WoTL’s mission, to grow and inspire women in agribusiness, is achieved for the most part by our large and intricate network of volunteers. These are people, often women but also men, who resonate with our mission and have joined forces by offering their time, skills and passion to support and provide knowledge and opportunities for rural women and those connected through agriculture.

“If not me, then who? If not now, then when?

Top image: Caroline Booth and Sandra Ireson selling raffle tickets at the McGrath Foundation Pink Socks Day for Ladies Day at their local rugby club.

Sandra Ireson and Lucy Pedler are both WoTL volunteers. Sandra is a co-convenor of the Thriving Women 2023 Conference. Lucy is a WoTL Ambassador involved in bringing WoTL’s workshops to her local area. Their volunteering does not stop with WoTL though, with both women being leaders and instigators in their local rural communities.

Like many rural women, working from a home office in your own business is quite the norm. It can also be quite isolating. Sandra lives near Booligal, a small town in the Riverina of western New South Wales. With a population of well under 20 and Hay, the next largest town being 85 km away, volunteering was a natural way of bringing community together, satisfying our human need for socialisation and connection and sometimes, even creating a distraction from the challenges of running a farming business.

“During the drought years, when things were bad, having something to focus your attention on outside the farm was quite necessary”, she explains.

Sandra knows she is a product of her parents. They spent a lot of time volunteering and now Sandra also has the willingness and desire to contribute so much of her time and energy to her local community.

“There is that selfish aspect, I suppose, that you know it is going to help your children too. But you know it’s also going to help the community by directing what’s needed”.

This year, Sandra put her hand up to be a co-convenor of WoTL’s Thriving Women 2023 Conference. Having been a participant and a presenter at previous conferences, she knew this was something that needed to come to New South Wales.

“When volunteering it’s important that whatever you choose to volunteer your time with aligns with your values. Thriving Women aligns with my values of supporting our local and remote communities and giving them a voice”.

“I always think about what do I want my kids to see? What makes a good community? If I want my kids and my community to thrive, they need to see me being a part of that.”

Lucy Pedler presenting at the Thriving Women 2022 Conference as a WoTL Ambassador.

Lucy Pedler has been living on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula for 13 years. In recent years, she has been involved in bringing numerous WoTL workshops to the Eyre Peninsula. Through her involvement in women in ag and local farmer groups she has also begun working as a facilitator.

Like Sandra, Lucy saw a desire and a need in the community for local events for rural women and put her hand up to get involved. She saw a lack of representation of females in agriculture and the part they play.

“There was an alignment. I love women in the ag space and how that role changes over time. I enjoy helping women to see that they are more than just a farmer’s wife”, says Lucy.

“People were keen for something to happen on the Eyre Peninsula. We thought let’s run some workshops and see what that looks like. We needed to source some funding, but we had the backing of WoTL which was great.

“Being a WoTL Ambassador was something that just evolved. It is a great starting point for volunteering, as you are supported in gaining the skills required to be a good leader”.

Fitting in volunteering around paid work, family and other commitments can be a challenge. Getting the balance right is something both women acknowledge is vitally important, especially for families, and saying no when you are at your limit or when the fit isn’t right, is a skill.

“I probably said yes to things when I was at home a lot more with young kids”, says Lucy.

“However, through doing some of those earlier roles, I realised where my skills were best used. Over time, you realise where you can be most useful. If I’m asked to contribute to something, I always need to consider, ‘what can I bring to it’ and ‘will it be useful?’ My husband and I have an unwritten rule that we are only involved in one big (volunteer) thing at a time. We can’t be out every night!”.

Whilst volunteering is usually for the betterment of others and the community, there is also a lot to gain on a personal level.

“Who doesn’t feel good when they are helping a bigger cause than themselves. I’ve loved all the different people I’ve connected with”, says Lucy.

“Volunteering is a great way to gain skills in an area you didn’t expect to. You learn a lot through volunteering, developing networks and friendships that you may not otherwise have had”.

Whether you have a lot of a time to volunteer, or just an hour a week, there are many ways to volunteer in various capacities.

“Whether you coach a junior netball team and you see them improving week to week, or it’s a project you have been working on that has finally come to life and is helping the community, it’s the feeling of doing something for the bigger cause. You feel good about yourself”.

In a time when many organisations are crying out for volunteers, both women believe that if you have a role to fill, you need to tap people on the shoulder. Young people are also an untapped resource.

“Young people can often be a bit shy or lack confidence. Look at what skills you need and what they might be able to offer. Even if they don’t have the skills, you can support them with that. I quite enjoy that, as part of succession planning on a committee. It’s important to give them the confidence to be involved and listen to their ideas because they’re great!” says Sandra.

“I think too with volunteering it’s the people leading the cohort of volunteers, organisations are trying to see the skills in people and suggesting roles for them. Offer any support they may need”, said Lucy.

So, what is at the heart of volunteering?

“I always think about what do I want my kids to see? What makes a good community? If I want my kids and my community to thrive, they need to see me being a part of that”, says Lucy.

“A quote I think about often, and especially lately is, ‘If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”, says Sandra.

If this article resonates, you have a passion in supporting women in agriculture, making a difference in your community and may like to volunteer with WoTL, please contact Kim Blenkiron, Executive Officer, eo@wotl.com.au.