Agri-Women's Development Trust

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Today as the Government delivers its Well-being Budget, Agri-Women’s Development Trust Founder, Lindy Nelson, reflects on what AWDT has been doing for nine years to improve the well-being of women and New Zealand’s primary industries and rural communities. Well-being is defined as experiencing health, happiness and prosperity. It includes having good mental health, high life-satisfaction, and a sense of meaning or purpose.

We talked with Lindy about why she started AWDT and the improvements she has seen in women’s well-being in the last nine years.

AWDT:  Was the concept of well-being a motivation for starting AWDT?

Lindy: The main driver for me was to look deeply and really understand how we could increase women’s contributions to their farming, families, communities and industries. This was about women reaching their potential and finding a deeper purpose in their lives through being able to contribute more fully.

I had a sense that if we could achieve this, then our primary sector would be more prosperous, which meant a more prosperous New Zealand. Prosperity, being satisfied with life, contributing and finding meaning and purpose was what AWDT was founded on. So yes, the lynchpin was well-being.  Research provided how we could do this which lead to AWDT’s formation.

AWDTWhat have you seen since you launched AWDT at Parliament in 2010?  Is your vision of women achieving their potential and purpose as vital partners being realised?

Lindy:  Yes, so much more than I dreamed possible really, and in a relatively short time.
One of our first programmes, First Steps (now “It’s all about YOU”), gave women permission to look at their well-being. It enabled them to understand their strengths, their transferable skills, to say it was OK to look for fulfillment outside of their current roles, or to deepen their fulfillment within those roles.

We know women are happier when they discover their purpose, have a plan to execute it and have the support to achieve it. When we look back on what those first graduates are now doing in their families, for their communities, the organisations they’re involved with or in some instances even formed to fulfill their potential and live their purpose – it’s mind-blowing.

Something that became clear in our research and has played out is that women especially find fulfillment by supporting and helping others. You can see this in our graduates who have trained as AWDT facilitators. They have created better outcomes in health, education and connections. They have created support groups or regional hubs to empower and support other women in our sector. Our graduates serve on the boards of Dairy Women’s Network and Rural Women New Zealand. Others are now working in domestic violence education and support.

A major theme underpinning fulfillment is contribution. For each woman this means something different. Graduates of our Understanding Your Farming Business (UYFB) programme are contributing at a deeper level within their farming businesses. Initially, women would describe themselves as “just a ….” When we describe ourselves like this it’s a real indication that this is how we see ourselves. We run the risk of seeing ourselves as operating on the fringes, not as vital partners. AWDT started redefining the way women viewed themselves and their contribution as critical farming partners. When women owned this concept and what it meant we saw an incredible transformation in how they contributed to their businesses, and how they worked with their farming partners, banks and advisors.

I am proud that we have really understood the lives of our agri sector women. We haven’t suggested there is something wrong with them or what they are currently doing, rather have provided accessible opportunities. We have strengthened farming partnerships to create higher-performing teams and helped increase women’s ability to lead and contribute.

The fact that men are now asking for our programmes to support these stronger farming partnerships tells me that we are doing a lot right to create rural well-being. As I facilitate on our Future Focus programme, it is highly-satisfying to see farming partners design, plan and envision their futures, underpinned by the cornerstone success drivers of people, profit, planet and progress. A renewed “togetherness” as a couple emerges as each partner redefines what it means to be in a farming partnership, a business, have a family within all of this and what happiness and success look like. They are united with a plan for their future.

AWDT: As a farming partner yourself does this resonate with you?

Lindy: This is what I craved as a young bride entering farming 32 years ago. How could I contribute, how could I fulfill my potential, find purpose and meaning? I had a husband who recognised and encouraged me to pursue that. He gave full permission (which is a funny word to say these days but remember this was 1987) to discover what it was that fulfilled me. So, his permission or acceptance that I didn’t have to contribute in the way his mother or other women were doing at the time gave me permission to explore my potential without restraints.

As a result, we found our strengths and our roles as farming partners. The irony is not lost of either of us that he now facilitates on both UYFB and Future Focus. Living my potential has led to helping others find theirs and I love that he is part of that journey.

AWDT: How else are AWDT delivering against the focus of well-being?

Lindy:  Graduates of our other programmes such as Escalator and Next Level are fulfilling their potential in increased leadership. That might be on boards, regional development projects, environmental advocacy and stewardship. Some of our graduates are highly visible, others are quietly changing the world around them. I like the way women from throughout primary industries are participating in our programmes and forming networks and connections with other women across New Zealand.

The focus of the 2019 budget and the areas of Government investment: innovation, creating opportunities, supporting Māori and Pasifka people, supporting mental health and child well-being are areas which align to our activity in developing women to lead within these contexts.  Programmes such as Wāhine Māia, Wāhine Whenua and our current research into the leadership development of wāhine Māori in the primary sector will further improve inter-generational well-being.

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