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DWN volunteers design future of dairy in levy-funded leadership forum

Combine grassroots connections to rural communities all across New Zealand with a dedication to the future of dairy, add in a dash of creativity and you have the Dairy Women’s Network 2021 Leadership Forum: two days of intensive design thinking to set the direction for the next part of DWN’s journey – and ultimately that of the industry.

An impressive task for the Network’s volunteer regional and Business Group leaders, but facilitator Lee Astridge from No8 HR thinks they’re up to it.

“From a facilitator point of view [Leadership Forum] has been exciting, it’s been energising, it’s been really innovative and creative, and it just leaves me with a lot of confidence in the organisation,” Lee enthuses.

Funded by the DairyNZ levy, Leadership Forum has traditionally been a chance for regional leaders around the country to come together, participate in team building activities, hear from speakers on a range of different topics, and form and re-form connections. It’s an opportunity to learn more about what each region is facing and discuss any internal updates, so the women can go home ready to continue – and excel – in their roles.

This year Dairy Women’s Network stepped away from the guest speaker format, with the exception of a welcome by DairyNZ CEO Tim Mackle who explained the purpose of the levy and how it helps to fund the activities of the Network in the regions. Instead, the focus of the forum was moved to the knowledge and inspiration internal to the organisation through the introduction of design thinking.

Design thinking is a way of approaching problems with the user front of mind. The strategies involved tap into the collective knowledge and insights of everyone in the room, acknowledging and utilising the different perspectives, experiences and life journeys that make up the combined Network.

“It’s really great to do something new, this is a new format,” explains Trustee Rachel Haskew. “Doing design thinking is not a process that many of us as farmers have really experienced, but we’re never afraid at Leadership Forum to try something new. We’re agile and we keep moving forward, so to change the format of these two days and boldly do something like design thinking has been excellent.”

Lee has used her experience in strategy work for the IT sector to create a pared-down version of the process that is practical to implement in any SME. The strategies she teaches can be scaled up or down for any problem, making it easy for DWN regional leaders to apply the fundamentals to their farms, communities, businesses and wider regions.

“It’s really important that the regional leaders now go away with increased confidence and the toolkit of the steps for a basic level of the design thinking process, so they can take that back into their regions and lives generally, and apply those principles to how they evolve their own businesses.”

 And many of the women are already making plans for how they can use their new creative problem-solving skills to benefit their networks back home.

“As a farmer, I’m excited that I can go away with something I can apply in so many different areas of my life, other businesses, and even in teaching,” says Roseanne Megaw, a Regional Leader for Mid-South Canterbury. Other women are planning to take snippets of what they’ve learnt and apply them to their thought process, recognising the value in having a simple process to work through that gets people involved in shaping the outcomes of the problem.

Taking it a step further, past her farm’s boundaries and business, Bex Green is thinking about the wider implications for Dairy Women’s Network and the industry’s social licence.

“It’s been very valuable for DWN and potentially our industry going forward in regard to our product and thinking about our customers more, and what they want,” she says, relating her experience with design thinking to the needs and requirements of dairy consumers.

Trustee Trish Rankin sums it up best: “When you get a woman in a room and you take off her mum hat, and her farmer hat, and her rushing-around-taxi hat, the thinking that comes out is world-class.” Following that principle, you can imagine what thinking will have come out of Leadership Forum this year.

While there is strength in numbers, it can also be said that the ability to reach communities tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the country is the true power of the nationwide organisation. And while every woman in the Network is on a different journey, they all have one thing in common: they are dairy women on a mission to make their industry fit for the future.

When they’re not laughing, dancing, connecting, inspiring, being inspired and pushing limits, that is.

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