19 March 2024

New Regional Development boss brings fresh energy and business insight to role as region's advocate

| Jen White
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Selena Stevens

New RDA Illawarra Shoalhaven CEO Selena Stevens is excited to be an advocate for the region. Photo: Supplied.

Selena Stevens sees RDA Illawarra Shoalhaven as being a cheerleader for the region, championing for businesses big and small.

The organisation’s new CEO is still finding her feet in the role, but as a business owner herself – she and husband Lachlan own Wollongong burger bar His Boy Elroy – she is all too aware of the challenging economic times.

“I’m only a few days into the job but I’m meeting with as many stakeholders as I possibly can, and understanding what their needs are,” she said.

“I don’t want to come in and say these are my priorities, I want to focus on listening.

“Businesses have the lived experience and understanding of what the challenges are, so let’s talk to them.

“I’m not just talking about big business, but also about small businesses, your mum and dad type businesses in a variety of areas.”

Selena takes over from long-time RDA CEO Debra Murphy, who left the organisation in January.

Following a Federal Government review of RDA boundaries across the country, the Shoalhaven Local Government Area, including Jervis Bay, will join the Illawarra organisation to become RDA Illawarra Shoalhaven (RDAIS) on 31 March.

READ ALSO RDA Illawarra extends reach, changes name and farewells two long-term leaders

“I’m excited to take the reins and advocate for this region as much as I can, with a board which is supportive of a fresh energy and direction and a board chair who is a real believer in the next generation,” Selena said.

Selena’s most recent position was as chief of staff to Federal Whitlam MP Stephen Jones. When announcing her appointment, RDA board chair Mark McKenzie said that role “afforded her the unique ability to understand policy decisions and advocate effectively for the region with Canberra’s decision-makers”.

“Working for Stephen was a wonderful experience, it really gave me an insight into the issues and the community, on a grassroots level,” Selena said.

“Working in an MP’s office you get a real mix of people with a real mix of issues, and often people just want someone to talk to, someone to listen.

“They want someone who will come to them with a solution and no judgement.

“The way I live my life is that I’m very values-driven, I’m very genuine; what you see is what you get. And that’s the way I think everyone should be treated. Working together with people is where the magic happens.”

Selena was born and raised in Brisbane and has lived in the Illawarra for nine years. Her background in marketing and public relations is a far cry from her childhood dream of being an aeronautical engineer – “I loved planes but realised my maths was shocking, so that wasn’t an option” – or a vet.

“I feel like I fell into this industry but then realised that this is where I’m meant to be.

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“I love talking to people; I love connecting with people.”

“Owning a business gives you a unique insight into the way that the world works.

“I think I’ll bring a real fresh energy to this role and entrepreneurial mindset, the ability to look at things a little bit differently.

“I have an understanding of the way that business works, and where the opportunities for growth are.

“Owning a business gives you that real sense of you put your money where your mouth is, and you back yourself. And that’s what I can bring to this role.”

Selena believes there are three key issues facing the Illawarra, which will be a priority as the region welcomes $33 billion in investment projects over the next two decades.

“Housing is a key issue, workforce is a key issue, and also how do we attract and retain talent in the Illawarra – those are our biggest challenges,” she said.

“The way that I see it, RDA Illawarra Shoalhaven’s role is to connect people, not just to other organisations, but also with governments, particularly in relation to solutions.

“A key part of the RDA Illawarra Shoalhaven as an organisation is about identifying funding opportunities, not just for us, but for other organisations and championing it, like being a cheerleader for the region.

“We can have as many forums as we want around the issues, but let’s focus on the solutions. That’s very much the space that I’ll be living in – talking, connecting and collaborating, because that’s how you find the solutions.”

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