The Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programme has become a positive force for Scotland’s future, not only in our own country, but also it’s been recognised around the world as a force for good that’s being emulated.
With those of you gathered here today, 430 people have now been through our programme. Together, we are strong and have an undeniable bond that you will feel time and time again over the coming years. I’ve had conversations with fellow rural leaders that I’ve never met before, which have rapidly gone into fast forward mode – very quickly natural human barriers come down, confidences are shared and allegiances are easily formed. This is an immense ‘soft’ power for us as a community of vibrant people and leaders in our fields.
We also join an international community of trained and supported rural leaders – including people in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and countries across Europe.
So, my journey
I’m the daughter of a spy, genetically100% Scottish, I was brought up overseas in Cyprus, India and Turkey – and have worked in Australia and New Zealand.
My family had no farming background, but agriculture and food are my passion. I have a degree in agriculture from Seale Hayne, an HNC in horticulture and a post-grad diploma in marketing. I run a communications and marketing business specialising in agriculture, food and rural affairs. I live just outside Turriff in Aberdeenshire with my husband, Mike.
My clients include The Oxford Farming Conference, the Chemical company BASF, Agrovista, Mzuri, Interagro, Allflex and a law firm, Burges Salmon. I also work with individuals on their profile-building.
I do a lot of voluntary work; I have recently completed a two-year term as Chairman of the 500-member strong British Guild of Agricultural Journalists. During my Chairmanship I led our Guild to host the 2014 International Federation of Agricultural Journalists Congress, which welcomed 240 agri-food journalists from 37 countries to the north east of Scotland, south east England and Wales to hear our country’s food and farming story.
I joined the rural leadership programme back in 2011/12 and I’m now on the Harvesting the Growth Programme with 10 other fantastic and visionary rural leaders.
The two programmes have put me way out of my comfort zone on occasions – but this has helped me develop as a person, a business woman and, most important as a leader.
What the Scottish Government funds in our programme is outstanding in its vision. But what has been completely invaluable to me on my journey is the unconditional support of Julian and Julia – they are like my two guardian angels in my pocket – always there, always helping and making dreams real.
The rural leadership journey has made me many like-minded contacts, it’s made me question and add rigidity to my views, it’s made me confident that, as one small person in a big world, that I matter and I can contribute robustly to the Scottish and the rural economy.
I now feel that there’s value in being me - to be unconventional, to challenge the status quo, it’s OK to have different views, it’s fine to be dyslexic with numbers because I’m good with words. I believe that my ideas matter, my direction matters.
I have some business ideas for my future that Julian and Julia are helping me with – these include connecting entrepreneurial leaders globally to form meaningful initiatives, challenging the rural economy to think bigger and bolder and playing my part in developing a more consumer-focused roadmap for British agriculture.
So what is important for Scotland's rural economy? I think our lifeblood lies in three areas: Innovation, internationalisation and resilience.
I’ve been lucky to have had some incredible international exposure in my personal and professional life; and it’s taught me that borders can be bridged by people, their ideas, their passion and their commitment.
For a small country of circa 5 million people, Scotland’s international footprint is disproportionately large. As I found from our hosting of the Agricultural Journalists Congress, our heritage, our stunning landscape and the quality of our food and drink make Scotland desirable to both international and domestic consumers.
And, unlike many of our competitors, we have Government support for our outputs via Scottish Enterprise, Scotland Food & Drink, Visit Scotland and Scottish Development International. Via the latter, we all have access to the Global Scot Network of 650 business leaders in 51 countries to help Scottish businesses looking to trade internationally. They are there for us to access if we want to. What an incredible resource.
One of our mightiest exports is our whisky – worth over £4.5bn and amounting to 25% of the UK’s food and drink exports; but we also have iconic, lucrative brands in Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb and Scottish Seafood, to name but a few.
This international success brings opportunity for all of us in this room; to develop our own Scottish brands – just as Mackies has done with their crisps and ice cream which are now exported to close to 30 countries; an opportunity to diversify into tourism or as a destination for business travel, or to use the digital world to build links with consumers in cities all over the world who love our story and want to taste, see or experience Scotland.
Innovation is the bread and butter of successful businesses in our progressive digital world, a world where consumers are increasingly well connected and engaged. And Scotland is good at technology. We innovate in medicine, food and drink, engineering and the digital space. Scotland invests more in research per head of the population that anywhere else. And our universities work with 26,000 companies every year to turn new ideas into products and services.
By way of examples - we are big in gaming and have invented Li Fi which uses the light spectrum instead of radio frequencies to enable high-speed wireless access. It is set to become a technology worth £100 billion by 2022 and it was developed at Edinburgh University. We have developed some of the most incredible solutions for extracting oil from hard-to-reach places – OK, that’s not great when oil price is hovering at around $35 a barrel; but as stocks of this finite resource diminish, this expertise could have huge commercial value to Scotland.
Now, whilst the rural economy is unlikely to develop innovations like these, we are collectively responsible for important commercial assets – Scotland’s land, its primary food production and its natural heritage. What a huge opportunity this gives us if we can create ideas that changes the way we use these assets and make them more valuable to both companies and consumers.
I know two farmers who work with in partnership with a multinational company as biodiversity ambassadors – part of their farms are managed for wildlife and birdlife; the multinational utilises the farms for lobbying and advocacy work, and to underpin their corporate and social responsibility – one of the farmers says he earns enough for this to pay for both of his children’s school fees very year.
The Scottish gin and vodka distilling boom, and the rise in the craft beer are positively contributing to the rural economy; and in stories like Ogilvy and Arbikie the brands were founded on Scottish farms.
A very good friend of mine works off shore, is trained as a chef and has started a business in his kitchen – Big Beefy’s Biltong – he makes the dried meat snack from Scotch Beef. He sells out every batch in days.
Whilst we all know there is a lot more to success than ideas alone, I do firmly believe that the limits of our imagination will be the limits of our impact.
Our rural leadership community brings us resilience and strength to change and improve our lot if we work together. The situation in farming, a sector so fundamentally important to Scotland, is tough; but like the oil sector I firmly believe that it will improve.
I’ve seen in other countries how rural leaders, working together formally or informally, can make communities and sectors resilient.
I was in Australia last autumn. I met an incredible family – James Walker, his wife and three kids - near Longreach, in Outback Queensland. They had been living with the legacy of 4 seasons of intense drought. No rain, zilch for 4 years. Most had destocked their properties, all were transporting in their drinking water across hundreds of miles and some poor souls were walking their haggard, remaining cattle and sheep 100s of miles along the road verges to find some meagre pickings of grass watered by the night dew condensing on the hot road surfaces. One town had to put up a fence around itself to protect its residents from aggressive kangaroos entering the towns for food and water.
Seeing this community in such hardship was hugely humbling. They have little or no state support for farming; they have to survive on what they have or can make. It made me experience, first hand, what hope springing from adversity really looks like. Don’t get me wrong, there are some dreadfully sad stories of suicide, however the community decided to help itself – they organised a concert to raise funds for a drought appeal given to the community free by Paul Kelly, Australia’s equivalent of Bruce Springsteen; they organised a Bush Forum to which they invited politicians, industry leaders and representatives from the community – its purpose to identify how to build resilience into the outback via tourism, improved broadband connectivity and changing the policy on water storage and management. Does this some of this sound familiar?
Queensland’s rural leaders, our compatriots 10,000 miles away, played a key part in the action that was needed. Despite the worst of conditions, this community is helping itself.
As with the situation in Queensland, we consistently see the importance of leadership in rural communities.
So what have I observed of strong leaders that we can all learn from?
Over the coming months and years, ask yourselves frequently what can we learn from the leaders we know now, we meet along the way, and those from history. There are ten learnings that I think are important.
Learning one: You don’t have to be big to be powerful. Mahatma Gandhi, the great man that led India to independence, wasn’t born a courageous, outspoken leader. In his autobiography, he says that, as a boy, he was so shy that he would run home from school because he couldn’t bear to talk to anybody. Yet this small, Indian man inspired millions of people and was cited as having influenced many world leaders including Martin Luther King Jr., The Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.
Learning Two: Have vision – Nelson Mandela held the vision that he could bring an end to apartheid in a South Africa that was fiercely racist. He held on to this vision despite being incarcerated in prison for 27 years in the most inhumane conditions. He had an unstinting belief that one day his vision would become a reality. Discipline, passion and self-belief drove him forward, one day at a time.
Learning Three: Challenge the status quo, be disruptive – ask a London cabbie what he thinks about Uber the disruptive taxicab business and he’ll probably spit his fury in your face. It’s not surprising - Uber has grown from zero to over 20,000 cabs in London in three years; to put this number into perspective, there are only 22,000 black cabs registered in the city, so it’s doubled the number of cars. There’s an opportunity for London cabbies to stop complaining and look at how they can respond based on their USPs – fixed & transparent prices, customer service, touristic icon and knowledgeable.
Learning Four - Be bold with your ideas - It’s how great ideas and businesses are formed. Who’d have thought that one day an apple would morph from a piece of fruit to a small gadget that fits neatly into your pocket. That it would hold the answer to millions of random questions like how many light bulbs there are there in Buckingham Palace (40,000 apparently), tell you how many steps you’ve walked today and allow you to carry your whole music collection with you everywhere you go?
Learning Five: Network – The old adage it’s not what you know, it’s who you know is fundamental to good leadership. The energy of people fuels every good idea, movement and action. Keep feeding your network, even if you’d rather stay in with a beer watching Eastenders, get yourself out there and active in your communities.
Learning Six: Travel a lot to other businesses, cities and countries - Scotland is a small country and we can be restrictively insular. It’s important to get out of our collective comfort zones. I’ve learnt a lot from the travelling I routinely do as part of my career. It is humbling to see the drive spawned in Peter, a Zimbabwean farmer who fled for his life from his family farm of 5 generations – all he took with him was his wife and two daughters, their dog and a few keepsakes in his ‘Backy’; he now runs the most magical des-res lifestyle community, complete with polo club and vineyard an hour from Cape Town.
Learning Seven: Communicate clearly and with passion.
Formulate your ideas with clarity – it will give you confidence. Learn to communicate well, think about how you will respond to the naysayers. To learn the skill, listen and have a go. Watch TED Talks and try them yourself. Do some speech-making training. Listen to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. Speak to people outside your usual network – it will test your thinking and your ability to respond.
Learning Eight: Be strong
Like many who have led volunteers, I had to learn to be strong and Teflon-coated during my chairmanship of the British Guild which came hard because I’m naturally sensitive. I had to grip the issues with volunteers – they promise and don’t always deliver; I had to instil in my team that, despite being volunteers, we had to be as professional as you would if you were paid for the role and I learnt that, as a leader, there are many days when I would have preferred to don my walking boots and leave the maelstrom of issues behind me; but you have to find the strength to endure. Those closest to you and the people in this room will help you when your strength wavers.
Learning Nine: Collaborate
Stronger together is a great term – forget for a moment that it was coined by pro-unionists – and think about another example. When New Zealand lost its farming subsidies, almost overnight. Rather than becoming factional and fighting for their own corners as we can sometimes do in British farming, they united. The majority of milk processing is now owned by farmer co-ops, New Zealand milk-based exports now account for around 40% of the international dairy trade and the country controls a massive 80% of the global dairy trade. None of this would have been possible without shared vision and collaboration.
Learning Ten: Be mindful of others
Being bold and strong doesn’t mean that you can lose your humility – quite the opposite. We have all seen people trample others to get to where THEY want to be. In the long-run this approach will backfire – and you will lose two things vital to good leaders - your allies and their respect.
So what’s next for you and Scotland’s future?
Despite current rural hardships, I see bright opportunity for us - the mighty 430 Scottish rural leaders. As a group we are important, because we represent the small number of growth sectors for Scotland – rural SMEs are growing, our food and drink sector is booming and is the envy of our global competitors, plus our natural and cultural heritage draws millions of visitors to our shores every day of every year. All of this is coupled with a Government that actively supports the development of rural business.
So what lies ahead for you? You’ll leave here today ready to take on the world, ready to tackle those holding you back or to start a new venture. Try not to lose that energy and momentum. Use each other to remind, badger or bully you into remembering the vision and goals you’ve set yourself here, this day.
The leader’s journey can be as tough as it is rewarding – and it is a learning journey that never ends. Whether you are leading your family business into the future, or an industry body intent on changing the status quo, you will be constantly challenged to grow and develop your skills.
There are times when you will be daunted. Don’t let it stop you from standing tall, speaking out and doing bold things. Scotland needs people like you and I to prosper whether we remain in, or out of the European Union, and in or out of the British Union. It’s an amazingly politically charged era that we live in, potentially a time of great change and certainly a time when the rural sector will need strong cohesion and leadership. The Rural Leadership Alumni has a crucial role to play in this regard.
I'll leave you with one thought to ponder whilst bubbling with ‘can-do’ energy – Scottish Enterprise via Julian and Julia invest a huge amount of effort to sustain the rural leadership alumni – what can we do as a group to be more cohesive and deliver action where it is needed in our rural community? And what would it look like?
And before I close, I thought I’d leave you with three quotes to take away with you:
A theologian, Thomas Aquinas: “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.”
Colin Powell said: “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”