As Founder and Editor of print publication OAK Magazine, Bendigo local Kimberley Furness has long been a cheerleader for rural and regional women and their endeavours. After taking out the title of 2022 Rural Women’s Award Winner for Victoria in March this year, she has learned to back herself and be her own cheerleader. With a new sense of self belief, she was named the National Award Runner Up at a Gala at Parliament House in Canberra in early September.
What prompted you to apply for the Rural Women’s Award in 2022?
Through OAK, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing past finalists and winners, and I’ve seen what an amazing group of connectors these women are. I remember hitting submit on the application and hoping so hard that I’d pop up on their radar and be considered as a media platform for stories. To be part of that alumni now and have that network is a game changer. Now I have this incredible network, I am definitely on their radar and thanks to the Westpac grant, I’ve been able to accelerate my project of sharing more stories of regional and rural women and ensuring they are accessible for everyone through our audio magazine.
Tell us about the project you applied with.
By virtue of my other work as a small business social media specialist, and of course with OAK, I spend a lot of time online. Increasingly I was seeing image descriptions on Instagram posts – and the more I read into it, the more conscious I became about our print content not being accessible to those with a visual impairment, reading difficulties, or low literacy. I wanted to be a better disability advocate and ally – so I focussed my RWA project on making an audio version of OAK. The added benefit is that by bringing our published stories to life through audio, those who are time poor and want to multi-task can visualise themselves in the stories and can feel a part of the business community and discover opportunity. I became really excited by the potential impact of lifting the stories from our pages to our ears to make them available to women of all ages in any postcode.
What have you gained from this experience that you didn’t expect?
As a business owner, you’re often asking yourself whether you’re on the right track, whether you’re making an impact or if what you’re doing is creating change. The title of 2022 Victorian Rural Women’s Award Winner has given me that validation. It has also been pivotal in rekindling faith in myself that I have so much more to contribute to the media landscape for rural and regional women. I feel more focussed using our platform to find and tell the stories that aren’t being heard. I have this newfound courage and confidence which I’ve used to purchase a van so I can take A Friend of Mine podcast on the road. I can now get out on the road and visit vibrant regional cities, remarkable rural towns or soak up the energy of an event, conference or field day.
How has this cemented or changed your perspective on the leadership / contributions of rural women?
The experience has given me confidence and reassurance that it’s OK to be a strong female leader and that there are other women willing to hold their hand out and help you up the ladder. At every corner of the awards process there are strong, smart, determined rural change makers who are willing to share their knowledge, open a door or help connect you with the right people. There is a theory that when you help another woman rise, we all shine. I now have a community of rural women who really live and breathe this by helping everyone to be better because they know that as individuals we all have power but collectively we can have impact.
What would you like potential 2023 applicants to know?
You need to be your own cheerleader. I like that the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award is not a popularity contest; you need to believe in yourself and your vision. That doesn’t come naturally for a lot of us but I know that extraordinary things happen when you push outside your comfort zone. Harness your confidence and don’t be afraid to talk about your abilities, accomplishments and potential. And whatever the outcome, you’ll have gained so much in the process that you can apply when pitching for other awards, media, partnerships and more.