By Sophia Hoffenberg. As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.
2018 NSW-ACT AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award (RWA) winner, Jillian Kilby, approaches life optimistically, with the logical thinking of a civil engineer, the roll-up-your-sleeves attitude of a farmer’s daughter from Coonamble, and an with altruistic passion for change.
When asked what led to her career as an Engineer, Jillian says she always wanted an exciting career—something that was different yet applicable across the world, just as much as back home in rural NSW.
‘After crossing out every degree I did not want to do in the UAC guide, the only one left was engineering. Within six months of study at Sydney University I was incredibly interested in the subject and excited about the future.
‘I love that you never stop learning as an engineer. There is always another exciting project, another great challenge, a new avenue to explore and you work with people who are passionate and interesting.
‘Engineers hold the knowledge and technology that forms our built environment and information systems. They are one of the most important and highly regarded professions across the world. Engineering speaks every language throughout every era of history, and will be of significant importance to our future.’
Jillian graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering with First Class Honours.
She worked for a number of companies before taking the leap and establishing her own engineering business. Her company, The Infrastructure Collaborative, has served the infrastructure needs of 50 local governments in regional NSW since 2009 when it was established from a 50 000 acre property west of Walgett. Now based in Dubbo, Jillian serves clients in Australia and the United States, where she is able to cross-pollinate learnings from a diverse set of work environments.
‘Starting my own project engineering company was about having a great career as an engineer, no matter where I chose to live. Operating in outback NSW, I love that my contribution to rural infrastructure directly affects the communities in which I live.
‘Every project is different, the people are friendly, the challenges are unique and I work harder knowing that the responsibility stops with me.
‘I have always chased ambitious dreams and followed my heart. That is the key to a satisfying career and fulfilling life.’
Jillian’s inspiration for developing an internationally based company is all about collecting memories and a diverse set of experiences. She says that to remove limitations and boundaries you have to actively seek more experiences, so operating in different places, meeting new people and seeing the way things are done elsewhere are key drivers of her multinational business.
‘Every project I work on in San Francisco makes me aware of something I can do better in regional Australia and every challenge we solve in regional Australia makes me a better operator in California.’
In 2013, the Australian Sir John Monash Foundation changed Jillian’s trajectory forever, affording her the opportunity to study at Stanford University in California. Jillian approached her MBA education with a view to bringing skills to improve infrastructure on a regional level back to Australia. She now employs a Design Thinking approach learned at Stanford to solve problems and shift infrastructure projects from government planning shelves to be shovel ready. When working on roads, Jillian refocuses infrastructure conversations around productivity for agriculture and mining, safety for school buses and access for tourism.
The Regional Startups Insight Study came about after returning to regional Australia and seeing the delta between the services delivered in Silicon Valley and Sydney for
people who are starting businesses. The project is about better understanding the needs of regional business owners, especially those who are on the cusp of starting a new business.
Jillian has experienced first-hand the difficulties of operating in isolation from like-minded people, stalling at the boundaries of her confidence in 2012 when running her business from a farm in Walgett. It is her aim to never see this happen to another regional business owner again and to empower women to make strong, brave decisions out of hope, not fear.
Jillian’s Rural Women’s Award project will help improve the commercial success of start-ups by increasing the capability, capacity and confidence of regional business owners. The project lives within a bigger ecosystem to develop more effective space and services for new and growing business owners within Dubbo and the wider catchment.
The Regional Startups Insight Study is about understanding women’s needs as they contemplate new ideas and business start-ups to identify the tools they need to launch their businesses into the commercial realm. For Jillian, this project isn’t about opening doors, it’s about knowing how to design the door handles.
‘When women in business thrive, communities thrive too. I want to encourage women to step outside their comfort zones and provide the support they need to pursue professional and personal goals.
‘There are women in regional NSW putting their careers on hold, accepting levels of underemployment, and mulling over new business ideas at their kitchen tables, needing reassurance, guidance and a gentle push to tip them over the edge into the business world. I spent my childhood running out the door with one boot on, begging not to be left behind and constantly proving myself to be capable of anything and everything my brother could do.’
Jillian views the success of her project and its wider impacts as. ‘Knowing the women in regional NSW thriving right now is multiplied, and that those thriving women help other thriving women through mentoring and co-working together.’
‘When women in business thrive, particularly in regional NSW, all of society benefits. I’m sure a lot of you have met these women, they are so contagious and come with a warning label that says, “If you hang out with me for too long, I will brainwash you into believing in yourself and knowing you can achieve anything”.’
Jillian has a strong rural background that has instilled in her a confident and resilient nature through the challenges tied to living regionally. She lives with a high level of optimism, constantly reinforced throughout an energetic, freedom-filled and education-emphasised childhood that differentiates regional women. She believes that, ‘education is given to one to benefit many to make Australia great’, and through working on a project in the regional community, rural women working remotely can achieve prosperity.
‘As a rural woman, I define prosperity as a time in life when the excitement of starting a business on a remote farm overpowers the fear, when the phone rings weekly with assurance from mentors, and when the resources are so readily available, contentment as a business leader overrides caution.’
While some would say running a successful international engineering business is enough, that’s not the case for Jillian. In addition to running her successful engineering business she devotes generous amounts of her time to serving rural communities through various board and committee roles and volunteer positions. She also mentors other young rural women to achieve their goals and be their best self. I am fortunate to be one of those women and have learnt so much and been inspired by Jillian’s experience, tenacity and passion.
Jillian now joins the Rural Women’s Award Alumni—ready to learn, give back, and meet new people as a part of her experience. She will go on to compete for the National Rural Women’s Award—the winner to be announced at a special gala event at Parliament House Canberra in October. She is a truly vibrant rural woman, with an inspirational nature, infectious enthusiasm and has an overwhelming ability to leave you sparkling, knowing you can achieve anything you dare to dream of. Jillian is a legend in her own right, and all rural women will benefit from the opportunities her inspired project emanates.
The AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award is Australia’s leading award acknowledging and supporting the essential role women play in rural industries, businesses and communities. The award provides a platform to inspire and support Australian women to use and develop their skills to benefit their industries and communities. Each state and territory winner receives a $10 000 bursary for innovative ideas and projects, access to professional development opportunities and alumni networks
The award is open to all women involved in rural industries, rural and regional businesses and rural and regional communities. Location is no barrier. If you want to create impact, innovate and make a difference and/or contribute to enhancing the prosperity of rural and regional Australia, then we want to hear from you.
Applications for the 2019 Award are closed and we hope to announce our finalists in March. If you are interested in applying for the Award in the future, keep an eye out for the 2020 application process later this year.