Rhonda Renwick is a transport industry proprietor, organisational psychologist, educator and mother
In 2008, Rhonda became the sole director of her family’s company, Latrobe Valley Bus Lines (LVBL), with depots in Morwell, Traralgon and Moe. After 35 years living in the Latrobe Valley, and witnessing substantial social and economic change, Rhonda began to develop her vision for the bus line, to further its community involvement. She recognised that public transport was a vital link for a healthy community and a healthy environment, and a great way to be socially connected.
As Latrobe Valley’s leading public transport provider began to grow and develop through working closely with its employees and the community, Rhonda sought to extend her vision to encompass engagement with other local communities, including some living with mental illnesses and physical disabilities. By observing communities who could benefit from small amounts of funding, consistent networking and local support, she realised the goals that underpin her vision could become a reality.
As a working legacy, Rhonda established the Kindred Spirits Foundation (KSF), a philanthropic trust that would enable wider community connection and support, with the aim of empowering people and communities to achieve their dreams. Kindred Spirits is dedicated to giving a hand. Through acts of kindness, the foundation supports people and their communities to make the connections they need to stay on track and reach their destination.
Rhonda also believes innovation keeps business and industry relevant. Attaining the B Corp Certification and aligning LVBL with the Kindred Spirits Foundation has seen positive changes for her employees. Rhonda says that if a company is held in high regard by its community then it reflects positively on its employees, who are in turn much happier because they feel valued.
Gippslandia recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Rhonda, learning more on the innovations at LVBL and the Val-YOU Reading Program, which is a new initiative through the KSF.
Have you always been from Gippsland or did you come to the region for the Latrobe Valley Bus Lines?
I grew up in Yackandandah, studied in Melbourne, then moved to Traralgon where we raised a family and became involved in Latrobe Valley Bus Lines.
What has been your educational pathway to the roles you have now? What have been some of the most important lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
I went to high school in Beechworth, then Monash University to become a teacher, followed by further graduate studies in psychology.
My first appointment was teaching a class of 56 year two students at Liddiard Road Primary School, Traralgon, followed by a career in psychology, practising in both Churchill and Morwell Community Health Centres. I’ve had the privilege of studying in the US, working in Borroloola, a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory and the Psychiatric Ward in Alice Springs Hospital.
In Central Australia, I learnt so much about dispossession and the generational trauma suffered by our first peoples. It taught me the importance of having something worthwhile to wake for [each day]. We all need to feel there’s a place for us in the world and that our contribution is worthwhile—it’s fundamental to our health and wellbeing.
Latrobe Valley Bus Lines is an early adopter of new transport technologies, why is this important to the business’ philosophy?
Hybrid technologies and Euro 6 engines are the best available environmental options for bus public transport for Latrobe Valley. This technology reduces emissions by up to 30%, while providing a smoother, quieter passenger experience. One bus can replace 40 cars, and if we had a bus lane on the Monash Freeway, we could travel from Traralgon to Southern Cross in two hours. Bus travel is the best travel option, as it has the lowest comparative energy and area footprint (apart from cycling and walking) of any journey, even in comparison to trains.
Why is it important to you that LVBL is a Certified B Corporation?
Achieving B Corp Certification is a personal choice. It is a rigorous assessment that explores a company’s governance, transparency and environmental and social impact. Having B Corp Certification is a perfect fit for our values. There are many other companies, like ours, who can help those who wish to take this path—they may have the vision but don’t understand how to get there. It is good to remember that most consumers frown upon companies that ignore social responsibility and develop unethical reputations.
We believe public transport is vital to a healthy community and a healthier environment, and a great way for people to be socially connected. The B Corp philosophy recognises that society’s big challenges cannot be solved by government and not-for-profits alone. B Corp is an international recognition and certification for businesses that put the community and the environment foremost in an effort to reduce inequality and poverty, improve the health of our environment and build stronger communities. B Corp is about using the force of business for good and ‘all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered’.
LVBL takes its corporate social responsibility very seriously. We are the only B Corp Certified bus company in Australia. Similar to the Fair Trade certification, it means our company is held accountable to its community. We must meet the highest ethical standards of verified social and environmental performance and we expect these high standards of the businesses within our supply chain.
Your projects are noticeably community-minded. What was the catalyst for pursuing such endeavours?
A strong flourishing community is a good place to live, work and conduct business. I have a strong commitment to strengthening the community’s capacity to grow and flourish.
My life experiences growing up in poor circumstances in a small country town and living and working in a rural community and in remote Australia have developed my commitment to support projects that benefit the community and our environment.
What do you enjoy most about your involvement in the Kindred Spirits Foundation projects?
It’s the opportunity to engage with our community partners and collaborators. They are wonderful people working together to make a better world. We believe in the power of acts of kindness.
Can you please outline the Val-YOU Reading Program? Why is early education so important?
Val-YOU Reading is a project in the Latrobe Valley focussing on early years education, ensuring our children become strong and confident readers, writers and learners. It’s a program to prepare our children for school and beyond.
The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation Early Language and Literacy Program will support our community with effective reading techniques, pre-literacy strategies, games and activities, skill-building workshops and learning resources to support teaching our own children.
Together we will improve the pre-literacy levels of our kids, improve school readiness, increase the skills of educators, parents and community members, build sustainable change and capacity within our community, and empower individuals to be their own change makers.
What are the key goals for Val-YOU Reading?
We care about our kids’ futures, and we want them to be full of possibility and success. We must all work together if we want to create meaningful change. Families, children of all ages, parents, carers, educators, grandparents, aunties, uncles and neighbours—let’s join forces.
We need the support of businesses, governments, maternal and child health centres, community organisations, early childhood centres, schools and all who work with our wonderful kids, as together we can transform literacy outcomes in the Valley.
Do you have any experiences through Kindred Spirits that have stayed with you?
No single project or group has been more esteemed than another. Each has been exciting in its own unique way. Every project possesses the excitement of welcoming a new baby and watching it grow.
Our foundation is dedicated to giving a hand. We support local projects that have the potential to transform communities by encouraging and strengthening the people of those communities by addressing the social and environmental issues affecting the quality of life.
We connect people within their own communities through the provision of tools, resources and local support—including funding, mentoring, guidance, culturally-appropriate engagement, networking opportunities and professional and business assistance.
It’s through nourishing relationships that we grow and develop. Over the past 10 years, KSF has had the privilege to share many amazing journeys and watch wonderful projects grow.
Does private industry have an obligation to assist the communities they operate in? How can we inspire more companies or high-worth individuals to support projects that empower our community?
Yes, industry will ultimately benefit from assisting the communities they operate within. An example of this is the interest shown in hybrid technology by other bus companies, and a large Melbourne bus company has recently ordered 50 hybrids buses as well.
New initiatives, especially new technology, help keep our industry relevant. At times, our employees have been challenged by this, but they have grown their skills and knowledge about alternative energies, and I thank them.
What are the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland’s most valuable assets?
The people, the children who are the future, the great potential for growing industry and a strong community in our region.