In remote regions, there are always opportunities to bring people together through sport and community activities, but less so through business.
For Jillian Kilby and Malaika Mfula from Dubbo-based co-working and education space, The Exchange, the current isolation felt by many city-based business women is something that regional communities are all too familiar with.
“Covid-19 has put people in cities into a heightened state of anxiety. In regional areas, we live in crisis, whether it’s the current situation, drought, depleted crops or bush fires, the context changes, but the challenges are still there,” Jillian said.
There are opportunities for businesses to embed the resources, start-up opportunities and business education that new digital platforms have initiated into their everyday operations, and bring the opportunities usually experienced in cities into the country towns most in need.
It's all about how we exchange knowledge and community.
“When we upskill a business owner, we think about growing capabilities through education, and giving them capacity through access to resources, but we often forget about confidence. Community brings confidence.” Jillian said, “That’s what we chose to address by building The Exchange as community first.”
For Malaika, this community is essential to the promotion of regional businesses, with information flowing like a “bush telegraph” of word of mouth recommendations, promoted through “regional superstars”, or trusted members of the community.
Approximately 31% of Australians live in what are considered regional or remote areas. “When we opened the doors to The Exchange we expected an even split of men and women. We found that around 90% were women, looking to scale a micro-business or start up an off-farm diversified secondary income,” Malaika said, “resilience is so entrenched within regional and rural Australia, and The Exchange just highlighted how entrepreneurial the women are out here.”
Both Jillian and Malaika spoke about their flagship program, The Change, a series of free skills-based workshops to support the community, “because we are so remote, a lot of our businesses don’t have a bricks-and-mortar shopfront, so any online marketing or social media based learning really resonates,” Malaika said.
Since Covid-19, The Exchange have moved these workshops online, and they found that only 25% of the women registered were from inside their local Orana region. That word of mouth advertising has expanded exponentially on social media, Malaika revealed, “We’re getting hundreds of women right across the country, mainly still in regional areas, but the fact that we’re reaching women over on remote farms in WA has been the surprise benefit of this process.”
According to The Exchange, We must continue that pipeline of access to resources from larger cities; Sydney is full of entrepreneurship networks and activities and we need to make sure that they’re still being offered to regional Australia once businesses return to their regular operations, “regional Australia has never before had so many opportunities for webinars and livestreams,” Malaika said.
“We usually miss out. We don’t mind not being physically in the room, but the fact that the invitation has been extended, there has been thought put in to setting up a livestream or recording an event for people who can’t attend is huge in itself.”
‘Seats for The Brave’ is an initiative by The Exchange in collaboration with individuals and corporate sponsors, to provide free coworking and desk space to those individuals looking to start or scale their business for off-farm income. With the current pandemic coming off the back of the worst drought on record, and many questioning their future relying on the land, it has never been more important to identify, and support these individuals.