Lauren Peterson hopes her new leadership skills will help her to break the silo mentality that invades dairy farms and communities across south-west Victoria.

Lauren received one of ten Victorian Regional Community Leadership Program (VRCLP) scholarships, sponsored by the Gardiner Dairy Foundation, that aim to nurture and empower leadership opportunities within regional dairy communities.

As she completes the 2018 Leadership Great South Coast program, Lauren is already planning how to use her new-found confidence and skills to make a difference on farms and in local communities.

“We have a wealth of experience, resources and skills in the dairy industry, but we tend to work in silos,” she said. “Through the leadership program I discovered the same thing applies in our broader community; we’re working on the same sort of issues in silos rather than collaborating effectively and leveraging the resources and skills we have.”

Originally from Melbourne, Lauren and her partner Tony Hassett moved to the south-west four years ago to follow their dairy farming dream. They now share-farm at Naroghid and have become strong advocates for the industry.

Along with personal and professional development, Lauren hoped the leadership program would broaden her knowledge of local industries and communities; what she found was a lack of understanding about the importance of the local dairy industry.

“I was shocked by how little people knew about dairy and agriculture in general; it bought home to me how important it is to tell positive stories about our industry. There are a lot of challenges but often all you hear in the media are the negative things; we need to have honest conversations about the positives and the challenges and come up with real solutions.

“I want to bring dairy to the rest of the community,” she said.

Leadership Great South Coast aims to connect and develop leaders, empowering them to do great things and Lauren is determined to continue making a mark.

“Our responsibility doesn’t end at the end of the course,” she said. “We’ve now got a responsibility to walk the talk.”

Off-farm Tony works in emergency services and Lauren in an emergency call centre and she’s the United Dairy Farmers of Victoria Policy Councillor for the Corangamite area.

As a newcomer to dairy in 2014, Lauren appreciated all the help she could find; now she’s returning the favour to the industry and beyond.

“I’ll continue trying to make a difference in my UDV role and helping the Great South Coast Economic Migration project that assists families from an African background to relocate from Melbourne to regional areas,” she said. The program is a partnership between Leadership Great South Coast, iGen Foundation and the Great Lakes Agency for Peace and Development International.

This year it is hoped up to 10 families will relocate to Glenelg Shire, mostly in the Casterton area, following similar success in Hamilton last year.

“Many of these families came from regional and agricultural backgrounds so living in Melbourne isn’t the best outcome. By coming here, they contribute to the population, diversity and economic growth of our region.”

Lauren is proud to showcase the region’s benefits. “Often, we hear about the deficits of regional areas; a bit like the dairy industry – you don’t hear the positives and, while it’s important to highlight gaps in services, there are many benefits as well,” she said.

The opportunity to develop her leadership skills with support from the Gardiner Dairy Foundation had held a mirror up to her strengths and weaknesses, Lauren said.

“The course encouraged me to look at issues and opportunities through a more holistic lens. I’ve definitely gained confidence and made a lot of connections personally and professionally.

“With a dairy farm business, you don’t just work in the business, you’ve got to work on it and I think it’s the same from an industry and leadership perspective. Self-awareness is very important as a leader and I think my leadership in the industry and community is going to be a lot more collaborative now.

“The dairy industry is at a tipping point and the next few months don’t look to be bringing much relief; however, we have the resources and community spirit to move to a positive future if we all work together, and I want to help harness that and fly the flag for our industry.”