Its chairman, Peter Ryan, then principal of Goulburn Ovens TAFE, and deputy-chair, Ross McPherson, then managing director of the Shepparton News, had each undertaken a community leadership program to see how better links could be formed between the Goulburn Valley and institutions that could assist it – particularly state and federal governments and large corporate entities.
The Clever Food committee had been concerned by the withdrawal of leadership capacity from regional communities as governments and corporates downsized and centralized in the wake of the early 90s recession.
The Goulburn Valley Community Leadership program was launched in 1997, based largely on the design of the Williamson Community Leadership Program (now known as Leadership Victoria) with Anne McCamish as executive director.
Funding was a priority because the SRDC was being disbanded and it was clear the councils could not continue to support the program with annual financing. Ross McPherson approached Andrew Fairley, then a trustee of the Sir Andrew and Lady Fairley Foundation, with a view to secure a long-term funding base for the program.
Sir Andrew was an outstanding regional leader of the 20th century who was prominent in Shepparton as a Mayor and the Chair of SPC.
The Foundation agreed, and generously continued to support the program strongly through its first decade. Assisted by support of seminar days by many regional companies and institutions, the program thrived on modest revenues, with occasional injections of grant money from government programs.
The Fairley Foundation believed this was a program that would help ensure leadership into the 21st century for regional Australia.
From 1998, the program has been known as Fairley Leadership.