Proving virtual is no barrier to collaboration and connection


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Screenshot of all the Horizon Scholars participating in the Horizon Virtual Summit on Zoom

The AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship has always been about innovation, ingenuity, connection and creativity. Following the cancellation of the annual face-to-face workshop this year, we got creative with the delivery of the workshop in a virtual environment.

Since 2010, the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship program has been integral in developing the emerging leaders of Australian agriculture by taking bright and passionate university students and offering a “money can’t buy” experience for personal development, growth, networking and new horizons.

A key component of the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship program has always been the annual four-day workshop, where all scholars come together for a week of personal and professional development. Due to COVID-19 and the introduction of government restrictions on travel as well as gathering sizes, the 2020 workshop was cancelled.

With the help of Bryce Ives, who has facilitated these workshops for the past ten years, we went about developing our very first Horizon Virtual Summit experience.

Taking the scholars on a virtual journey

Delivered over a nine week period, the Horizon Virtual Summit focussed on a range of themes that had been purposefully curated to explore the future of Australian agriculture and to challenge the scholars to think about their own role in building this future. Through a series of panel discussions, fire-side chats, workshops and keynote speaker addresses, scholars explored:

  • The current Australian agricultural landscape
  • Emerging trends and opportunities, both locally and globally
  • The role of innovation, creativity, and storytelling
  • The startup landscape and what it takes to build a successful venture
  • The importance of community trust and the work being done in this space through the Community Trust in Rural Industries project
  • The future of Australian agricultural through the lens of past practices.

The two-hour sessions were run via Zoom every Thursday evening, with scholars and speakers dialling in from right across the country.

Torrens University Vice President Bryce Ives, who facilitated the virtual sessions, said that this program was designed to be so much more than just zoom conversations.

“Acknowledging that there would be elements of a traditional workshop that we simply couldn’t replicate online, we designed this program to be interactive, engaging and full of opportunities for our scholars to develop and grow in a whole new way,” said Mr Ives.

“Each year at the workshop we encourage our scholars to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zone, to delve into ideas, into networking and into collaboration. At the start of this journey, we weren’t sure how this would play out in a virtual space, but the scholars really stepped up and brought a whole new level of discussion to the table.”

During the final session of the Virtual Summit, we challenged the scholars to draw on everything they had unpacked and discussed over the last eight weeks and collaborate on developing on a shared vision for the future of Australian agriculture.

“Watching the scholars work through this challenge, it became crystal clear to us all that this incredible group of young people are no longer ‘future young leaders’, they are leaders now. They have a vision and they have a voice and we can’t wait to see what they do next,” said Mr Ives.

Horizon Scholar Elizabeth Argue joined the program this year. Like the rest of her cohort, she was looking forward to connecting with the rest of the scholars at the annual workshop and said she was surprised at just how much she got out of the Virtual Summit.

“The Virtual Summit was an amazing opportunity that really highlighted the diversity and versatility of the next generation of agricultural leaders,” said Ms Argue.

“Learning from a range of professionals and peers virtually has positively supported my vision of the future to pursue a career in agriculture.”

The benefits of going virtual

One of the highlights of the Horizon Virtual Summit was the industry speed-networking style session, where scholars had the opportunity to virtually meet and talk to five different industry stars 1-on-1 in breakout rooms on Zoom.  When you mix 22 industry stars with 26 of the brightest young minds in agriculture, magic is bound to happen.

AgriFutures Australia, General Manager, Communications & Capacity Building Belinda Allitt said that this invaluable experience would have been very difficult to replicate at the face-to-face workshop.

“The calibre of the industry guests we were able to secure for this session was incredibly high because it was so easy for people to jump on the call from the comfort of their own home or office,” said Ms Allitt.

“In planning for this session, scholars were given the opportunity to nominate people in the industry who they would most like to connect with. They were encouraged to think big, so the fact that we were able to make so many of these connections happen is fantastic.”

In partnership with a range of industry sponsors, the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship is an initiative to help grow and support the next generation of leaders, game changers and thought makers in agriculture. We would like to thank our current sponsors for their ongoing support.

2020 AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship sponsors: Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC), the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), Australian Eggs, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), Dairy Australia, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), Hort Innovation, Cotton Research & Development Corporation (CRDC), McCaughey Memorial Institute, AgriFutures Rice Extension Program and AgriFutures Australia.

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