Leadership is being forensically examined across the United States where the process of choosing the next president is under way and in Ireland it is the focus of much attention with the general election campaign in full flow.
There are many definitions of leadership but they all have a common thread — the ability of people to bring others with them on their mission.
Macra na Feirme — whose national leadership award winners were recently announced — has a proud record in producing people who have given outstanding service at community and national levels since it was founded.
The organisation, which is for young people between the ages of 17 and 35, has done so through training programmes and competitions that help members develop their debating, public speaking and other skills.
Macra is committed to the personal development of its 8,000 members and puts emphasis on social interaction and participation.
Much has changed since Macra was founded in 1944 by a group of 12 agricultural advisors, rural science teachers and farmers, with Stephen Cullinan as the first secrtetary.
Over 250,000 young people have since passed through the ranks of Macra. Some became leaders in farm organisations, business, politics and in their own communities.
Young people today have different priorities, however, and need new challenges, which Macra tries to provide through 200 clubs in 31 regions.
About one-third of Macra members are involved in farming, with males making up 60% of the membership and females 40%.
Four of the six finalists in this year’s National Leadership Awards were women. Three were from Cork — Eilís Ahern from the Carrigaline branch in Seandun region, Joan Marie Healy, Berrings and Muskerry, and Marie Murphy, from Freemount and Avondhu.
Gráinne O’Reilly from the Ramor branch in Cavan was the fourth woman contender, the other finalists being Colm Stenson, South Leitrim, and Noel Duffy, Ferbane/Banagher, Offaly.
The awards were organised as part of Macra’s Leadership Training Programme, which adds to the range of learning opportunities available to members at club, county and national levels.
The aim is to provide opportunities for members to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes for leadership roles, either in Macra or in other voluntary roles or future occupations.
Following a rigourous judging process, the three award winners chosen were Colm Stenson, Eilís Ahern and Marie Murphy.
The three winners were presented with specially commissioned commemorative trophies and will represent Macra na Feirme on various international travel opportunities in 2016.
Firstly, Colm Stenson is a part-time farmer from Eslin, Co Leitrim. He is a member of South Leitrim Macra, the Irish Simmental Cattle Society and a local group water scheme — of which he is an ex-chairman.
Eilís Ahern, a supervising pharmacist, joined Carrigaline Macra in 2011 and has found it a rewarding and enjoyable experience.
She has held various positions in the club and is actively involved in her community.
A chartered physiotherapist, Marie Murphy, joined her local Macra club in Freemount in 2010 and was a club officer when it won the 2014 Club of the Year award. In the past five years, the club raised over €20,000 for various local and national charities.
This year’s finalists were judged by a panel comprised of Peter Byrne, chief executive, Farm Relief Services (FRS) Network; Mary Cunningham, director, National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI); and Neil Keane, president, Agricultural Science Association (ASA).
Teddy Cashman, National Dairy Council chairman, who farms at Whitescross, near Cork City, was guest speaker at the awards final held at the Irish Farm Centre in Dublin.
Macra president Seán Finan, said the competition recognises the hard work and commitment of young leaders who play a major role in the organisation and who often go on to hold positions in other national organisations.
One area where Macra would like to see a greater presence of its members is on the boards of the country’s agricultural co-operatives.
Mr Finan said recently that young dairy farmers are the most engaged in their co-ops.
They supply their product which is processed and sold by the societies, which also sets the price. As a result, it’s easier to empower young dairy farmers to get involved in the co-op structures.
Young farmers are not as involved with co-operative livestock marts which they see as providing a service.
Some perceive mart boards as closed shops. Stressing that education and awareness are key to getting more young farmers involved in co-ops, Mr Finan said.
Macra continues to develop leaders and young farmers through participation in programme areas and activities.
He said Macra continues to provide leaders to co-ops who go on to take on leadership roles.
It has run successful young farmer dairy and mart director courses for four years in conjunction with the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS), the co-ops national umbrella body.
Co-operatives should establish board committees for young farmers with the main purpose of educating them in co-op structures, corporate governance and leadership.
“The committee boards could interface with co-op boards to learn about their industry and also feed information up the line to senior board members.
“This would give young farmers a grounding in the operation of boards and co-operatives structures. This is a pro-active approach to nurturing young leaders,” he said.
Mr Finan said for a co-op to be successful there is a need for constant evolution of structures within the organisation. Constitutional rules that are more reflective of bygone times need to be adapted to a more modern society that reflects better communication and connectivity.
“If co-ops were to engage young farmer shareholders it could be a proactive approach to nurturing future leaders in co-operatives,” stated Mr Finan.
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