When Armidale's Rechelle Leahy was named in the Australian Financial Review's 100 Women of Influence List she was surprised, even though she knew of her nomination by a fellow businesswoman from South Australia who she had worked with.
"Carmen Garcia runs a business called Community Corporate, and we worked together on a project here with the Yazidis refugees and getting them work with the Costa Group," Rechelle said.
She said it was amazing, and felt was very honoured to have been placed on the list.
Rochelle is now a category finalist and will head off to the Gala Awards Night at Sydney on October 22, where the category winners and overall winner will be announced.
"The list is 100 women, which I now sit on and then there is a range of category winners in things like; public policy, diversity and inclusion and so forth," she said.
"There are influential women on that list already in my cohort. Dr Kerin Phelps has been put on the list this year, after her work in public policy, as has Kate Carnell, who was the previous Chief Minister of the ACT.
"But there are some amazing women, specifically in my category."
Local and Regional is her category, and it includes such names as Broken Hill's passionate advocate for sustainable farming, environmental conservation and climate change action Anika Molesworth and Aboriginal artist, educator and cultural leader from Goondiwindi Cheryl Mogg. Then there is Coonamble's driving force behind Moorambilla Voices, Michelle Leonard OAM, along with Suzy Miller and Townsville's Stacey Coburn, to name a few.
"I am really honoured to be on a list with women of that calibre," she said.
With her law degree from UNE, Rechelle gained a background in Federal Government by working for 15-years across a range of different areas including immigration, law and also procurement law.
"I spent a lot of time in Canberra and during that time I suppose you pick up a lot of skills," she said.
"But my advocacy work came from only a few years ago. My husband ended up with cancer and he subsequently passed away. During that time, I was an advocate for him. I was a patient advocate and I was an advocate for the health system in NSW.
"Once the advocacy gene kicked in, I was on the road to doing the work that I now do."
Her passion for advocacy grew when she was appointed to the board of the NRWC, and she described its evolution as a "bit of an organic development".
She grew to thrive on those issues surrounding rural and regional women.
"Advocacy for health care, education, telecommunications access," she said.
"As recently as last week I was in Canberra talking to Ministers about the Rural, Regional and Remote Coalition that I am a member of through the National Rural Women's Coalition (NRWC).
"We were talking about better Internet access through Triple R Australia. So, I have been doing a lot of that sort of work in the background for many years."
Rechelle considered the recognition gained by being included on this list as really special.
"When you're out in rural Australia, sometimes you might feel that your voice might not be heard," she said.
"So that amplification piece of getting our voices out there, and knowing that we can actually utilise being on a list like this. I always say, 'It's great to get a seat at the table, but now it's time to be heard', that's been my motto throughout my life of advocacy."
"I guess it doesn't surprise me that I've ended up in this space having done that work, and knowing the systems of government also helps you moving forward when you're trying to advocate the particular issues," Rechelle said.
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