Business focus for WIFE

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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A group of West Arthur women has become more business savvy by establishing their own Women in Farming Enterprise group.

WIFE is a professional network that aims to build skills and confidence among women.

In addition to becoming a support network of this nature, a further benefit is that WIFE can link members with outside expertise to address knowledge gaps.

The WIFE concept began in Lake Varley in 2009 when five women with a desire to improve their families' farming businesses sat around a kitchen table to discuss relevant topics.

Although this initial group, which included Lynette Gittos and Anna Lisa Newman, did not know how the session would go, the ideas flowed and the room was a buzz with topics to discuss, challenges encountered and possible solutions.

So successful was the concept that a formal group was established under the name Women in Farming Enterprises.

Now the membership-based organisation continues to spread throughout the Wheatbelt.

WIFE branches now operate at Ongerup, Cranbrook, and Lake Grace, as well as the recently established West Arthur/Darkan group.

At last count the organisation had more than 100 women on its books.

Although WIFE groups operate locally, they also link in to the State network so that support is wider reaching.

The West Arthur group was instigated by Darkan's Janelle South, who last year took part in the Grow Your Farmer Networks workshop, an initiative by Australian Wool Innovation aimed at building women's capacity in the wool industry.

She was successful in applying for one of five $3000 grants available through the workshop, and used it to fund a research trip for a group of nine West Arthur-based women to visit the Varley-based group and attend the WIFE annual seminar.

The grant also helped to pay for the West Arthur group's registration costs for the seminar.

"On our visit to Varley we liked what we saw, and were keen to bring it back to our area," Mrs South said.

"The next step was an information day in Darkan where Mrs Gittos, who has taken on the unpaid role of WIFE branch development executive, came along and spoke about WIFE, how it started, and what we could gain from forming such a group.

"We had a huge response with 45 local ladies attending on that day, and so we decided to form our own group."

The West Arthur women, after forming their own branch, held their first formal meeting in February.

There are now 29 women registered under this group.

Mrs South is president of the West Arthur group, with Karen Harrington treasurer and Helen Lubcke secretary.

Mrs South said this was an establishment committee and the group would go through the normal nomination and voting process for office bearers at its first AGM later in the year.

As an example of linking with outside expertise, the West Arthur WIFE members went on an excursion through CSBP's soil and plant analysis laboratory at Bibra Lake in Perth, to see soil sampling and testing processes first hand.

At their next meeting, local fertiliser representative Nathan Cuthbert took the women through the soil testing results, and discussed how to make fertiliser decisions based on those numbers to benefit their cropping businesses. The West Arthur women have also attended a session on learning how to use DropBox, which is an important form of sharing information through the wider WIFE network.

An important element of the WIFE group is the fostering of trust and confidentiality.

"The idea is that WIFE is a completely safe environment to ask questions and hold discussions," Mrs South said.

"There is a big focus on privacy and trust.

"We may discuss personal issues; for example dealing with a family or staff member, and we ensure this is done in a respectful manner and kept within the walls of the WIFE group for business progress only, not gossip."

Mrs South said much support for the West Arthur group had come from Bendigo Bank, which had provided a lump sum to sponsor creche facilities for a year.

She said the availability of creche facilities meant having small children would not be a barrier to attending WIFE meetings.

Mrs South said she was regularly asked about the difference between the CWA and WIFE.

"WIFE is very much business focused and about building the skills and confidence to be able to better understand some of the more fundamental aspects of the business, such as agronomy," she said.

"But there is a social aspect.

"For instance, it is like-minded entrepreneurial women getting together.

"It's also nice for the mothers of younger children to get out of the house and interact with other adults and discuss business. A lot of these ladies come from professional careers in other industries, so they enjoy the discussions and have a lot to offer."

Mrs Gittos said WIFE strived to provide topical business related information, which was shared between the branches via use of Dropbox.

The WIFE Inc committee works hard to keep all information up to date, which requires a huge time commitment.

She said after the success and growth of WIFE, the next aim was to get financial sponsorship to enable the group to have a part-time paid position which would be responsible for collating and sharing this information and helping with co-ordination of the annual seminar.

For further details, or to have a WIFE information day held in your area, contact info@wife.org.au .

WEBINARS *

Women living in rural, regional and remote areas of WA will have access to professional development, as part of an initiative by the National Rural Women's Coalition.

The NRWC is hosting a three-part webinar series offering participants access to live presentations in an interactive webinar room.

The focus of the Thrive Webinar Series is about making positive changes both within personal life and the rural communities.

Topics to be covered over the three-week series include goal setting (by Maree Gooch of the Peel region), healthy foundations (with Julia Telford of the rural Queensland) and building strong communities (hosted by Caroline Robinson of the eastern Wheatbelt).

NRWC chair Patricia Hamilton the group has delivered leadership and learning programs for more than three and a half years, over that time upskilling more than 100 women.

The NRWC series is free and open to all women living in rural, regional and remote WA. The webinars will be held on June 30, July 7 and July 14 (with a compulsory webinar test on June 23). Places are limited - register at projects@nrwc.com.au by COB on June 10.

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