Applications for the 2017 RIRDC Rural Women’s Awards have now opened, and based on what I learned as the 2015 Victorian winner, here’s my top 10 reasons why you should apply (as long as you’re a woman!).
Get help to do an awesome project
The award is project based, which means the winner is the person with the best idea for a project they want to do, not (as is commonly believed) an award for something you’ve already done. If you’re the kind of person that’s always working on projects anyway, or can easily come up with an idea for a great project that would help your community, the award is a brilliant way of getting a whole lot of support to put it into action! I had an idea for how social media could be used to help connect farmers market stallholders with more customers, and my award gave me a great chance to put it into action. (TIP: Go through the Expression of Interest process as outlined on the RIRDC website to get some early feedback on your project idea.)
Improve your career opportunities
Whether or not you win the award, even as a finalist you’ll learn new skills and meet new people that can help advance your career. If you’re lucky enough to win, you’ll also probably be asked to attend (and speak at) functions, you’ll get heaps of publicity; meet politicians, bureaucrats and other people in positions of power; learn how the wheels of government turn; and learn how to advocate for your causes – all of which can help you build your career. (TIP: get some advice from a mentor early in the process to help you use the award strategically to meet your career goals.)
Build personal development
Leadership training, being asked for your opinion (and being treated as if your opinion matters), increased exposure to other leadership opportunities, and meeting lots of fabulous women role models will all help you build your confidence, your skills, and your sense of self-worth.
Meet (lots) of new people
This includes the other finalists from your state, winners from other states if you’re lucky enough to win, the awesome team at RIRDC, plus all the great people at the various events you’ll no doubt be invited to… (TIP: Set up a system for keeping track of business cards and making note of why you exchanged cards with someone, and follow up with people straight after an event.)
Get financial support to attend events
I had the chance to go to loads of events throughout the year in Canberra, Melbourne, and throughout regional Victoria that I probably otherwise wouldn’t have gone to, and every time was flown (when it was too far to drive), wined, dined, accommodated, and otherwise thoroughly spoilt. I had to earn my keep by speaking or otherwise being involved at most of them, but that was part of the value (see #10). Great fun!
- Get free AICD training
As well as the $10,000 bursary (see #8), the award also includes some high-level professional training. I did the Australian Institute of Company Director’s Course to learn how to become a director, which gave me the confidence to become a director on a local community bank board. It’s fabulous training which will also help you become an awesome committee member of every other organisation you’re in, as well as helping you run your own business better (if you’re self-employed). If you don’t want to do the AICD training you can choose alternative professional development.
You can justify treating yourself to a new wardrobe
Unless you’re already equipped for attending lots of business (and a few formal) events, you’ll probably find yourself having to add to your wardrobe – I sure did! I love that I can now confidently dress for pretty much any occasion (and as an added bonus, finally have some great shoes and decent make-up!).
- Get a $10,000 bursary
The purpose of the bursary is to implement your project (see #1), but you’re welcome to spend it as you see fit (within certain broad guidelines). I was able to spend a chunk of my bursary paying for extra staff on the farm to give me the time to put my project into action, which turned out to be one of the most life-changing aspects of the experience because we realised how cost-effective it is to outsource the pruning. Without the bursary we would never have taken the risk.
- You might just have to get more organised
I have finally conquered my email inbox (I control it rather than it controlling me), and have set up some systems that allow me to get an enormous amount done in my life, without going bonkers. Admittedly I nearly went bonkers along the way from getting completely overwhelmed, but actually that was what forced me to finally have to face up to this ongoing problem, and find some real solutions.
Get good at public speaking (or at least get lots of practice)
For some people, this might be a disincentive for applying for the award, but if that’s you, I’d encourage you to challenge this feeling. As women, we have a much stronger tendency than men to stay safe, stay small, and not be heard, and our patriarchal culture reinforces this all the time. Changing our culture is a daunting task, but we can certainly challenge this within ourselves, one speaking engagement at a time!
Applications close on October 31, which gives you at least
- 1 day to dither about whether you’re going to apply or not and then decide to do it (because after all, what have you got to lose…);
- 2 days to talk to the state coordinator about your project idea (here’s the link to find all the details about how to do this, and the application form)
- 7 days to write your application;
- 7 days to get me (or someone else you trust) to have a look at your application and give you some feedback about it;
- 1 day to submit
And that still gives you a couple of weeks up your sleeve if any part of that schedule doesn’t quite go according to plan!
Seriously, I’m very happy to make myself available for chats, looking over applications, or answering questions to make the process of applying as easy as possible.
It’s the chance of a lifetime – just do it!
My project, called “Farmers Markets Building Communities” was made possible by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Awards.