Talbingo Churchill Fellow waiting for borders to open

This year’s Churchill Fellows are facing some extraordinary challenges to the overseas travel component of their awards.

Talbingo resident Bernadette Zanet is one of the 112 Churchill Fellows for 2020 and said an extension to the timeframe and flexibility with online conferences will mean that she can still achieve her goals.

The Churchill Fellowships are awarded to people “from all walks of life” to address challenges facing contemporary Australia by meeting and working with leaders in their fields all around the world to “gain and exchange knowledge as well as experience for the betterment of themselves, their industry, their community and Australia.”

Ms Zanet, a precinct activator with National Parks and Wildlife Service at Yarrangobilly Caves, will focus her fellowship on the principles of “design thinking”, studying how other nations are designing their tourism around people instead of objects.

“Operating within a National Park, we [the Yarrangobilly Caves Precinct] see our partners as very much the community that sits alongside the park as well,” she said.

“Also, there are communities and groups of people that are users of the park that have a very strong interest in maintaining the qualities and the reasons why it was established as a National Park in the first place.”

The principles behind ‘design thinking’ came out of trends that were being noticed online. Companies like Google and Facebook became major players in the world by studying what people wanted from their online experiences and found effective ways to deliver it. Those principles are now being applied through design thinking to a variety of services, including government, schools, hospitals, prisons and tourism.

Ms Zanet named two locations she hopes to visit to get a better understanding of “design thinking” in tourism: Flanders in Europe and the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand. She said that both sites have been carefully designed around both the natural features of the area and the tourist’s experience, leading to a better experience for both locals and visitors.

“As an operator, I’ve been looking for a long time at grappling with how we make sure that the businesses we have operating in regional areas really are creating in partnership with the community and really amplifying what’s unique in terms of our heritage and culture and nature,” she said.

The 2020 Churchill Fellowships have been complicated by Covid-19 and the virtual shutdown of international travel. 

Churchill Trust CEO Adam Davey said that the Fellows “have been granted an extended timeline to undertake their Fellowships to allow them the opportunity to experience the real-life benefits of meeting ‘in person’ with their international counterparts.”

The travel portion of the experience can be started any time up to January 2022. There won’t be any Fellowships offered in 2021.

“This will allow the Trust to focus on providing a high level of support to recipients who are yet to travel,” said Mr Davey. 

The Trust will also allow Fellows more flexibility with attending events online instead of in-person.

“I’ll be using the time between now and when I can actually travel to make contacts and really be exploring and investigating it as much as I can, so when I go and have those conversations overseas, we’ve already covered a lot of ground and I can make use of that face to face time,” she said.

Ms Zanet’s original plan was to tour the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, New Zealand and Vietnam. She’s still evaluating which countries she’ll be able to fit into her timeframe, and waiting to see how international travel and a Covid-19 vaccine impact those plans.

“There are a number of destinations overseas who use design thinking in their destination management and I want to go and see how they do that. Then I want to be able to bring it back so I can share it with the local community but also to look at policy and strategy within NSW Government and see whether we can apply that and use that along with place-based approaches to community building.”

The Churchill Fellowships were established to enable people to ‘learn globally, inspire locally’ and bring back new experiences to their home communities.

Ms Zanet strongly encouraged anyone with a particular interest to apply for a fellowship, regardless of their level of education or work experience.

“It really is open to all sorts of people in all sorts of industries and it’s a relatively easy process to apply,” she said. 

“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for sure, and it covers all sorts of stuff, it’s there for people to explore their passions.”

Other areas of interest for the 2020 Churchill Fellowships include: investigating urban farm ventures, exploring how yoga can be used for people with dementia, researching international drug checking services to improve Australian chemistry, studying methods for preventing sexual violence on university campuses, supporting parents of children with disabilities and strategies for protecting vulnerable road users and workers.