Celebrating 10 years of expanding horizons

05.11.19

Since 2010 the AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship has been providing learning opportunities to the people who will drive the future prosperity of Australian rural industries and regional communities. Now as we approach the 10-year anniversary of the program, we’re looking back on the decade that was and exploring what’s on the horizon for this transformative program.

Applications are now open for the 2020 AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship intake and this next cohort of students will mark 10 years of the program. Students in their last two years of university, studying an agriculture-related undergraduate degree or a Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths/Finance (STEM) degree with relevant majors which align to agriculture are eligible to apply.

One person who has been there from the very beginning is Bryce Ives, who has facilitated the annual workshop for the Horizon Scholarship winners. We talked to Bryce about how it’s evolved and what’s next for this transformative program.

Over the 10 years you’ve been involved with the AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship program you must have seen lots of change, what stands out to you?

First and foremost, the perspectives of the young people involved in the program have really shifted and expanded over the past 10 years. Now they’re thinking globally about agriculture and feeding the world.

When it started, the Horizon Scholarship was about encouraging young people to get into agriculture and raising the industry’s profile. Now though it’s about being an exceptional leader in the agriculture industry and actively shaping the future.

I have to say the diversity of our participants has grown year on year too. Ten years ago we really were a program for your stereotypical agricultural science students. Most of the scholars were studying something similar at university and often came from a traditional family farming background and connection. Now our program attracts a much more eclectic mix. We’ve got young people from the cities, people with no direct connection to farms or agriculture experience and we’ve got people studying across a more diverse array of fields – from accounting, economics, engineering degrees as well as science and agriculture. They bring really surprising points of view to the table. It’s been great to see the cultural diversity of the program mature and we’re working on making sure that keeps growing too.

That brings us nicely to a new focus for the AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship program in 2020, specifically targeting STEM university students with majors that align to agriculture. Why is that focus so important now?

To put it simply, we’re meeting the Horizon scholars where they are. They want STEM included in this program and they want to collaborate with experts from these areas. When you look at the National Farmers’ Federation’s ‘Talking 2030’ ambition to grow agriculture to $100 billion in farm gate output and the UN’s #Envision2030 Sustainable Development Goals, one of which is zero hunger, it’s pretty clear that we need to broaden the scope of the program and meet the domestic and global challenges.

As well as STEM, and equally important in my opinion, is communications and storytelling with purpose. It’s become more critical with every year of the program, and at each of our annual workshops scholars grapple with the idea of social license for the agriculture industry. Having the perspectives of students who understand communication as well as science and agriculture is a real bonus. For the program now, especially at the workshop, it’s about putting four C’s together – communication, creativity, collaboration and culture – to impact the future of the industry.

Why is creativity an important part of the program?

I’m always saying to young people, “don’t be afraid to be creative.” They need to remember that creativity comes in all shapes and sizes, it’s not just about being artistic. You can be creative in your spreadsheet, in how you run your business or in the research you choose to do. It’s about reinventing the concept so we can all tap into it. We need to celebrate the creative in agriculture. It’s an inherent part of our industry, especially creative resilience, but we don’t really talk about it enough.

Part of the AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship program is reminding our future leaders about the role of creativity in agriculture and getting them to truly embrace it as a means to shape the industry. Across the years, we’ve been using the framework of design thinking (although we didn’t call it that back in 2010!) to try and determine what success looks like. The mindset required for agriculture today is an agile and resilient one. As a Horizon scholar you’re not just asked to think outside the box, you’re asked to reinvent the box. What could be more creative than that?

Being a Horizon scholar sounds like a unique experience, what makes it so special?

When you go to a Horizon Scholarship event you have your finger on the pulse of the current hot issues in Australian agriculture. These students are passionate. We investigate and unpack fundamental questions for this industry – everything from increasing production, to the role of genetics and how do we respond to climate change. It quickly becomes a quite complex discussion and agenda.

It’s the kind of program a university couldn’t deliver because it doesn’t sit neatly in any one curriculum bucket. It’s highly interdisciplinary and part of the process is asking the participants to jump into the unknown. It’s a giant laboratory really, a place to fail and figure out what’s possible.

One of the other unique things about the AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship program is the industry connections the scholars gain, especially their placements in some of Australia’s leading organisations. Some of the scholars are now working overseas too and I can see that’s enhancing the global thinking coming into our workshop.

What do you think Horizon scholars really get out of the program?

The value of the program for participants is the way it pulls together what they already know and are passionate about with the skills and experience their degree is also building for them. Then they do their industry placements and come together at the workshop to consider how the agriculture industry in this country could and should look. When you put it all together, you’ve got something really special. It’s a genuinely a transformative program, for everyone involved, not just the scholars.

There’s another really critical part of the program, which is the scholars learning how to present as their authentic selves, and they start straight away at the workshop. They’re not leaders in waiting, they are leaders now. The AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship program gives students an edge to stand out, and the confidence too.

What’s next for this program?

I see scholars now who want to do more with the power of their network. After 10 years of the program there’s an amazing global network of well over 100 alumni. They know they can do more if they work together and I predict that there’s a big audacious project coming in the future.

One thing I’ve heard the scholars be passionate about again and again is the need to shift the secondary school curriculum approach to agriculture. There’s a trend now in primary and secondary education where STEM is becoming STEAM, adding an A for Arts to STEM’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. But I think there’s actually an argument to be made for STEAAM being the next big thing. Let’s give the acronym a double A and include Agriculture in the mix as well – they’re all important and inter-related subject areas – so let’s make it Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Agriculture and Maths. We need to change how kids think about agriculture and the potential careers they could have in our industry.

What’s it been like to be involved in the AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship program for 10 years?

It’s been a humbling experience and extremely rewarding to be the custodian of the annual workshop. I’ve watched the scholars’ mindsets shift to a global perspective and can genuinely say I find them inspiring. The young people who have been part of the program, and who will be in years to come, are going to lead significant and meaningful change in Australian agriculture and I for one can’t wait to see where they take us.

 

Applications for the 2020 AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship program are now open.

Media enquiries:
Petri Swart, AgriFutures Australia, Coordinator, Communications & Capacity Building

petri.swart@agrifutures.com.au | 02 6923 6910