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Catalyst: an event or person that causes great change

A recent Pathway to Diversity in STEM report detailed the obstacles women in the sector face, from educational opportunities to workplace flexibility. In response, AgriFutures Australia and AgriFutures growAG. Catalyst program set out on a mission to support women in agrifood tech and innovation. 

Harriet Coutts, Catalyst program manager, and communications manager, growAG., reflects on her three key takeaways from the program and the Catalyst Pitch Event in June 2024. 

“This isn’t the first event I’ve worked on – but it stands out as a favourite,” Harriet says.

"It was a real privilege to work with remarkable women driving groundbreaking innovations. I've learnt a lot through the Catalyst program, not only about the power of women who drive innovation but also around the process of planning and executing events and programs.”

Despite a notable 68% surge in participation since 2012, women continue to represent a mere 15% of the STEM workforce. The Catalyst program was designed to empower female leaders in the agriculture and technology sectors, and bolster participants' networks and capabilities within the agrifood and innovation ecosystem. 

Harriet shares the three impacts that will remain long after dust settles on the 2024 Catalyst event:

1. It takes a village

Capacity building, pitching, training, and events – it's not possible to do it all on your own. It takes a well-oiled team with the right experience and knowledge to take a program like Catalyst from ideation to reality.

Catalyst required the experience and skills of event specialists (Dallas Pearce and Angela Wakeman), pitching professionals (Daniel Johnsen and Bryce Ives), agritech ecosystem experts (Rebecca Sharpe, David Lord, Arianna Sippel, and Rebecca Bradford), communications and marketing marvels (Elizabeth Cameron, Alex Bundock and Jessica Hardie), a cohort of very bright minds (Nasim Amiralian, Fiona Turner, Aarti Tobin, Tanushree B Gupta, Sam Sneddon, Nikki Davey, Kerstin Petroll) and a warm and welcoming MC to keep those onstage nerves away (Saron Berhane).

RELATED: Meet the seven women selected for AgriFutures and AgriFutures growᴬᴳ⋅ Catalyst program.

Pictured: the team behind Catalyst Pitch Event 2024.

2. Planning is important, but being adaptable will keep you sane

I like clear plans with achievable objectives and goals, so sometimes I find change hard, especially if it deviates from the plan. This isn't sustainable with events and programs because anything and everything can and will change.

So, how do you deal with change while keeping objectives and goals in sight? Adapt.

Consider the impact the change it is going to have. Is it significant? If it is, is there a way we can mitigate the impact?

Maybe the objective or goal isn't achievable anymore. Can it change? Not sure? Ask someone.

 Use your village and get through it together, with your sanity intact. Of course, this is easier said than done... especially in retrospect.

RELATED: Female pitch event launched at powerhouse Perth gathering.

Pictured: Tanushree B Gupta pitching on the night.

3. Being surrounded by incredibly intelligent women will leave you feeling very motivated

I feel extremely fortunate to have been given the job of bringing these women together to pitch their innovation to a room of ecosystem players. It's hard to believe that only 4% of $3.5 billion in startup funding in Australia in 2023 went to female-led startups.

The innovations I have learnt about over the past few weeks can change the way we package food, intake protein, measure carbon and sustainability on farms, estimate crop yields, produce hydrogen, buy and sell from small-scale farming enterprises, and protect cattle from horrific diseases.

These innovations are solving major issues related to food and farm gate waste, sustainability, supply chain needs, and animal health. It's fascinating work, and this journey has left me motivated to keep shining a light on these innovations.

We need to shift the needle to create a more equitable ecosystem. As Harriet Mellish, General Manager of AgriFutures Global Innovation Networks, shared during the final speech of the night, this could be in the form of sharing, connecting, partnering or investing in technology led by women.

RELATED: Let 100 flowers really bloom: how a lack of diversity in agrifood is holding it back.

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