A group of academically brilliant scientists from across South East Asia and Oceania are in Armidale to learn how to enhance their leadership skills, so they might motivate and inspire people to bring life-saving projects to life back in their homelands.
There are 60 students (fellows) from 20 countries involved and this week a group of 11 students went to visit AD Commodities in Armidale to speak to the owners about their innovative and corporately responsible beef export business.
They will also visit the UNE Smart Farm. Earlier in the year the cohort went on a two-day field trip to Coffs Harbour, visited the tomato farm in Guyra and Bald Blair Angus.
The John Allwright Fellowship (JAF) provides scientists from partner countries the opportunity to obtain postgraduate qualifications at Australian tertiary institutions.
JAF executive leadership (JAFel) program is a new initiative currently run at UNE in partnership with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and designed to complement the research and technical competency taught with management and leadership skills.
JAFel training program leader Rebecca Spence said the program was in response to a need identified by the employers in the fellows' home countries.
"The program came about because the employers of the John Allwright fellows (who mainly work with universities or research centres with ACIAR funded projects) realised that their employees came back as extremely well-skilled scientists and researchers, but they perhaps didn't have much training or grounding in leadership," Dr Spence said.
"And because they are extremely high achieving and the cream of the crop, they will inevitably end up in leadership positions. The fellows themselves embraced the concept because it was a key skill they weren't getting through their higher degree research studies, but they recognised that they would need it."
The visit to AD Commodities on Tuesday was all about seeing leadership in practice Dr Spence said.
"We're trying to show innovation and leadership, so the company directors talk about how they developed the organisation, what their main objectives and values are, how many staff they have and what it takes to be a leader in this field."
Each of the visiting fellows is working on a specific problem in their home country, which is vital to its future prosperity.
"They are working on a variety of different problems, but all are related to food security, innovative technologies and gender empowerment," Dr Spence said
"For example, one of the members from Papua New Guinea is calculating carbon emissions from the logging of hardwood forests in Papua New Guinea. They are looking at the economic, social and political costs of that.
"We've got another one who is working on the problem of fungus in small scale tomato growers in Fiji, while another fellow is looking at food security and different woody and weedy crops that can provide nutrition to people who are malnourished."
Fijian plant health research officer Aloesi Dakuidreketi was studying vegetable diseases.
"Our focus was with the small holder farmers, to try to strengthen the production with them and also improve their living standard," she said.
"That triggered some research for me, to come here and pursue my PhD."
Aloesi said tomatoes were high value in Fiji, tourists saw them in almost every hotel meal. She said while Fiji had the rich soils to grow the tomato plants, there were some quality issues.
"At the hotels they do have their standards, but farmers weren't able to meet them due to diseases. Not only that, the climatic conditions in Fiji also favour fungus," she said.
"Farmers have been using a lot of fungicides; chemicals. This has been my research for the last three-and-a-half-years, to try to find a feasible alternative. My work is on reduced resistance.
"I'm not targeting the pathogens, I'm targeting the defence mechanism of the plant."
Aloesi said she was near the end of her PhD and a leadership role was in front of her when she returned to Fiji.
"Attending this leadership training is very much needed. It's going to build up my capacity as a leader when I go back, so yes, it's really been an amazing," she said.
"I'm actually developing a leadership tool kit for myself.
"I'm putting in every tool that I'm learning, not only from the facilitators, but also from my colleagues."