Meet Our People

Rural students inspired to embrace opportunities

Hannah Wandel wants young dairy farming women to follow her footsteps from the country to creating change in Canberra.

Hannah, the founder and voluntary CEO of Country to Canberra, made a call to action at a Young Dairy Network forum recently to inspire young people to pursue their dreams.

“The country is the lifeblood of Australia and I want people in cities to understand that,” she said. “One of my ingredients to success is being action-oriented – getting things done and having a go.”

A social policy adviser at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and gender equality advocate, Hannah is based in Canberra but her heart remains in the country.

“Canberra is a great place to advocate and make sure no-one forgets about rural and remote communities,” she said. 

Hannah grew up on a sheep, beef and cropping farm at Blyth in mid-north South Australia. She loved the lifestyle and community but became disenchanted about the challenges facing young people in rural areas.

In 2014 she launched Country to Canberra, a national not-for-profit empowering young rural women to reach their leadership potential.

She says motivation, having good mentors and networks, learning how to apply your skills, and positive leadership and values, are the key to success, but inequality for women and prejudice against rural areas continue to bother her.

“When I was about 15, I started to become really passionate about combatting some of the geographical barriers to success,” Hannah, now 27, said.

“I became frustrated that the more remote rural students are, the worse their education outcomes and the harder it is to access mentorship and tertiary education.

“I also wanted to do something about the under-representation of women in politics and in business and to help young women in rural and remote areas overcome some of the gender inequalities.”

A $2000 grant from the YWCA got her started with a website and logo and Hannah encouraged politicians to support the campaign. 

“We started in 2014 with one program and only three girls involved. Now we have a leadership competition called Power Trip, a blogger team so girls can talk about their communities and voice their opinions, and a new leadership workshop series in rural schools called Project Empower. It’s exciting; we have growing numbers of students involved every year,” Hannah said.

Country to Canberra will launch new leadership workshops called Project Power in rural schools next year to talk about goal setting, leadership development and career strategies in local communities.

Winners of the 2016 leadership competition visited Canberra and met a who’s who of Australia’s federal female politicians, including Julie Bishop, Tanya Plibersek, Jacqui Lambie, Fiona Nash and Pauline Hanson.

While Hannah harbours personal political ambitions, she wants Country to Canberra to grow to empower young women until gender equality is reached.

“I am interested in entering politics one day to make a difference for regional and rural and remote Australia,” she said.

“I have a three-year-old niece living in rural South Australia and I hope when she’s my age she isn’t facing any inequality and her rural community is thriving. Diversity and equality creates strong communities and business. I don‘t think it’s happening quickly enough.”

Hannah says campaigns like Legendairy and the Legendairy Capital program raise the profile and reputation of the dairy industry and help to improve positive attitudes towards rural Australia.

“It’s using passion and motivation to promote the industry and rural communities in a positive way, and like Country to Canberra it tries to provide an avenue for discourse between city and regional areas,” she said.

“There should be no barriers to opportunity.”