We gave away free Keep Cups to early adopters and received media coverage to help change behaviour and awareness,” Rhonda said.

She said the eco-tourism program day at Budj Bim National Park and Lake Condah Mission stretched her thinking, awareness and the importance of understanding local and national Indigenous history.

Whether at work, or through her new networks, Rhonda “taps others on the shoulder” and encourages them to apply for the leadership program.

“I learnt in the program that my leadership style is to bring people along on the journey by being encouraging and kind.

“It was an absolutely amazing experience and I would highly recommend it to others to do.

“You are in a very safe environment with the other participants, giving you the opportunity to explore things you might not do in a different environment; you make new friends from all walks of life and age groups.

“I was extremely grateful for Gardiner Dairy Foundation’s sponsorship; it was critical in making my decision to apply for the program and accepting the offer.”

For more information about Victorian Community Leadership programs please go to: https://www.gardinerfoundation.com.au/people-community/#pc7

Email: Richard Meredith richard.meredith@gardinerfoundation.com.au or Ashley Eldridge ashley.eldridge@gardinerfoundation.com.au