Parenting: Managing life transitions

Written by Melinda Philips, Good Grief Ltd. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

Many transitions, large and small, occur at the beginning of the calendar year in Australia. Children start primary school for the first time and young people may start high school, their senior secondary years or further study. Family relocations due to work or study may take place over the long summer break and new jobs may also commence. We know that change is an inevitable part of life, however sometimes we don’t see the broader impact of life transitions until we are trying to deal with the consequences. The following tasks, based on the grief theory of J William Worden (2009), and part of The Seasons for Growth® programs, highlight useful points to consider when managing the changes and losses that come with life transitions.


Good Grief provides education programs to build resilience and foster wellbeing for children, young people and adults challenged by loss and change. The work is based on Mary MacKillop’s principle: “Never see a need without doing something about it.” (Image: Good Grief)

Task 1: Accept the reality of the change or loss

Lovely anecdotes abound about small children, who, after attending their first day or week of school, declare that they’ve finished with school and are ready to go back to how life was. Similarly, the shock of high school’s size and speed, or the scale and freedom of university life, or the unfamiliarity of a new job can have the most well-adjusted person in firm agreement with our five year old friends. However, one cannot go backwards in life. Change is inevitable and working toward accepting both the reality and the significance of the transition readies people to participate in the new experience.

Accepting the reality of the change:

  • Keep to some routines (where possible), or establish new routines. Routines give time and mental space for changes to be processed and accepted.
  • Not everything changes. Take the time to remember and enjoy the parts of life that are staying the same.
  • Rituals can help. Participating in end of year concerts and parties, farewell work dinners and small, personal/family rituals can help people of all ages come to terms with the change. Orientation days, welcome morning teas and other occasions serve a similar purpose in marking new beginnings.
  • Remind people in transition that they are not alone. Many people will be experiencing similar thoughts, feelings and challenges if they too are starting or changing schools, further study, jobs or locations.

Task 2: Work through the pain of grief

Change and loss impacts on each of us differently and people experience and express their hurt in a variety of ways. Each person will need to work through a range of reactions—thoughts and self talk (why did I take this job? Will I make friends?), feelings (fear, anxiety, sadness, excitement), physical responses (headaches, stomach upsets, sleep changes) and behaviours (withdrawing, need for rest, hyped behaviour). This work takes time and energy for both children and adults.

Working through the pain of grief:

  • Bodies are under stress in times of change and transition. Self care needs to be a priority—eat properly, drink enough water, sleep well, fit in a little exercise and spend some time outside.
  • Listen to how people are feeling. Remind people that they have your support.
    Talk about what works for you when feelings of sadness, frustration or loneliness arise.
  • Remember past successes. Previous changes and transitions that have been managed can serve as a useful reminder for people of their personal strengths and provide confidence for the future.

Task 3: Adjust to the new environment

This task varies greatly from person to person, depending on what new skills might be needed. Children, young people and adults need personal skills, relationship skills and learning skills to succeed in unfamiliar learning environments.

Adjusting to a new environment:

  • New surroundings can be daunting. Take the time to become familiar with the new environment and new travel routines.
  • Personal skills: encourage positive self talk and problem solving. Talking about past examples of these can help children and young people draw on previous experience.
    Relationship skills: people need a sense of belonging in their new environment. Social skills (saying hello, smiling, making eye contact and listening) are skills that can be practised at home, and can help children, young people and adults make connections with others.
  • Learning skills: asking for help and information is how people learn and is normal behaviour in a new environment. Encourage help seeking as a worthwhile learning strategy that builds independence and confidence.
  • Build in downtime. Adjusting to a new environment can be physically and mentally draining, so make sure there is time to relax in favourite ways—familiar TV shows, hanging out with friends or the family pet, reading or playing sport.

Task 4: Find an ongoing connection with what’s been lost while living in the new, changed world

As time passes, the new way of things generally gets a little easier. Routines are established, friendships and connections are made and the environment becomes more familiar. Children, young people and adults most often move into a space where they can look forward and be pleased with small, achievable steps toward new goals. However, this does not mean the connection with what was needs to be lost—some precious parts of how things were may be able to be part of the new world, or at least remembered and talked about.

Maintain ongoing connections while living in the new, changed world:

  • Provide opportunities to talk about how things used to be, as well as how they are right now.
  • Make sure connections and support are available. Maintaining different friendships (from past and present, inside and outside school and work) can help ensure there are people around to talk to or share stories with.
  • Be flexible with additional support or time to participate in day-to-day life and get tasks done.
  • Sometimes people need additional support to manage changes and transitions. If the child, young person or adult doesn’t seem to be coping talk with them about it and be ready to speak to appropriate people for additional support.

Change is a normal and natural part of life. People are often surprised by the experience of hurt and sadness alongside excitement and happiness as a result of life’s transitions. It can be reassuring to know there are things people can do to actively manage big life changes or support others to manage. If you are helping somebody manage a life transition, some of the small gestures of support described above can show that although you know change can be hard, you believe in their capacity to cope and, in time, flourish in their new environment.

More information

t: 02 8912 2700
Good Grief

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I am an Australian – Just like you

As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

Dai Le, Sydney

Dai Le is CEO and Founder of DAWN – a network for professionals passionate about culturally diverse and inclusive leadership.

The true optimist not only expects the best to happen, but goes to work to make the best happen. The true optimist not only looks upon the bright side, but trains every force that is in him to produce more and more brightness in his life.” CHRISTIAN D LARSON

In Syria and the Middle East and the exodus of refugees has made me reflect on my own personal journey.

Like many of you, I lead a busy and hectic life. I’m often caught up with life’s daily routines: from paying bills, picking up my son from school, keeping the house clean, going to work, attending meetings and so forth.

I almost forgot the impact of the ‘boat people’ journey; the sacrifices my mother was forced to make, fleeing war-torn Vietnam, and the challenges we all had to overcome to rebuild our lives here in Australia. Being uprooted from your birthplace and being forced to flee were not something a young child should have to go through, nor would they forget.

Seeing images of small boats on the sea reignited memories of my own family’s escape just before the Vietnam War ended on 30 April 1975.

Following that conflict, hundreds and thousands of Vietnamese escaped communist Vietnam, including my family. Many ended up in refugee camps in countries such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. These camps were set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While my family were lucky to survive the boat journey, hundreds and thousands of Vietnamese died at sea.

I remember our boat encountered a huge storm one night. We were literally staring death in the face. The boat pounded so hard against the ocean I thought I would fall overboard. The rain was pelting my face and the wind was howling. It felt like the night and the ocean were going to swallow us up.

We had nothing to protect us except for a plastic tarp. We huddled under that tarp; my mother holding her rosary in one hand praying, while the other arm held my youngest sister. I held onto my middle sister. I kept thinking there was no way we could survive this. Our boat was too small to withstand the storm. But we survived the treacherous sea journey for another week or so.

I think the issue of identity, of who is an Australian, and what makes for an Australian society, is now more important than ever. With the continuing increase in conflicts around the world we will continue to see an increase in the movements of people seeking asylum, a safe haven, away from the daily bombings, fighting and uncertainties in their birth countries. Also with climate change related weather events we could potentially see another type of refugee develop—adding to the tide of displaced people. These asylum seekers will face the fact that their lives will be in a state of limbo, their identity will be challenged and their acceptance tested. And who makes up these asylum seekers? The majority are people like my mother and myself… women and children caught up in the crossfire of opposing forces or circumstances beyond their control.

I was just seven years old when I witnessed my birth country crumble in front of my eyes. I watched as people, confused and frightened, scrambled to get onto boats, screaming and crying as they rushed anywhere their feet could take them. It was total chaos.

I remember lying on that boat surrounded by strangers as I stared into the night’s sky.

Where were we going, I thought to myself? What was happening? Why were we there? Why did we run? Why was I on that boat with strangers? Why were the women crying? Would I go home soon?

I don’t know if you can put yourself into that situation? Can you take yourself there? It is hard to localise what it means to lose everything, until you have lost it all. It is hard to imagine and put yourself in the situation where your village is bombed heavily, or invaded by your enemies, unless you have been there. I can guarantee you it’s unimaginable until it happens to you. It is hard to describe in words the feeling of being uprooted from your birthplace, your motherland—the sense of hopelessness, confusion, loss and fear. Fear of the unknown, fear for the future. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, my family, to my life.

Our boat journey took us to Hong Kong refugee camps, where we stayed for almost a year before we were accepted for resettlement in Australia. My mother, two younger sisters and I were processed by the UNHCR and then flown to Sydney on 5 December 1979.

Australia was known back then within refugee camps as a big island, with one of the best education systems in the world. So when my mother chose Australia, it was because of its education system.

We arrived with one suitcase and no English. Australia had just emerged from the White Australia policy, which meant there was hardly an Asian face around. I learned later that the Chinese had come here during the gold rush in the 1800s. But in the 1970s, as an 11-year-old I felt there weren’t many people who looked like me.

We were taken to a migrant hostel in Fairy Meadow, a suburb in Wollongong. As soon as we settled into our one bedroom unit, in a red-brick block, I couldn’t wait to shed my refugee clothes and my ‘old’ self. I made a conscious decision to erase as much of my ‘old’ self as possible and start afresh. I wanted to become ‘Australian’ as soon as I could. For me, that meant I had to learn to speak English quickly. I also learned to make new friends so I could practice my speaking; I was looking for opportunities to grow into a new person. Part of me wanted to strip away my Vietnamese heritage completely so that I could become a ‘true’ Australian.

So from the young age of 11, I worked hard to ‘blend in’, to embrace the Australian way of life, to speak English as fluently as I could, and even to learn to eat vegemite on toast!

Did I succeed? Am I a local? Local to where? Am I now as local as those born here? Am I as local as many of you reading this?

In the mid-80s, my mother decided to relocate us from the steelwork city of Wollongong to Bossley Park, a suburb in Sydney’s South West near Cabramatta. In that period, there were more refugees from South East Asia—including Cambodia, Laos—who had resettled in the region (because of the migrant hostel there). My mother wanted to be part of the local community. She wanted to move closer to an area where she could relate to the people, the language, the food and the culture.

My sisters and I had to re-localise ourselves. We had left behind friends we made since we first arrived. While it might look from the outside that we should ‘blend in’ into this very culturally diverse community, it took us a while to ‘fit in’ because from my perspective there were more Asian Australians in this new local area than where we came from in Wollongong.

Cabramatta was known as Vietnamatta. Many Vietnamese refugees have called it home since their resettlement. It is a suburb where the Indo-Chinese refugees, as we were identified, have become comfortable to be ‘local’. And as they felt more ‘local’ in this area, they started to build homes, set up their businesses and raise their families. But then the wider Australian community started to question their ‘local’ identity.

How Australian are these newly arrived migrants? Why don’t they integrate into the wider society? Why are they all living in one area? Why don’t they spread out?

I too questioned this. While I might have looked ‘local’ and should have fitted into this Indo-Chinese community, the decision I made to be ‘Australian’ prompted me to do what I could to leave this local community and move to another, where I felt I would belong ‘better’. Unconsciously, I think I developed friendships with people who were mainly non-Asian Australians.

I found my niche in journalism and thrived. I was determined to be accepted in mainstream media. I did not want to be just an ‘ethnic’ reporter. But that was a challenge.

Being the only Australian journalist of Asian heritage in the industry at the time, and especially coming from an area with a high Indo-Chinese population, any stories on ‘ethnics’ would be assigned to me.

I am an Australian and I should have been able to do general stories, not just ethnic specific. How else would I learn and develop my skills? But my English and accent held me back from progressing up the reporting career ladder, especially on screen. I would argue that being Asian-looking was also a hurdle for me. But I didn’t for one moment let those hurdles stop me. I persevered and did not allow the barriers within the organisation to turn me into a victim.

I continued to give my best, constantly learning, producing, trying and creating story after story. My aim was to better myself, improve my journalistic skills and to contribute. At the end of the day, what was important for me was that I had the privilege to be on this journey, to meet amazing, extraordinary people, whose stories captured the essence of humanity—and captured the hearts of those who heard them.

In October 2014 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was another challenge I had to confront. It made me reflect on the milestones in my life and the battles I had to fight to fit in and be part of mainstream society. I could have died on that boat journey. But I didn’t.

I could have died if I had not discovered that lump in my breast. But I found it and here I am today. I completed my cancer treatments on 30 April 2015—exactly 40 years since the war ended in Vietnam.

With all of these personal challenges, including my foray into politics, I came to realise that I have choices: it is my choice to feel accepted or rejected; it is my choice to feel local. I am an Australian. I was a refugee. And I am of Vietnamese heritage. I don’t need validation from people to feel that I am Australian.

“The road to becoming local is not easy. When we as a community talk about resettling refugees, we must remember that the journey will not simply end when they reach our shores. As I learnt, the journey to become a local may take many years. For those on that journey I encourage you to be optimistic.”

Dai Le is CEO and Founder of DAWN—a network for professionals passionate about culturally diverse and inclusive leadership. Contact Dai at:

Related sites:

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Women in focus: Top 5 tips for successful crowdfunding

As featured in The Country Web 2016 AnnualThis story originally appeared on – A CommBank program supporting women in business and community.


Kasia Gospos is one incredibly courageous woman. As we are increasingly encouraged to step out of our comfort zones to seek out new experiences, Kasia took a leap of faith from a great height and landed firmly on her feet.

As a successful management consultant in Poland, she couldn’t have imagined the sacrifices and rewards that would come from stretching her career and herself as a person to the limits. Eight years later and a world away from her homeland, Kasia is paving the way for change and leading tens of thousands of women as founder and publisher of Leaders in Heels, a leading Australian online community and magazine.

One of Kasia’s more recent significant achievements, a successful crowdfunding campaign with the first Make Your Mark leadership notebook in 2014, gave invaluable insights that helped shape her second campaign, which has recently finished exceeding funding expectations also.

Here this incredible feminist and change maker shares with us her Leaders in Heels journey, from her humble beginnings as a blogger to collaborating with designers and publishers to make a positive and unique impact on the complex issue of gender equality.

What inspired the Make Your Mark concept?

In 2008 I left my life in Poland behind and moved to Australia. In this new world I encountered women from many different walks of life. I realised that some women succeeded in shaping their career and life, while other women didn’t. Intrigued, I started interviewing successful women in Australia to connect with them, learn from them and then share their experiences with other women. Leaders in Heels was born.

Since my humble beginning as a blogger Leaders in Heels now has hundreds of interviews with successful women and articles covering leadership, success, career development and entrepreneurship. We also organise events, are active in the gender equality space and offer inspirational prints and eBooks. The blog has been visited over
a million times!

As an analyst at heart and always curious about why certain women are more successful, I ran my own research and collected over 200 responses from Leaders in Heels readers about what makes a successful female leader. I found that there were six common traits that they all used in their life.

They were passionate about what they did, which gave them energy to stay long hours or not to give up—even when the odds were against them. They were creative in achieving their goals, no matter if it was about implementing new products or running effective meetings—they looked for innovative ways of doing things. Passion was giving them confidence to stand up for their beliefs and determination to keep going when things were falling apart. And lastly, they were kind in their actions.

These traits are now part of the Leaders in Heels manifesto which, for me, is a road map to become a leader in every aspect of my life.

The Make Your Mark stationery was created to bring to life the Leaders in Heels manifesto and help women develop these daily leadership traits by creating a habit.

Who did you collaborate with to create such functional, inspirational and supportive content for Make Your Mark?

I love the power of collaboration and when women do amazing stuff together. The Make Your Mark journal has been reviewed by Australian leadership experts Ozlem Beldan, Catherine Nolan, Sonia McDonald, Lisa Phillips and Natalie Goldman, as well as my mentor, Devika Mohotti. I met all of these women through Leaders in Heels. They’ve also contributed to Leaders in Heels and provided some of the content.

Why crowdfunding and how has it disrupted traditional funding?

Crowdfunding allows literally anyone with an idea to share the project with the world and start raising funds. There are many amazing projects that were brought to life by creatives who were supported by the crowd, projects that otherwise would not have come to life as they may have not been considered safe enough for investors.

As I already had a community of women interested in leadership, crowdfunding seemed to be the most obvious way of raising funds. I see the crowdfunding as an opportunity to validate the idea, gain some momentum in building brand awareness and presale as much as possible.

It’s not only about funding but also about doing it quickly and selling quickly. Crowdfunding enables savings in warehousing costs and it is also much more efficient to bulk ship many orders rather than doing it every day or every week in small amounts. I am obsessed with efficiency and automation.

So what are your top five tips for starting a crowdfunding campaign

1. Platform: The first campaign was on StartSomeGood, which is designed to crowdfund social projects. This time I decided to try Kickstarter. StartSomeGood is a smaller business and therefore they were really supportive in helping me launch the project. However, the benefit of Kickstarter is that it is much more advanced in terms of analytics. The design and user experience on the site is topnotch. It also offers currency conversion and broader payment methods. It all results in higher conversion rate.

2. Time: Last time I had only 12 days due to proximity to Christmas and a large upcoming order from one of the leadership course providers under the condition it was delivered before Christmas. The campaign would have been much more successful if I didn’t need to rush. This time I ran my campaign for 39 days. According to Kickstarter research, the most successful campaigns are 30 days and under so I was going against the research. But I really wanted to enjoy the journey and not rush. I wanted to give myself more time and to feel more relaxed.

3. Goal: If you don’t reach your goal, Kickstarter cancels the project and you don’t get to keep any of the funds raised. So it is important to be reasonable when setting up your goal. The amount to raise should be the minimum you need to fulfil the project. For me this was a minimum volume required by the printing company. It is also important to cater for shipping costs and Kickstarter and financing fees (around 10 per cent).

4. Content: A crowdfunding campaign is not an online store. I always treat it as a very personal project—an opportunity to share my story, share my vision on how I came up with the idea and why I need the backers’ help.

People are more likely to support you if they relate to you and see there is a real person who is pushing really hard to make her dream happen.

I love to take people on the journey and make them a part of this beautiful project.
I also firmly believe that these products are the change makers in the empowerment and gender equality space, and through crowdfunding I have an opportunity to share the message with the world!

5. Marketing: The most important lesson I learnt is that marketing starts before the campaign starts. I purposefully designed different marketing strategies to attract my tribe before I launched the campaign.

Two months before the campaign I already had a pre-launch landing page where people were able to register to be notified about the campaign on day one. One month before the campaign we ran an amazing giveaway, ‘Be Empowered’, with over $2500 worth of leadership books (including Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Ariana Huffington’s Thrive), eBooks, online courses, motivational prints, inspirational stationery and coaching sessions—most of the products I was able to source from our generous contributors and supporters of Leaders in Heels. We had over 1700 entries for this competition.

Lastly, I used Jeff Walker’s technique from Launch to maintain the momentum when communicating with my audience. I also ran a fun image-based survey letting people design their ideal stationery product. It not only helped me learn a lot about my audience but was also a fun way of communicating what was coming and that I really care about their needs.

Was the campaign a success?
I managed to get the campaign over the line, and then some, raising over $AU23 000. From the bottom of my heart, l want to say thank you to everyone who backed me for believing in this project and bringing the Leaders in Heels stationery to life!

Related sites:

Find out more and order your books from Leaders in Heels

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Transitioning from stay-at-home mum to app entrepreneur

Written by Beck Keysers, Orange

As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

Beck Keysers with her son Kaiser

Mother of two, Beck Keysers, is the founder and managing director of Autism Link. Her commitment to supporting families with children with Autism and Aspberger’s has seen Autism Link flourish from a simple idea to Australia’s leading resource on Autism services.

I am a mother to two wonderful boys aged three and six years old. My eldest has autism.

Autism or autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong developmental condition that affects how a person relates to his or her environment and interacts with others. People with autism can find it difficult to communicate, socialise and learn new things. They may also have unusual and repetitive behaviours and interests, such as avoiding loud noises, sniffing objects or touching certain textures.

About one in 100 people have autism—almost 230 000 Australians—and it affects almost four times as many boys as girls.

Like many Australian mums, I never thought autism would be a part of my life.

After a career working in special schools and as a disability support worker, when we found out I was pregnant my partner and I decided to move to Orange, his home town, to be near family. I had a few problems throughout my pregnancy and finally after an emergency C-section, Kaiser was born. He was perfect—healthy and happy—and my new role as a mother was by far the best.

As a baby, Kaiser was very easy to please, always laughing and he never complained about anything. He reached all his milestones on time and as far as I was concerned his development was spot on. At two years of age he experienced his first day at family day care.

I received a phone call after that day to come in for a chat. That chat turned out to be a suggestion that my beautiful, happy son could possibly have autism. They gave me a number to call to make an appointment with the local early intervention service.

After an intense assessment period Kaiser was formally diagnosed with Autism and severe language delay at age three. I wasn’t overly concerned and thought I would just need to get him some speech therapy. Little did I know that I would need ongoing assistance to ensure his needs could be met. This included speech therapy, occupational therapy, early intervention, a preschool that could assist him in a mainstream environment and learning to provide him with coping skills to deal with anxious situations. I found the experience really challenging and confusing.

Kaiser’s brother Xavier was born during this process, which made things incredibly hard. It wasn’t easy to help him with a newborn to also look after. However, Xavier has helped him in many ways in terms of communication and social interaction.

Watching them grow together has been very encouraging and it has inspired me to offer a resource for families to access services and information relating to autism.

Since Kaiser’s diagnosis I have met other parents like myself who are unsure of where to go when their child is autistic or is undergoing an autism diagnosis.

Some services don’t advertise on the internet and others have huge waiting lists, while some just don’t fit my sons needs.

Developing a relationship with the educator or therapist you choose is first and foremost. Your child has to enjoy attending sessions and feel safe and happy while doing so.
I came up with the idea for the Autism Link app to help families find local support services, relevant information, resources and much more.

Early intervention is crucial to ensure that kids get the support they need. The Autism Link app will hopefully give families choices to explore other options, especially if what they’re using is not working for their child and family.

Becoming a business woman almost overnight has presented me with a number of challenges. I’m now preparing the business case and technical requirements for the app, finding funding to pay for the development and transforming myself from a stay-at-home mum to the founder of an app start up.

I’m working with Bathurst-based mobile app company Appiwork, who have believed in me and the difference I’m trying to make for families from the very beginning. It really does help to surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed when making an important transition in your life!

The Autism Link app will be free for families to use and the funding for the project is based on service providers paying to promote their services. I really hope to create a wonderful resource for families just like my own.

At the end of the day, I am still a mum who just wants to offer the right information to families. Because we all want the best for our children. We don’t need to be afraid of autism, we need to embrace it and help children to live happy, connected lives.

To contact Rebecca email:

Related sites: Autism Link

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5 must-have’s for your networking toolkit

Written by Toni Courtney.

As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual. Re-printed with permission.

The power of a great network can’t be underestimated—especially when it results in new clients, the next job, or new opportunity.

“Networking is the key to success in business,” says Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, a book about the power of relationship building and networking.

Someone said to me recently, “Your net worth is the quality of your connections. It’s all about who you know.”

The reality for most of us though is that networking takes us out of our comfort zones. Why? Because you’re putting yourself in front of people who are forming their impressions of you quickly. You’re vulnerable. You want to fit in, be liked and rated well.

woman smiling

Networking well is worth the investment of your time and effort, especially if you follow through and continue to build the relationship by giving meaningful value.


How to overcome feeling nervous or anxious

According to UK research, about 50 per cent of people in the room at a networking event will be feeling anxious. Here are five steps to help you feel more confident and courageous.

1. Choose a great attitude

Rather than deciding how it’s going to be before you get there (which is usually negative), instead be open, curious and create it the way you want it. To do this:

  • Be present with others rather than focused on your inner voice.
  • Be interested rather than being interesting.
  • Give before you get—show someone how you can help them first.

2. Build rapport quickly

Networking is all about building trust fast, so engage in open-ended questions that find common ground and build a conversation from there, for example: “What’s your interest in coming along tonight?” is a good starter.

Take the effort to get to know someone genuinely and learn what they care about, moving beyond the “what do you do?” question—even if it’s a short conversation.

Show the real you. It’s the only way you’ll create meaningful exchanges and manifest the potential for an ongoing authentic relationship.

3. Have an answer for the “what do you do?” question

It’s a good idea to have a couple of different ways to answer this question, depending on who’s asking, how formal your conversation is and when in the conversation you’re asked. For example, two frames for your answer are:

  • Informal/high energy: talk about what you’re passionate about and the difference you make (emotional answer) when you’re already engaged in conversation.
  • Formal/low energy: talk about what you do in the context of your expertise, experience or problems you solve (rational answer) if it’s the first thing you’re asked when you’ve just met someone.

4. Know how to join a group

Joining a group engaged in conversation can be awkward, especially if you’re not immediately acknowledged and welcomed in. The secret is to listen. Listen to the conversation and think about how you can add value to it. A great way to contribute is to pose a question—a good quality question will help establish credibility with the group, especially if it leads the conversation forward.

5. Know how to leave a group

Always acknowledge the person/people you’re leaving. Here are some examples:

  • “It’s been good to meet you. I’d better pop around and meet a few more people before the end of the evening,” or;
  • “It’s been great chatting with you. I’m sure you’d appreciate getting to meet other people here tonight too, take care and enjoy the rest of your evening”.

In conclusion, networking well is worth the investment of your time and effort, especially if you follow through and continue to build the relationship by giving meaningful value.

Re-printed with permission. Copyright © 2016 Toni Courtney All rights reserved.

Related sites:

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Farmers adapting to change

Author: Cindy Cassidy, 2015 NSW-ACT RIRDC Rural Women’s Award

As featured in The Country Web magazine issue 63, published August 2016

cindy-profileAs the 2015 RIRDC Rural Women’s Award winner for NSW-ACT and in my role with FarmLink, I am driven by my commitment to the future of Australian farming. This passion and drive comes primarily from my family who are fifth generation farmers.

I believe research and innovation are key to securing our farming future. When I think about the future of farming in this country I envisage: productive, profitable, sustainable farms; prosperous, healthy farming families; and robust, vibrant rural communities.

A future that is as positive as it is achievable is dependent on: recognition at a social and government level of the important role that our farmers play; development of sustainable farming systems; and ultimately, the ability of our farmers to adapt to change.

Farmers feed and clothe the nation. The food and fibre that they produce supply the needs of Australian citizens and those of our neighbours. Our agricultural sector is an important source of export income and it is a food security asset. It is encouraging to see this recognised in the Agricultural White Paper, along with a growing social awareness of where food comes from. But we can take it further. Farmers should be feted as heroes.

Regardless of what each of us do day to day, it is our farmers who truly put dinner on the table and the shirt on our back. Focusing on the mental health and wellbeing, as well as the social, physical and financial wellbeing of our farmers as a national priority is important in securing the future of farming.

Reaching the stage where our farming systems are sustainable as well as productive and profitable delivers benefits for all Australians. And it is often our farmers who are best positioned to preserve and enhance our land and water resources. They have considerable personal wealth and family history invested in their land and water. The motivation to protect and enhance these natural resources for both productive and personal reasons represents a real asset to the pursuit of sustainable farming practices.

The opportunity to work with farmers to achieve sustainable environmental, economic and social outcomes is real and one that is being recognised in our evolving approach to Landcare, among other things.

Public opinion and government policy that recognises and supports farmers in their pursuit of a prosperous future is one part of the equation. The other is very much about the farmers themselves.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is often referred to as ‘survival of the fittest’. When in fact the key element of his theory was that ‘it is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change’.

A key determinant of the future of Australian farming is the ability of our farmers to adapt to change. Agricultural research is the key to the creation of new ideas and technologies in response to change. As a nation we invest around $470 million annually in Agricultural research and development. However, it is the development of technologies and ideas into practices that can be adopted; and the act of supporting farmers in their adoption, that sees us overcome constraints and create more productive, profitable and sustainable farms.

At a recent FarmLink event I was excited to hear one of our members, who had worked on the family farm for more than 15 years, finally felt able to call herself a farmer rather than a farmer’s wife. Women represent 50 per cent of the agricultural workforce worldwide. Equally, young people are important sources of farm labour and must be recognised as the future.

I love hearing my young daughter and her cousins proudly describe themselves as farmers. Farmers are a mixed bunch. While they are passionate about producing food for the nation and committed to the ever-changing face of Australian agriculture, our farming future is in fact everyone’s responsibility and everyone’s reward.

Next issue of the The Country Web

Out 2017 annual issue of The Country Web will explore the theme Connect and Collaborate. We want to hear from contributors about creating meaningful connections, mentoring and sharing wisdom, books and people that have inspired you. Contributions are due by 21 April 2017 for publication August 2017. Send your contributions to RWN

Posted in farming, leadership, NSW Rural Women's Network, rural women, stories, The Country Web | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Role models for wool

Guest Blog submitted by Lynne Strong,  National Program Director – Picture You in Agriculture

The Australian wool industry derives great benefits from participants who stand as role models for the industry’s future leaders. 


At 20 Peta Bradley is well on the way to securing her career within the Australian wool industry. Currently studying a Bachelor of Rural Science at the University of New England, she has come from a life on the land to the realm of academia with aspirations of giving back to the world of wool. She envisages a career with extension work before ultimately returning to the family farm. It is an immersion in the industry made richer by the role models she turns to.

“I would define a role model as someone who leads by example,” Peta says, “and whose actions reflect their values. Encouraging to others, patience and willingness to give their time – these are the core values I see in a role model.” Positive role models can come from all facets of life – from family, community, career or from the wider public arena – and each has different lessons to impart.

The Bradley Family run a mixed farming property near Armatree in northern New South Wales where cropping stands alongside a commercial Merino flock and the New Armatree Border Leicester Stud. With her father an agronomist and her mother a talented stockwoman, Peta and her brother grew up with a hands-on approach to agriculture. A love for the land and the sheep was further developed at high school where Peta was involved in Junior Judging and agricultural shows. However she cites her mother Jenny as being the most influential role model for her career with wool.

“My mother is definitely a role model,” Peta says. “Being a rural woman who works on the farm and is a major decision maker was pretty unique when I was growing up. Not a lot of kids at school had mothers like her. Mum was the Chair of the Toowareenah Prime Lamb Association (and the only woman on the board) and now she sits on the board of the Central West LLS, and while there are other females in the organisation she is one of the few representing at a producer level. She’s not afraid to sit in a boardroom full of men and give her opinion. She is pretty impressive to watch and she has definitely led me to where I am now. I’d like to think I encompass some of those same qualities and values.”

Jenny Bradley was recognised for her work in the wool industry in 2005 when she was awarded the RIRDC NSW Woman of the Year and she credits this accolade for giving her the confidence to take on more positions at board level and within the community. This assurance she passes on: “I have always told my kids they can do anything in the world if they have goals and work towards them,” she says. “With Peta’s school marks she could have done anything (career-wise) and agriculture is fortunate she has chosen it. Agriculture needs the young, enthusiastic and tech-savvy.”

Peta credits Emily King at Australian Wool Innovation as another role model. Emily manages education and extension for on-farm research and development and spends her days talking to people across the entire wool supply chain. She first met Peta through Art4Agriculture’s Young Farming Champions (YFC) program. “I read her resume and recognised the breadth of opportunities she had availed herself of,” Emily says. “To see a young person who had obviously been proactive about sourcing opportunities both practical and academic was impressive. She is enthusiastic and super keen on promoting sheep and wool to anyone.” Although Emily does not see herself as a role model she is flattered someone like Peta, for who she has enormous respect, sees her in that light. For Emily, Peta is a role model, and this illustrates the mutual benefits of strong relationships in the wool industry.

At the YFC workshops Emily offered constant support and encouragement to Peta and was instrumental in her becoming part of events such as Agvision and AWI’s wool education stand at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.  “Emily is another really strong woman, like my mother, who is very encouraging,” Peta says “and I admire the fact she seeks out opportunities I would be suited to. Her willingness to give her time and talk to me is something I really value.”

While her mother and Emily have been influential in a direct way Peta recognises character traits in others that cross careers. “At the recent Olympic Games Cate Campbell had the weight of a nation on her shoulders, but when she didn’t swim as well as she had hoped, she still stood up in a media interview and admitted as much,” Peta recalls. “It makes me take a step back and think ‘wow, these athletes are pretty selfless and gutsy’ and they are not just doing something for themselves but for their country.”

And Peta, too, is doing something for others and becoming a role model for the next generation. Her involvement in agricultural shows has continued. At the University of New England she was one of a group of women who re-instated the sheep section at the Armidale Show and through this she actively inspires younger people to become involved in Junior Judging. She has also been part of The Archibull Prize, which takes the story of wool into the classrooms. “I am quite humbled I am moving into a position of a role model myself,” she says, “but it is also exciting because I get to promote youth in agriculture in an industry I love.”

For thousands of years the aboriginal people strengthened their culture through the passing of knowledge and so the wool industry is strengthened by characters such as Jenny, Emily and Peta. These women all possess the selfless quality of giving back to agriculture by passing along their own knowledge, and agriculture and wool can only be the better for it.

Posted in leadership, rural women, RuralWomen, Women leaders | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Farmer and food blogger takes out national Rural Women’s Award

Source: RIRDC 14 September 2016

Sophie Hansen, a deer farmer, food blogger and author from Orange, NSW has been announced as the national winner of the 2016 RIRDC Rural Women’s Award. The award celebrates brilliant women and the positive impact they have on rural industries, businesses and communities.

The announcement was made by Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce in front of 300 industry leaders, parliamentarians and award alumnae at a gala dinner at Parliament House on Wednesday.

Sophie Hansen accepting her award from Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce.

2016 Australian RIRDC Rural Women’s Award winner Sophie Hansen accepting her award from Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce.

Sophie Hansen, as the NSW State winner, received $10,000 to develop her project ‘My Open Kitchen’, a unique online learning course assisting food producers to embrace the power of social media to share their food stories and better connect with their consumers. As the national winner, she receives a further $10,000 to strengthen her leadership skills and share her experience with others around the country.

Sophie said celebrating Australian farmers and the provenance of quality local food is the inspiration for her project.

“My ever-constant goal is to support and celebrate Australian farmers by encouraging consumers to seek out their produce as directly as possible, then cook and share it!”

Western Australian finalist and seed producer, Kalyn Fletcher, was named national runner-up and will use her $10,000 bursary to pursue her passion to expand tropical agriculture in Australia’s north. Kalyn will undertake a study tour of the Cerrado Region of Brazil where she will learn from South America’s highly successful tropical agriculture industry and bring new ideas and practices home to the Kimberley’s Ord River region.

Sophie Hansen & Kalyn Fletcher

2016 Australian RIRDC Rural Women’s Award winner Sophie Hansen accepting her award from Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce.

Kalyn says the knowledge and insights she gains from her tour will be shared with producers in her region to promote and help grow the success of the industry.

“Tropical agriculture is an industry Australia should be excited about. We are achieving amazing things up here in the North, the opportunities are endless,” she said.

RIRDC Managing Director, John Harvey congratulates Sophie on winning the national Award and said her desire to support farmers to use social media to capture their stories is an example of rural leadership at its best.

“Sophie will be a brilliant ambassador for the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award. She has the talent to create real change through influencing the conversation around educating consumers on where their food comes from and to buy local. This is a really positive message that will benefit our farmers and the broader food industry. Sophie’s passion is contagious,” he said.

Mr Harvey also congratulates Kalyn on being the national runner-up of this prestigious Award.

“Kalyn’s aspiration to further the expansion of northern Australia is exciting. She has the passion, drive and determination to make a difference in her region and to the wider Australian tropical agriculture industry. Kalyn should be commended not just for what she has already done for rural Australia, but for her leadership potential in the future.”

Sophie, Kalyn and each of our deserving 2016 state finalists will join an esteemed alumnae of more than 200 women recognised through this Award. Each are from diverse backgrounds around the nation who contribute in many different ways. They’re community volunteers, farmers, business leaders and industry representatives,” he said.


State Finalists in the 2016 RIRDC Rural Women’s Award

The Award’s Platinum Sponsor, Westpac Agribusiness also congratulated Sophie Hansen on taking out the national Award.

“Westpac Agribusiness congratulates Sophie for the innovative work she has done in developing My Open Kitchen. The Rural Women’s Award is highly recognised and regarded across rural, regional and remote Australia and held in high esteem by industry, government and community. The recognition the Award brings is important as it provides women with a strong platform to bring about innovative change and help in continuing to build resilient rural, regional and remote communities. Importantly, the award highlights the vital leadership role women play across all levels of business and industry,” said Susan Bower, Head of Agribusiness.

“We are excited to support Sophie as she continues to build and grow My Open Kitchen, and look forward to seeing all she achieves in the next twelve months, and into the future. We congratulate all the state finalists on their achievements and look forward to following their future success.

Westpac Agribusiness is proud to once again be the Platinum Partner of the Rural Women’s Award.  It is another way in which we can shine a light on the vital role women play and help to inspire and promote our future champions of change within Australian agriculture,” Ms Bower said.

2016 NSW-ACT Award winner and finalists

Applications for the 2017 Rural Women’s Award are open. If you or someone you know has a strong commitment or desire to making a real difference to rural Australia, then apply or nominate them now. It truly is a life changing opportunity. Applications close on Monday, 31 October 2016.


About the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award

The RIRDC Rural Women’s Award is an initiative of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation in partnership with the state and territory agencies responsible for agriculture, primary industries and resources. The RIRDC Rural Women’s Award is proudly supported by Westpac Agribusiness and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

This leading Award serves to acknowledge the vital role women play in rural businesses, industries and communities, recognising women that lead their communities, bring about change, drive innovation and build resilient rural communities.

The Award is open to all women involved in primary industries. State and Territory winners receive a $10,000 financial bursary to implement their Award idea. Each state and territory winner will participate in leadership development opportunities such as the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) course and will be supported to develop an individual integrated leadership plan, providing a platform for recipients to continue to deliver a long term contribution and improvement to regional and rural Australia.

A national winner and runner-up is selected from the state winners with a further $10,000 awarded to support their professional development and contribution to primary industries.

For more information and details on how to apply contact Rural Women’s Network on 02 6391 3620 or email:

Stay tuned for information on a RWA National Webinar which will give interested women more information about the Award and why it is a life-changing experience. The webinar is scheduled for Tuesday 11 October at 1 pm (more information to come).

Posted in bursary, RIRDC rural women's award, rural women, Women leaders | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

NSW wins National 2016 RIRDC Rural Women’s Award

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Accomplished food and lifestyle writer from Orange, Sophie Hansen, has won the 2016 National Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Award at a gala ceremony in Canberra overnight.

Sophie & Tim Hansen

Sophie & Tim Hansen

Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair, said Sophie’s win was well-deserved recognition of her efforts to promote food and agribusiness, and her inclusive approach to working with women in rural communities.

“Sophie’s extraordinary talents in the food and social media space are indicative of the innovative work being undertaken right across regional NSW,” Mr Blair said.

“Her project ‘My Open Kitchen’ shares the important story from paddock to plate and encourages farming businesses to use social media to strengthen rural communities.”

Sophie’s win follows in the footsteps of Central West landholder and sustainable agriculture trailblazer Pip Job, who in 2014 became the first NSW woman to win the National RIRDC Rural Women’s Award.

Sophie’s prize includes a bursary of $10,000 and the opportunity to share her vision and business model with communities across Australia.

Nominations for the 2017 NSW-ACT RIRDC Rural Women’s Award are currently open and close at the end of October 2016.

For more information about how to apply or for access to a mentor, email: or call 02 6391 3620.

Posted in bursary, farming, Grants and funding, inspirational, leadership, RIRDC rural women's award, rural women, RuralWomen | Leave a comment

Encouraging men to tackle mental health

Mens Health written on the roadIn Australia, one in eight men are likely to experience depression in their lifetime and one in five men are likely to experience anxiety in a 12 month period.  On this very day, seven Australians will take their own lives and five of them will be men.  It’s a substantiated fact that many suicides occur as a result of unresolved mental health issues or treatable mental trauma.

The social norms of masculinity play an important role in the gender differences of suicide.  Men have a greater tendency not to recognise or respond to their own negative emotions or distress, which in turn may directly result in clinical depression.  This is partly due to the perceived stigma associated with ‘mental health’.

For too many men, depression and anxiety has been associated with weakness, and that is synonymous with failure.  The implication of seeing anxiety and depression as a weakness is that help-seeking can be seen as a failure to ‘handle the problem’.

Without understanding the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, many men are unlikely to know when crisis point is reached.

Through tackling the rate of depression and anxiety in men, reducing stigma, facilitating a change in men’s help-seeking behaviour and challenging perceptions of masculinity, it is believed that a reduction in the male suicide rate can be achieved.

Beyondblue commissioned a significant study into understanding what stops men identifying and dealing with mental health issues.  The Hall and Partners/Open Mind Men’s Help Seeking Behaviour Report identified eight approaches to reaching men:

  • Take the mental health language out of the communication
  • Show male role models of hope and recovery
  • Connect physical symptoms with emotional issues
  • Meet men where they are, through humour, targeted media (sport), use of the internet
  • Promote opportunities for community connection
  • Coach men and the people around them on what to look for and what to do
  • Provide men the opportunity to self-assess and take action

Importantly, the research found that re-framing the effeminate term ‘getting help’ to a more positive and actioned-based one of ‘taking action’ is key in changing mindset and encouraging men taking charge of their mental health.

For more information or if you or someone you know needs support visit: Beyondblue or phone 1300 22 4636.

Posted in anxiety, Communities, Depression, Families, Health, Men, mental health, Research, resilience, suicide | Leave a comment