Two weeks after the Regions Rising National Summit, staff at RAI are still feeling the exhilaration (see above) and exhaustion that comes from scaling our own personal Everest – getting three hundred people from across the country in one place (amid the uncertainties of a pandemic) to celebrate the joys, explore the opportunities, and tackle the challenges of regional living and growth. If you couldn’t be in the bush on March 17-18, the ballroom at Hotel Realm in Canberra, on Ngunnawal Country, was the next best place to be!
Certainly, the joy and energy generated by finally getting together face to face after a year of harsh COVID restrictions was palpable. And you don’t get gourmet sausage rolls and to-die-for chocolate slice for morning tea on a webinar. But the real treat was the mind-food.
In a week which started with women in strong voice rallying for justice outside Parliament House, the powerful female speakers and panellists at the summit really shone. Grace Brennan, the founder of Buy from the Bush, received a standing ovation after her address at RAI’s 10th Anniversary Gala Dinner. National Rural Health Commissioner, Associate Professor Ruth Stewart was a crowd favourite with her call to action for rural health care, as was Jillian Kilby, who brought her Silicon Valley experience home to Australia and founded Dubbo’s co-working hub and innovation incubator, The Exchange.
ABC Chair Ita Buttrose was beamed in, larger than life, with a newsflash about two, new prime-time TV series which will air this year: Movin’ to the Country and Muster Dogs.
And of course, the RAI’s powerhouse, CEO Liz Ritchie was a linchpin throughout the two-day Regions Rising event, starting before dawn on Day One with a live cross into ABC News Breakfast, then launching our national Move to More campaign with the Deputy Prime Minister, before her clarion call on regionalisation.
Speakers across the event agreed that the time to act is now, with COVID-19 prompting a reassessment of the way we live and work and providing a golden opportunity to reshape Australia’s future away from its current trajectory of overcrowded megacities with declining productivity.
US strategist John O’Duinn, the author of Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart, reminded us that remote work is no longer a technical issue, but a leadership issue …
… a leadership issue that can no longer be dodged, as Coca-Cola Amatil Group General Manager Alison Watkins so clearly laid out in her keynote address.
But the key to success will be true partnership, according to summiteers who took part in the Policy Hack; regional Australians must not only inform decision-making, they must be at the table making the decisions. More and better data was also recognized as essential. In building resilient communities, Policy Hackers called for “an ecology of care”– an idea that drew a warm wave of affirmative aaaahhs from across the conference room. RAI is now writing up the suggestions for program and policy reform that came out of the Policy Hack and will submit those to all levels of government.
Next to the sausage rolls, the RAI’s Liveability Toolkit was the hottest item at the summit. Hard copies disappeared in a flash, but luckily it’s also online. The hands-on guide addresses the factors that make a place “liveable” – such as jobs, cost of living, health and education services, connections to community and lifestyle options – and gives regional communities the tools to develop a unique plan for attracting and retaining the people and skills they need.
We, at RAI, loved the summit, and it appears most of those who attended did too. Ninety percent of feedback respondents said they’d encourage others to go to future Regions Rising events. We’ve got ideas about how we might make the national event even better next time round, and we’d love to hear any that you have.
Building on the national summit, we have a #RegionsRising webinar or conference every month from May until October, kicking off with a virtual event in May which is likely to focus on the hot topic of regional housing. We’ll be taking our conferences back on the road this year, with events planned for Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, Bunbury in Western Australia and Shepparton in Victoria. Keep up to date with the schedule on the Regions Rising website.
The RAI team is looking forward to catching up with you either virtually or in the flesh, sometime this year!