Inspiring young entrepreneurs

katie-vce-business-forum-latrobe-270x480Two things happened this week to make me feel inspired, enthused and excited about business.

latrobe-business-forum-katie-3The first was being asked to be the keynote speaker at the La Trobe Uni VCE Business Forum in Bendigo, presenting to Year 11 business students. Part of my presentation was about our two businesses (Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens, our organic orchard, and Grow Great Fruit, our online business), and about the project I ran as the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award winner for Victoria in 2015, but it was also a great opportunity to share stories of some really inspirational young entrepreneurs that we’re connected with.

17360834_10154169480657167_517128767_nYou’ve no doubt heard of the lovely Gung Hoe Growers, who run a market garden on our farm (and in fact share the writing of this blog with us).  It was a joy to share their story of how (and why) they got started, their successes and failures, and to pass on their sage advice to the budding entrepreneurs in the audience, especially the advice not to be afraid to start even if you don’t know everything, and that you can do a LOT more than you think you can.



But it was also fun to share the story of some other young businesspeople such as Grace, who at the tender age of 20 started her own fashion label called “Bedroom The Label”. One year later she’s graduated out of the bedroom (where she literally started the business) into a studio in Collingwood (Melbourne), has taken on an intern, and has recently scored her first overseas orders. You can follow Grace’s meteoric progress through her Instagram account here.

latrobe-business-forum-katie8I also shared Allie’s story, who is in the throes of starting his own tattoo business called “Stick With It Tattoo”. As Allie’s mum, I wasn’t hugely impressed when he bought a tattoo machine on eBay and started practising on himself, but a couple of years later I’m incredibly proud to see him enrol in a business course, negotiate the regulations required to open his own tattoo studio, and open his first business! You can follow his progress on Instagram here.

It was also pretty amazing to find myself being asked to present the keynote address at a business forum, but I can trace that directly back to having won the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award for Victoria in 2015, which gave me (amongst many other things) the experience and confidence to be able to take on this kind of challenge.

Which leads me to the other great thing that happened this week, which was attending the awards ceremony for this year’s Rural Women’s Award recipient on Wednesday this week.

rwa-kirsten-abernethy-cath-jenkins-480x269This year’s winner is Kirsten Abernethy (that’s her on the right in the photo), who has planned a fabulous project to help women in the fishing industry to find their voice. Of course there was a field of incredible finalists as well, including Cath Jenkins (on the left). I very much look forward to watching Kirsten’s progress, and the professional and personal development that I know from experience will come from her involvement with the awards.

rwa-alumni-lunch-2017-480x269Just one of the many ongoing gifts from being involved in the RIRDC Awards is being part of the alumni, so it was lots of fun to head to the alumni lunch after the awards and catch up with old friends, meet new people, and leave re-inspired to continue to grow in my business and personal life, and to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way.


Organic farming across borders

This week we’re delighted to bring you a guest blog from Norma Tauiliili, who spent the week with us as a WWOOFer, but a WWOOFer with a difference!

Norma works for an organisation called Women in Business Development Inc (Samoa) (WIBDI), an organisation dedicated to strengthening village economies in Samoa in ways that honour indigenous tradition, use traditional and modern technology, and promote fair trade. The organisation works in 183 Samoan villages, and nurtures certified organic farming enterprises that annually puts more than SAT$600,000 (A$314,000) into the hands of rural families.

We very much enjoyed having Norma stay with us, and feel like we definitely learned as much from her as she did from us. We look forward to staying in touch and strengthening our connection with WIBDI.

We hope you enjoy her story.


Hi, my name is Norma Tauiliili from Samoa. I have been offered the Royce and Jean Abbey scholarship by the Rotary Club of Bendigo to spend 3 months in Australia.

I work for Women in Business Development Incorporated (WIBDI), a nongovernment organisation in Samoa, as a senior field officer. I’m visiting Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens in Harcourt this week. My visit is all about learning organic farming, and gaining and sharing knowledge and experience.

Norma learning how to pick pears (her “favourite fruit”)

So, my first day here was quite amazing. My first job was taking photos with Katie for International Women’s Day (taken by Larissa Romensky, from ABC). [MAFG: Norma was interviewed by ABC while she was at the farm. See the link to the story on ABC Online below.] Then it was time to go out there and start to learn something. Katie tells me they have about 20 Williams (pear) trees, and we went out picking some of them – we got 8 boxes of pears. This was very good and interesting for me to experience the work, even though we don’t have this sort of pear trees back home.

About ‘Women in Business’; it’s our vision that families in Samoa are valued and can contribute fully to their own development, and the development of their community and country through income generation, job creation, and participation in the village economy. We work with families and all Samoa to strengthen their capacity to generate and manage income, and lessen dependence on remittances for their daily needs. Therefore our mission is to provide and empower these families with knowledge and skills, and opportunities to access finance and markets.

Chocolate and soap products produced by WIBDI

The Women in Business Farm to Table Project (FTTP) is about providing weekly organic baskets. It involves going out to our farmers and talking with them to see if they can supply produce we need for our fresh organic baskets. We give them the list of what produce we want them to supply and bring into the office (to be included in the baskets).

While at the farm our field officers check all the produce (quality control) to see if it’s OK or not. If it’s not good, it has to stay on the farm. We tell them to look out for a better quality of produce, because our customers will not be happy if it’s no good. Our customers send us feedback about the organic boxes, (negative or positive), as well as requests about what they want in the boxes, which is really good for us and helps us to improve our project work.

Once our farmers and produce arrive in the office, our FTTP Team spend their time assembling the produce into organic baskets, after paying our farmers. Farmers can choose whether they put some of their money into farmers’ savings through our microfinance manager, or they take it for their family needs, but it’s compulsory for every farmer to have some money saved in our microfinance – this helps them to save some money.

It’s up to our customers whether have their order delivered to their doorstep with our WIBDI fee of $5, or else pick up their basket from our office between 2 pm and 4.30 pm. Delivery of organic baskets will be ready between 12 noon and 3 pm.

Another thing we’ve done to support our local farmers is that we organized an Organic Night Market at the Samoa Tourism village in Eleele Fou in Apia. On a Friday night once a fortnight the farmers come together to sell their fresh produce, Meaai Samoa (Samoan cooking), fine mats, handicrafts, and plants to make some income.

Every night market our boys (field officers) go out and collect the farmers and bring them in so they can do the market. Afterwards they have to drive them home again. Our night market starts at 4 pm and goes until 9 or 9.30 pm. Most of our families, friends, and customers come down and buy our goods, and support the best of what our organic farmers have to offer.

Norma learning budding (summer grafting), a technique she thinks will have application on farms in Samoa

You can read more of Norma’s story here at ABC online, and listen to the audio version on the Country Hour and on Pacific Beat, both on ABC radio on Monday 13 March 2017.

Norma and Katie photographed for the ABC online story


10 Reasons Why You Should Apply For RIRDC Rural Women’s Award

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!).

  1. Some cheerful participants at a recent "Facebook for Farmers" workshop
    Some cheerful participants at a “Facebook for Farmers” workshop

    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.)

  2. Speaking at the AusVeg 'Great Debate' on the Gold Coast
    Speaking at the AusVeg ‘Great Debate’ on the Gold Coast

    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.)

  3. Attending the rural women's forum at Parliament House in Melbourne
    Attending the rural women’s forum at Parliament House in Melbourne

    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.

  4. The 2015 State Finalists
    The 2015 State Finalists

    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.)

  5. Hugh and I were able to attend the NASAA National Conference in Canberra
    Hugh and I were able to attend the NASAA National Conference in Canberra

    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!

  6. 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.
  7. katie black frock-386x628
    Trying on the posh frock for the national award ceremony

    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!).

  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. One of many speaking engagements I did during the year
    One of many speaking engagements I did during the year

    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!

RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Award

My project, called “Farmers Markets Building Communities” was made possible by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Awards.