The Government is funding a new programme to help farmers' financial risk management skills and prevent business failure.
"For me it is to connect people across agricultural communities using values-based communication to empower collaboration."
Cram, a dairy farmer at Wylan Dene farm near Awatuna in South Taranaki, was one of 14 women chosen by AWDT to take part in their annual Escalator programme. It gives women in the food and fibre sector "the mindsets, skills and connections to lead, govern and inspire".
Cram says the experience has helped her understand more about her own leadership qualities.
"Most people have some form of imposter syndrome.
"We make little of our achievements, and rarely see ourselves as leaders.
"The Escalator programme has given me confidence in my leadership abilities and helped me understand my motivations through knowing my 'why'."
Before taking part in the Escalator programme, Cram had already set her mind on creating positive outcomes in her community. She is chair of the Taranaki Dairy Environment Group and a member of Federated Farmers' Dairy Committee.
"One of the biggest things for me was the training with the Institute of Directors in Wellington. It was intensive, but it really helped me develop governance skills so I can be a more effective board member."
The Escalator programme also helped Donna understand that her community-mindedness was actually leadership.
Donna and husband Phil Cram have fenced 9.7km of streambanks and made over 11,700 plantings in the past 12 years to protect waterways on their land.
It was part of a vision that foresaw a need for Taranaki's rural communities to come together for local solutions to social and legislative changes.
"The skills and confidence gained on the Escalator programme enabled me to turn that vision into Taranaki Catchment Communities Incorporated.
"We have brought together 13 pan-sector catchment communities throughout Taranaki and are awaiting a contract from MPI (Ministry for Primary Industries) which will give us funding to empower rural communities with knowledge and specialist skills to face change and ensure a sustainable future. This is farmer led, farmers driven, and each community has come up with its own plan.
"Without being part of the AWDT Escalator programme, and its network of women, I would not have had the confidence to begin this initiative," she says.
Ravensdown is a strategic partner of AWDT and the Escalator programme, and provided Donna with sponsorship as part of a 2020 initiative to create meaningful, women-led change across the primary sector.
Applications for the 2022 AWDT Escalator programme open in late July. For more details, check out the AWDT website.