Innovate, adapt and engage says Victorian rural show ambassador

Sheep Central, September 25, 2019

2019 Victorian Agricultural Shows Rural Ambassador award winner Grace Calder and runner-up Jordan Hoban

AGRICULTURAL shows must innovate, adapt and be relevant to their communities to engage youth, according to Victoria’s new rural ambassador Grace Calder.

Grace, 26, won the 2019 Victorian Agricultural Shows Rural Ambassador award at the Royal Melbourne Show at the weekend as a representative of the Ballarat Agricultural and Pastoral Society.

Wodonga-based animal health officer Jordan Hoban, 27, was runner-up.

In her award speech, Grace addressed the question: “How to engage the next generation into contributing to the future of agricultural shows and the broader community?”

She offered tips on how to find, engage and keep young people so they too can be a part of a bright future for shows.

She contrasted the responses from two theoretical show committee members. One was a person looking forward to show day, having their new idea accepted and then looking forward to next year’s show.

While the other’s idea was met with rejection, leaving the committee person feeling rejected and thinking: I looked around the room, and I felt out of place. It’s missing the diversity of our community. I’m not sure we’re delivering what our community wants. I’m not sure if the show society is for me.”

“That story needn’t be so depressing. Today, I’ll tell you how to,” she said.

Grace said committees need to ask if their membership is an accurate representation of the show’s target audience.

“Do you have the expertise to deliver an event that appeals to the people you want coming to your show, or are there specific skills or demographics that are missing?”

Grace said to attract young people, show committees also need to assess what sets them apart from other community organisations.

“Consider what you can offer young people – skill building, networking opportunities, or a volunteer role that can be proudly advertised on their resume.

“But also consider what you’re asking of them.”

Grace said two-thirds of Australians aged 18 to 29 years say they are busy often or all the time.

“To help them feel it’s achievable to contribute while still keeping other commitments, creatively redefine the expectations of committee members.

“Volunteers can make valuable contributions to your show, without attending every, or indeed any, committee meeting.”

Grace said once new volunteers are found, they need to be engaged.

“To usher in a new age of success, agricultural shows must innovate and adapt.

“Rather than teach new volunteers ‘how we do it round here’, use their fresh set of eyes as valuable feedback right from the start.

“It’s about saying “this is where we want to get to and what we want to achieve. How we get there is   not as important as making sure that we do,” she said.

“You’ll get great new ideas that will be enriched by the wisdom and experience of your current committee, and you’ll make the new young volunteers feel that their contribution is valued.”

Grace said show societies need to understand what motivates youth and ask them why they joined.

“Can you capitalise on it, by immersing them in things they’re passionate about?

“And even though it sounds basic – don’t forget in all the busy-ness of running a show, to thank them for their effort and give regular positive feedback,” she said.

“Outward appreciation and positivity are key motivators for many people, especially the next generation.”

Grace’s speech finished with her expectations of the next Ballarat show day.

“I’m so looking forward to show day.

“We’ve found passionate, inspiring young people who are engaged and achieving fantastic things for our agricultural society, in partnership with the wisdom and experience of our longstanding volunteers,” she said.

“We had a great show last year, but I’m certain this year will be even better!”


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