Last year was a challenge for everyone, worldwide.

That included the group of 20 participants involved in the nine-month 2020 Northern Mallee Leaders Program (NMLP).

It was difficult for the group to be exposed to everything the region had to offer when it was expected to follow COVID health advice and ‘stay at home’ restrictions, but by all reports they thrived on the challenge.

So, the ‘Weekly thought now was a good time to find out just how the 2020 NMLP program went by asking participant Russell ‘Rusty’ Keating, PICTURED, to share his memories of the year, and what lessons he took away from the unprecedented interruption to the program.

“Going into the program I was very excited,” Russell recalls.

“But also very unsure whether I deserved to be there.

“Putting my hand up, expressing an interest in something new like this was stepping into the unknown for me. But, very quickly, I settled into the group and have subsequently made what I believe to be many life-long friendships.

“Living through a global pandemic like COVID-19 was difficult to deal with on many levels: family, professionally and of course with Northern Mallee Leaders. The program and the NML staff had to pivot quickly, to continue to offer the program, albeit virtually. For me, online Zoom meetings brought a stagnant feel to the program. However, the overall challenge of COVID was very well handled and created lots of new opportunities to learn.
“Our planned visit to Canberra and the halls of Parliament House didn’t happen of course, but we did get to attend a virtual session online, and many politicians from all parties graciously made the time to speak to us.

“Work became an issue as program days shortened and, like many others here in Sunraysia, the state, and across the nation, job security had to become my number one priority.
“I was graciously offered the opportunity to join next year’s NML group, and at first that seemed like a good idea. However, at our next group session, and after discussions with my family, I knew I couldn’t leave the class of 2020. The people in the 2020 NML group trusted me, and together we had built a bond of friendship and leadership. It was important for me to see it through with the class, despite the challenges COVID had thrown up.

“Usually, there would be a NML graduation in November, however due to COVID this has been pushed back, and we now have one more program day and a Regional Tour of the Northern Mallee scheduled for February, with a closing retreat at Lake Cullulleraine in March.”

The 2020 NML participants will graduate with a ceremony in Mildura on March 26.

Russell continues: “As we head towards the end of the journey, I can’t help but feel a little cheated not to have experienced NMLP in its original, planned format. But what is leadership, if not adaptation and moving forward?

“I feel confident that NML Inc will continue to receive the funding it deserves and call on local businesses and organisation to get behind this important program.
“Northern Mallee Leaders is about growing our region’s future leaders. I know personally that the class of 2020 will be stronger than most and, in a post-COVID world, I am in a strong position to help develop and grow my community.

NOTE: Rusty Keating has been supported to complete the 2020 Northern Mallee Leaders Program through an NML Alumni Scholarship.