Dairy Women's Network

1998 –

Dairy Women's Network

1998 –

Theme: Rural

This essay written by Cathy Brown was published online in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 2019.

Dairy Women’s Network (DWN), a not-for-profit charitable trust, was formed in 1998 after two New Zealand women involved in dairying attended an International Women in Agriculture Conference in Washington DC and were inspired to set up a Waikato committee. By 2018 it had become a national organisation with over 10,000 members.

During Hilary Webber’s campaign to become a Director of the New Zealand Dairy group, she had recognised that the voice of women was lacking in the dairy industry. There was a need for a forum where women could be partners in the farming business, not ‘just a farmer’s wife’, as they were so often seen. Webber and co-founder Willy Geck returned from the Washington conference with the idea of starting an email network. The result was the Dairy Women’s Network e-digest, which enabled women involved in dairying across the country to connect, start to share knowledge and build relationships. 

Christina Baldwin and Robyn Clements then joined the Dairy Women’s Network committee, which organised a conference in Hamilton in 1998, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the guest speaker.  Each year after that, DWN held a conference with high calibre speakers and informative workshops, building industry knowledge while providing an avenue for like-minded women to connect with each other, and thus enabling them to build a network for their businesses.

In 2001 the committee was able to gain funding from the Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust (AGMARDT), making it possible to take the organisation to a national level. This was a step change for the Dairy Women’s Network, which  employed Lynda Clark as the first general manager and started to hold regional seminars called ‘Dairy Days’ – again, building links among women in the regions who wished to increase their farming knowledge.  These were the first building blocks of what became DWN regional groups.  By 2018 there were 36 regional groups, and 88 regional leaders, ranging from Kerikeri to Invercargill.

DWN conference members

Dairy Women’s Network

Trustee Donna Smit (centre) connecting with members at the 2017 Dairy Women’s Network conference in Queenstown, attended by 310 people.

In 2012 DWN launched what became the Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year Award, to recognise emerging leaders in the industry and provide a platform for further leadership development, with the winner receiving a scholarship of up to $20,000 to undertake an approved professional business development programme. It was won in 2018 by Loshni Manikam of Southland. [1] The Dairy Community Leadership Award, which began in 2007 as Celebrate U, was for a dairying woman making a significant contribution in her local rural community through leadership and support.

The organisation took a collaborative approach in delivering its educational modules, such as the Farm Accommodation Module, which highlighted regulation changes for tenancies on farm, or the very popular Seales Winslow calf rearing seminar. It valued its portfolio of partners, which by 2018 included founding partner DairyNZ, Ballance, ASB, and Farmsource, and the expertise they brought. These organisations stood beside DWN and championed the work of women in the industry by connecting and providing expertise.

By 2018 Dairy Women’s Network had become an integral part of the growing success of the rapidly enlarging dairy industry, providing support, knowledge and connection to women in the dairy business, the centre point of all its activities. As CEO Jules Benton stated at the AGM, ‘We’ve come a long way since 1998 where women were the invisible force on the farm. Now, they’re business leaders and board members in their own right.’ [2]

That year, 3245 members attended over 175 educational events. As each cohort of women was empowered, a new generation of women came along needing the skills to enable farm businesses to thrive. To mark its twentieth year, DWN was ‘embarking on a strategy refresh to ensure it was well-placed to continue to meet the changing needs of its members’, staying relevant for generations to come. [3]

Cathy Brown

Notes

[1] Gerald Piddock, ‘Southlander Loshni Manikam named Dairy Woman of the Year’, Stuff, 23 March 2018, https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/102522066/southlander-loshni-manikam-named-dairy-woman-of-the-year

[2] Jules Benton, DWN CEO, report to AGM, 2018. See https://www.dwn.co.nz/dairy-womens-network-in-good-shape-and-looking-to-next-20-years-and-beyond/

[3] Cathy Brown, DWN Chair, report to AGM, 2018. See https://www.dwn.co.nz/dairy-womens-network-in-good-shape-and-looking-to-next-20-years-and-beyond/

Further sources

Dairy Women’s Network website: https://www.dwn.co.nz/

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