City expat Natalie Ajay didn’t ever plan to be raising kids (and chickens) in country Victoria. But when the perfect opportunity arrived on her doorstep, she jumped at it. And now that she’s contributing to one of the largest educational organisations in regional Victoria, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tell us about your background and what you do. What does your day to day look like?
I’m a Melbourne girl born and bred and stumbled into Rutherglen by accident. I came on holiday with my now husband in 2014 and fell in love with the place. Coincidentally while holidaying, I found out about the Executive Officer role at Winemakers of Rutherglen. After successfully applying for the EO role, I left my corporate gig at BMW Australia, packed up our place in the city, and moved to the country. All within 6 weeks of visiting. Sometimes you have to jump at a chance, right? Life can be boring if your too comfortable for too long. We’ve now been here seven years, have two kids, a house, dog, and even chickens. The city girl got chickens! Wouldn’t change it for a thing.
After five years with Winemakers of Rutherglen, I am now currently the Director Communication and Engagement at GOTAFE – Victoria’s largest regional TAFE. Delivering education and opportunities for people no matter their culture, ability, identity, social or economic background is hugely rewarding, and telling the story of the value of TAFE education for Victoria’s regions as well as the nation is something I care deeply about. TAFE supports many of our vital industries – agriculture, early childhood, trades and construction, nursing and health, hospitality… the list goes on. Without TAFE our regional economies wouldn’t survive. I manage my team of eight people remotely (as many of us do these days), and I’m part of the senior leadership team that manages 540 staff and over 9,000 students. My team helps to deliver events, marketing, internal communications, advocacy, content, social media, sponsorships, graphic design, and more. Every day is busy, diverse, and we always deliver something that adds value to our community.
What prompted you to apply for a Victorian Rural Women’s Network program?
After completing the Alpine Valleys Community Leadership Program, my world was opened up to the opportunities available for women in the region. I understood more than ever how I could make a meaningful impact and valuable contribution to the communities and organisations I loved. I had begun doing some research and found that the Australian Institute of Company Directors Course would be a logical next step in my learning. The skills delivered through this program could be taken into my workplace, and I could also use them to add value to community groups and volunteer organisations, too.
I was given the details of the VRWN program through an unsuccessful application for a Victorian State Government grant, as my experience and industry was a better fit for VRWN. Upon my successful application, I was able to complete the AICD course and loved every moment.
What did you get out of the Program?
The critical skills around good governance, leadership capabilities, risk management, financial prudence, and supporting great organisational culture have allowed me to give back to community and to add value to my workplace. Being able to understand the strategic needs of a business or group, and the ways we can ensure effectiveness and efficiency across all aspects of operations is something I use on a daily basis. I not only apply these skills at GOTAFE, but also on a range of committees and a board, which are all regional as well. These include committee positions with Indigo Shire Council (my local municipality) and Murray Regional Tourism.
Why is scholarship support important?
Giving women in regional areas a chance to reach up higher, achieve more, and not feel limited by location, circumstance or background is so important. The success of regional women is success for all of us. Every town, every village, every enterprise in regional Victoria gains value from women improving their opportunities and outcomes through learning, and this scholarship program helps to reduce those barriers to achievement for many women. I’m exceptionally grateful for the opportunity and use my new skills and knowledge every day.