WIAA 100: Outstanding contributor to rural Australia
GEORGIE Somerset has spent a lifetime building connections.
In the ’80s, it was building connections that would encourage farm tourism.
In the ’90s it was about building connections between rural women.
In the ’00s, it was about building connections between beef producers, butchers and consumers for a branded beef product.
And she’s far from finished.
On any given day in 2014, you’ll find the indefatigable Georgie Somerset working on the family’s cattle property in Queensland’s South Burnett, on a teleconference for her role on the board of Children’s Health Queensland ormaking plans as president of the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network (QRRRWN).
And that’s probably a quiet day.
That said, Georgie’s hoping 2014 will be a year when she takes stock rather than takes on new projects. At least that’s the theory.
“I’m in a consolidation phase,” she laughs, on a rare full week at home on the family’s property at Durong.
“I’ve learnt not to make too many grand plans because then I might not have time for the things that come up
“As life unfolds, you get opportunities you never would have thought would be open to you – and if there’s no space in your life then you can’t take those up.”
One project she is pursuing fiercely with the help of some other locals is the development of a strong community leadership program for the South
It’s something she’s wanted for the region for many years – and that’s finally come to fruition.
“The region has been very good to me over the years and I really wanted to develop something that would create its own life and have a long-term future.”
Fifteen people representing a broad cross-section of the community were selected for the inaugural program run over four days in February and March in the Bunya Mountains.
While they brought in a leadership consultant to run the program Georgie, being Georgie, made sure she wasn’t idle.
“I did the catering,” she admits.
“Leadership takes all guises – and it’s just as important to be fed!”
The goal is to continue running the program each year and, one day, expand it to run across regional Queensland.
The key drivers behind the program have also established the Red Earth
Community Foundation – a philanthropic foundation designed to help the South Burnett find and fund local solutions to local issues.
It’s already played a role in working with local businesses to stretch the proceeds of a flood appeal even further.
Instead of giving out cash grants, the foundation distributed vouchers forlocal businesses so the money was spent in the community that was most affected.
Georgie is also keen to continue growing QRRRWN – an organisation she believes has played a pivotal role in its 20 years of connecting rural women with information and each other.
For example, in the late ’90s it helped put internet trainers across Qld.
“When you look back, it was only a $2.2 million project but it made such a difference to people’s ability to access information,” Georgie says.
“That one project completely flipped on its head how people got information and it really got rural Qld connected.”
For Georgie, a key priority in the coming years will be helping develop the next generation of leaders – not only for QRRRWN but the wider industry.
She’s sat on the selection panel for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation’s Horizon scholarships for next generation leaders since their inception and still finds it inspiring.
“It’s a constant reminder that there are young people that are far more capable than we were at their age and that are ready and willing to step up to the plate for agriculture and rural communities.
“If we can mentor them with industry and give them leadership skills early on, they’ll be a really powerful network across Australia.”
Georgie believes emerging leaders don’t just need mentors but “sponsors”.
“You need sponsors in life; you need someone who is in the circle or in the discussion who suggests people that aren’t there yet and takes a risk on them.
“It’s a really important role – there are people who would step into leadership roles in agriculture that just need to be tapped on the shoulder and supported.”
But she says those wanting to step up need to ensure it is the right time for them.
“It’s got to be the right time for you and for your family and for your business – you don’t have to do everything today,” Georgie says.
“Sometimes as women we think we’ve got to be in a rush to have done all of these things but we need to give ourselves the space and time for it all to unfold.
“If you’re just getting into this area, start by engaging and asking questions until you find the space that is right for you or the difference you want to make.”
Asked what she is most proud of having achieved, Georgie doesn’t hesitate.
It’s her family – husband Rob, and their three children, Ben, 19, Mac, 18 and
“The fact that we have a strong multigenerational family business that has the ability to deliver a consistent product is still something I find incredibly rewarding – and that our business allows me to do all the other work I do.
“Long-term, that’s what really matters.”