Emerging Leader program


March 2024

When you think of a board of directors, what images come to mind? In Australia, almost 70 per cent of directors are males and their average age is 60, but some organisations are beginning to buck the trend. One of them is Terrain NRM, whose ‘Emerging Leader’ program is in its sixth year and is inspiring other organisations to think outside the square.

When the Terrain NRM Board came up with the ‘Emerging Leader’ program back in 2018, the youngest board member was in his fifties and six out of seven directors were male. Five years later, four directors are in their thirties and the Board is made up of four women and three men.

Former Chair Keith Noble says directors could see there was “untapped leadership talent in the region” and it was most noticeable in the environment sector, where Terrain is the Far North’s natural resource management organisation.

Earlier leadership opportunities for the younger generation 

“While we recognised that youth were our region’s future, the Board had very little engagement with the younger generation at the time,” Keith says.

“The very first interviews for an Emerging Leader blew us away – this program has shown us just how much the Far North’s millennials value the environment and the community we all live in, and how they are looking for ways to make a bigger contribution. It has given us the confidence to appoint younger directors and we’ve seen the benefits.”

Two-way knowledge-sharing program

The one-year ‘Emerging Leader’ program is a mentoring initiative aimed at giving the younger generation opportunities to break through to leadership positions and gain governance experience while also giving the Board a chance to tap into fresh perspectives and connect with a new audience across the region.

Since 2018, three of the Board’s six Emerging Leaders have gone on to become Terrain NRM directors. Lucy Friend is an environmental scientist and North Queensland Airport’s Environmental Manager, and this year she became a Deputy Chair on the Board.

Lucy says a seat around the table to set the strategic direction of an organisation and help shape the region’s future resource management plans has been invaluable.

“The issues facing natural resource management are large-scale, long-term and multi-faceted. It is going to take innovation and commitment from a wide range of individuals and organisations to balance environment, social and economic sustainability across the Wet Tropics region.

“Young people have a lot to contribute and they want to be involved in decision-making, but we don’t often get the opportunity to sit at the boardroom table as colleagues.

“This program gave me the growth I needed…”

“This program gave me the growth I needed to become an effective director, and it has also given me a strong foundation for further growth. I will be more effective in my profession as an environmental scientist too, because I have a better understanding of how organisational structures work and how decisions are made.

“I’ve completed theoretical courses on these things, but nothing compares to getting practical experience and learning from supportive peers.

“I hope these opportunities for young people and for organisations become more common.”

Daniela Matheus-Holland is the Board’s latest ‘Emerging Leader’, and an ecologist with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

She says the role is “a unique opportunity to contribute to the industry in a different way”.

“It’s also an incredible opportunity for professional development and growth. Board positions don’t usually open up at this stage in careers. Since my appointment, I’ve been involved in Terrain’s annual general meeting and regular board meetings, and I’ve planted trees as part of the organisation’s 20th anniversary event.”

Diversity the key to strong leadership

Terrain NRM Chair Barry Hunter says diversity is the key to strong leadership.

“We’ve seen how encouraging diversity leads to better decision-making and to innovation and growth. This program is one example of this. We have a skills-based board and in the last five years we’ve welcomed emerging leaders from environment, agriculture, tourism and economic sectors.

Idea used by other organisations

“The Emerging Leader program has now been adopted by several other organisations and the concept is currently being explored by others. It’s a win-win – we learn from our emerging leaders as they learn from us.”

Terrain NRM is an independent not-for-profit natural resource management organisation working with the Wet Tropics community in the areas of biodiversity, water and soil health, climate and regenerative economies. Terrain is one of 56 regional natural resource management bodies around Australia. Its work advances the sustainable use of land and waterways, protects environmental values and supports healthy, viable communities.

Find out more about our Emerging Leader program here.


Emerging Leader program

Emerging Leader program

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