Evolving Chair: Taking Charge in a Climate of Denial
14 January 2016 at 9:48 am
Attracting more young people to board positions is a key goal for high profile board chair Joshua Gilbert who is having an impact both nationally and internationally. He speaks about his work in this month’s Evolving Chair.
Joshua Gilbert describes himself as “an Aboriginal, agri-political, climate campaigner, with a focus on breaking stereotypes”.
Gilbert is the Chair of the NSW Young Farmers’ Council, Senior Consultant in the Innovation and Markets team of PwC’s Indigenous Consulting and was recently named in Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25 list of the most influential people in the social sector.
From a family of cattle farmers on the NSW coast, he has devoted his time and energy towards tackling climate change. His efforts caught the attention of former US Vice President Al Gore, who invited him to be a part of his Climate Reality Project.
His message also took him to Paris, where he attended the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
What is your organisation and what is the structure?
I chair the NSW Farmers’ Young Farmers Council – a movement of young farmers and those interested in agriculture between the ages of 18 and 35. In 2015, we increased our youth membership by over 70 per cent, while providing new opportunities for young people to have their say on agricultural policy and innovation.
Our structure is made up of eight youth councillors for the state, a branch chair for each of the four branches (Sydney, South West Riverina, Dubbo and Wagga Wagga) and one youth delegate on each of the NSW Farmers’ commodity groups.
What attracts you to a Not for Profit or for-profit board?
I am naturally driven to help others, primarily through the upbringing of my parents and my culture. My parents encouraged me to get started early in creating change, taking me along with them to Apex, Rural Fire Service, Aboriginal Land Council and charity meetings. I was drawn to the incredible people I would meet, the stories they had to share and their passion to selflessly give back to the community.
My parents and community are the ones who taught me, through culture, the importance of looking after the land. As Aboriginal people and farmers, we have used land productively for more than 40,000 years. We understand how to manage it productively. In the modern era, that has led me to my role with NSW Young Farmers.
With the constant support of my parents, I continued following their footsteps to work on a local level to create change. My parents really taught me, through their actions, that action at a local level can lead to meaningful change for the better. As I gained a greater world view, I discovered I could have a greater impact through larger organisations and campaigning.
Together these influences have led me to where I am today – an agri-political climate campaigner, with a particular interest in Aboriginal affairs.
What has been the highlight of your work with this Group?
My personal highlight for the group was changing the NSW Farmers’ public stance on climate change in 2015 at their Annual Conference. This was one of the first times the young farmers council had raised a motion within the wider association, which appeared to be a drastic shift in the previous stance.
Our council was successful in changing the policy to read that farmers “are on the front lines of seasonal variability, exacerbated by a changing climate", away from a position on calling for a Royal Commission as to whether climate change was real.
This has sparked interest for many youth across the state to review some of the other policy within the organisation to make sure youth have a greater say across a range of issues.
What are your board’s current priorities/goals?
Our overarching goal is to have an across state representation of youth in agriculture and to continue representing their interests in the greatest way possible. Our climate change motion was really a highlight to many rural youth that they could create change that would also gain an array of national and international media. We understand that the future of Australian agriculture – which means Australian food, fibre and energy – rests with young farmers. We want to help shape that future for productivity and sustainability.
There is now greater interest in youth ensuring their voices are heard, particularly in state and national policy.
Does your board believe collaboration between organisations within your area is important? Why?
Collaboration has been a great way for our youth organisation to generate and share new ideas in the agriculture and food discussion.
There are a range of agricultural groups right across Australia, so it would be concerning if we weren’t supporting each other in campaigns and action. This allows each organisation to have a greater voice, while continuing to have a unique marketing area for their reach.
Do you have any advice around recruitment?
I believe there are great opportunities for boards to start approaching youth to have an increased role in their operations. This is equally important for both parties – organisations to ensure the longevity of what they have created, while encouraging a new perspective, and for youth to gain new skills and learn from inspirational peers.