NRM encompasses coordinated strategies that address sustainable utilisation of our major natural resources, such as land, water, soil, forests, fisheries, plants and animals; usually administered through a specific type of NGO (Non-Government Organisation). There are currently 54 NRMs across Australia, one of which is NQ Dry Tropics, where Jennifer works as Living Landscapes Program Manager.

NQ Dry Tropics is the leading NRM body for the Burdekin Dry Tropics region covering a land area of approximately 134,000km² and 12,000km² of sea country in North-Eastern Queensland. The group works to build capacity to manage land through drought, flood and climate variability, promote resilient business practices and safeguard landscapes and natural assets for future generations.

“We aim for collective impact, Jennifer said. “We call it a triple bottom line approach with economic, environmental and social outcomes.”

“We build relationships with people and undertake projects that support priorities, work with stakeholder groups and manage the project to make sure that it is delivered within the scope, for the right reasons by the right people.”

It’s that desire for collective success that inspired Jennifer to enrol in AGSM’s Emerging Leaders Program as part of her Certificate in Executive Management & Development (CEMD).

Utilising and protecting natural resources

A recently completed project that highlights these efforts is the restoration of the Wetlands of Bowling Green Bay Catchment. This area is considered internationally important under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and its condition can influence the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Located south of Townsville in cane-growing region, this four-year project aims to reduce the threats to the Bowling Green Bay Ramsar site, adjacent coastline and adjoining creek catchments. This is done by managing weed infestation, creating fish passageways to assist with seasonal migration and spawning, managing pests and improving fauna nesting and feeding habitat by revegetating and repairing dunes.

“We worked with several stakeholders in the area through a Management Advisory Group," she said.

"We've put together these plans which essentially say this is what needs to happen in these key wetlands to improve their health and integrity. These plans identify key locations and priority areas for wetland repair as well strategies for engaging with industry groups to support environmentally-friendly water practices.”

Key partners included the local council, water authority, traditional owner groups and not-for-profit organisations. Jennifer says it’s a good example of the collective impact that NQ Dry Tropics strives for.

“We know that individually, all of the stakeholders in that group could do their own small bits, but we accomplish a lot more when we do it together,” she said.

“So a shared plan and a shared vision of what you're trying to accomplish in a particular area is much more powerful than biting off little chunks."

"Not only do you have a plan for what you need to happen on the ground, but you also have momentum from a group of people who have that same vision.”

A desire to make an impact through strong leadership

One thing Jennifer loves about her job is that no two days are the same. Entering the organisation as a volunteer and progressing to a management position, she saw the potential to make a real impact in her role, which lead her to AGSM.

“I like feeling like I’m contributing to something greater. It’s challenging sometimes, but I also love learning and that’s something I do every day."

“I wanted to undertake professional development to be a better manager and better leader in the community where I live and work – a colleague had recommended AGSM,” she added.

The global pandemic put a halt on her plans for a while. But when borders reopened, she thought it was the perfect opportunity to get out of her comfort zone and learn more about herself by taking on the first part of her CEMD, with the Emerging Leaders Program @ AGSM.

“I wanted to start strong with the Emerging Leaders Program. I went in with the goal to just learn and immerse myself in a course focused on personal growth so I could get the most out of the following online courses. I wanted to know as much as I could know about myself,” she said.

Challenging assumptions with a fresh perspective

Jennifer said she never saw herself as a “business school type person”, but the program surprised her when it wasn’t just about business. She learned about the psychology of being part of the team, how to operate in the corporate world if you’re not a businessperson and making choices to benefit the group. This relates directly to her work at NQ Dry Tropics.

“The program helped me gain confidence in my role, showed me how and where to find resources to help me manage potential challenges and taught me a lot about myself and my habits – the good and not so good.”

“Anyone can be a manager, but not everyone can be a leader - someone who is responsible for making some sort of decisions. Having the ability to expand the pool of knowledge for myself and being able to understand the different theories and ways to approach a problem, I really saw value in that.”

Jennifer followed up the Emerging Leaders Program with AGSM short courses in Negotiation Essentials, Implementing Strategy for Results and Leading with Resilience, as part of her Certificate in Executive Management & Development (CEMD)

“I really liked the negotiations essentials course. I thought I had an idea what I was going to get out of it, and it wasn’t that at all,” she said.

“The biggest takeaway was looking at alternatives. Asking yourself the cost of the second-best option and figuring out if that’s good enough. As well as being strategic, not just in terms of the deal, but your relationship with people as you’re making it.”

Strong leadership equals more collective impact

Jennifer says most people want to enjoy a sustainably managed world, but you need strong and responsible leadership to achieve that. With NRM bodies acting like the bridge between community, landowners, and traditional owners, it’s important they understand how to turn science and intention into a functional and applicable project.

“When you work in NRM, you see the risks of poor resource management up close, like land degradation, poor water quality and loss of biodiversity. The risks are very high for the environment,” she said.

But on the flip side, she can see the direct benefit of the work NQ Dry Tropics is doing, and it’s something she’s proud of.

“I like being able to drive around the region, and when I see people out fishing, swimming and bird watching, it’s nice to be able to reflect on the fact that I’ve had a hand in this – however small or large.”

And with a suite of practical and personal learnings gained during AGSM’s Emerging Leader Program and CEMD, Jennifer is better equipped to drive even more positive change in her community for a sustainable future that can be shared with future generations.

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