University of Southern Queensland Researcher Biographies

UniSQ Researcher Profiles 


Associate Professor Ben Lyons

PhD, BA (Hons)

Director, Rural Economies Centre of Excellence, UniSQ

Professor Ben Lyons is currently the Director of the Rural Economies Centre (REC) at the University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ). Professor Lyons is an expert in rural and regional development, climate adaptation in regions, and   regional governance. He holds a BA (Hons) and a PhD in agricultural economics from The University of Queensland.

At the Rural Economies Centre, he is involved in various regional community engagement projects such as Regional Drought Resilience Planning, Drought Resilience Leaders Development Program, Shaping Your Energy Future –which is focused on the economic, social, and ecological impacts of large-scale energy and renewables projects.

He has held many leadership and governance roles and is currently an advisory board member for the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA) and the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR), and Chair of FSCo. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Lyons spent almost 18 years in China before returning to Australia to take up a role as the CEO at Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise – a regional economic development agency with significant resource and agricultural members

Relevant work experience

  • Rural Economies Centre of Excellence – Director, leads a four University applied research partnership looking at rural and regional issues around community and economic development 2018-present)
  • Project Lead – Regional Drought Resilience Planning: on behalf of Queensland government and Future Drought Fund developed drought investment plans for 14 regions covering Queensland and including over 500 regional engagements and 14 regional partnership MOUs. The RDRP project won Project Management and Delivery awards at both State and National levels.
  • Coopers Gap Wind Farm – AGL – Community Engagement Advisor 2020-2022. Provided strategic advice and community engagement for AGL and the Cooper’s Gap Wind Farm project, at that time the largest wind farm in Australia with 123 wind turbines across Western Downs and South Burnett region. Undertook a review of social licence and community engagement for AGL and the community.
  • Queensland Farmer’s Federation Project Advisory Committee member  “The Flow on Benefits of Microgrids for Agriculture” 2023-24: advised QFF on regional and community approaches to regional energy solutions.
  • Project Lead - Maximising the regional opportunity for energy transition in regional Australia. This research project maps the emerging energy landscape identifying implications and opportunities for agribusiness, irrigation and other primary industries. The study examined the economic, social and ecological impacts of large-scale energy and renewables projects through the comparative analysis of a number of projects within Australia.  Outputs include a decision making support tool for local government and best practice guidelines for development of new energy infrastructure which maximise benefits for rural communities supported by rigorous economic and social impact analysis.
  • Shaping Your Energy Future 2023-24 – Project Lead helped ideate, deliver  and evaluate an innovative approach to engaging regional leaders both emerging and existent leaders in the Western Downs and Burnett regions. Participants were equipped with both technical and governance knowledge over the course of a six moth programme which acted as a pilot programme funded by Boundless Earth and QLD Conservation Council.
  • Burnett Inland Futures Report advisor 2021-22 Co-research lead - study looked at different approaches to overcoming to closure of Tarong Coal-fired power station in the next decade and the loss of >700 FTEs from the Burnett region.
  • Queensland Decarbonisation Hub Theme Collaborator – Regional Decarbonisation Southern Queensland
  • Net Zero Emissions Agriculture CRC – Project lead Theme 4
  • Fight Food Waste CRC – Research lead horticultural production



Dr Phillip Currey

PhD, MBA, M Mktg, Grad Dip Mktg , Dip App Sc (Agric), GCHEd, GAICD 

Phil Currey is an adjunct research fellow and brings an enormous body of commercial experience to the RECoE team. 

Spanning almost 50 years, Phil’s career commenced with sales, marketing and senior executive roles in Australian and global market-leading agribusinesses. He then moved into consulting for 25 years.  As a consultant, Phil was recognised by the Queensland Government for the excellence of his analytical frameworks which set the standard for Business Diagnostics undertaken by consultants in Queensland. He completed more than 400 separate assignments facilitating business, marketing and export success, including 75 international trips, often with a client, to identify market opportunities and negotiate contracts, select and appoint partners and even establish a joint venture in Indonesia. Phil completed more than 2,000 meetings as semi structured interviews in 25 countries and developed his own unique models for collecting data and quickly establishing relationships of trust and confidence with people who could share information and become customers of Australian businesses.

Whilst consulting Phil invested in his own personal development, completing a number of qualifications including Grad Cert in Marketing, Masters of Marketing, Master of Business Administration and a PhD, in addition to a wide range of government and private training programs and accreditations. At the completion of his PhD in 2014, Phil joined University of Queensland’s Faculty of Science in the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences.  He led the agribusiness discipline, completed a Grad Cert in Higher Education and was appointed Chair of the Committee that guided teaching and learning in the School.  At UQ, Phil helped undergraduate and postgraduate students learn the practical application of theories underpinning successful agribusiness marketing, agribusiness exporting, working in groups and applied market research. Phil also was responsible for a significant Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research project in Philippines which combined value chains and community development to enhance community wellbeing for small farming communities, and involved in other projects in Philippines and Vietnam.

Phil’s PhD research examined the organisational culture aspects of vertically-integrated farming enterprises and how they influence the adoption of contemporary marketing practices. Phil’s current interests and contribution to RECoEs desire to build regional communities is sharing his own lived experiences of commercial enterprise development, and facilitating collaborative journeys-of-learning by small teams within organisations as they research, plan, monitor and achieve the outcomes that are important to them.  



Dr Geoff Woolcock


Geoff Woolcock is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland’s Institute for Resilient Regions, an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast’s School of Social Sciences and an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at Griffith University’s Creative Arts Research Institute (CARI), assisting with the evaluation of Brydie Leigh-Bartlett’s Future Fellowship. His doctoral thesis on the HIV/AIDS activist movement whetted his appetite for meaningful, applied community-based research. His long-standing work with the public, private and not-for-profit sectors concentrates on developing qualitative and quantitative measures of progress and community wellbeing, closely collaborating with local communities in place-based, early intervention/prevention initiatives. Geoff is an experienced social researcher with considerable expertise in social and community service planning and evaluation, including social  and ESG impact assessment and project evaluation, social capital and community capacity building. He has 35 years community-based research experience nationally and internationally, and has co-published over 175 peer-reviewed papers, book chapters and community reports.  He has been an advisor to Communitas Community Development and Social Analysis, spoken at several writers festivals and written regular opinion pieces.  As a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (MAICD), he is a board director of the Brisbane Housing Company (since 2009), the Australian National Development Index (ANDI) (since 2012, Chair since 2019), Thriving Queensland Kids Partnership (TQKP) and co-established Logan Child-Friendly Community Ltd in 2012 overseeing the high-profile collective impact initiative, Logan Together. Geoff is also a Research Fellow of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, a member of the Anglicare SQ Research Evaluation and Advocacy Reference Group, and on the Centre for Just Places Advisory Board. As a founder and co-director of Global Talent Tracker, he has worked closely with the Australian Football League (AFL) for over a decade and is a Visiting Professor at Loughborough University’s Institute for Sports Business. He was the Australian member on the executive committee for the Asia-Pacific Child-Friendly Cities Network (2010-2013) and the inaugural Queensland convenor for the Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth (ARACY) from 2013-2014. Geoff is a frequent public speaker and commentator about social and community development using a whole-of-community approach.  



Dr Saleena Ham

PhD, MIS, DIP, BAppSci  

Accomplished project manager, researcher and strategic communicator with over 20 years of expertise in developing and implementing communication strategies, managing risk and cultivating stakeholder relationships. Demonstrates a strong track record in policy development, strategic advocacy and team building within agricultural and regional communities. Adept at leading research initiatives, producing impactful reports and driving evidence-based policy changes. Extensive experience in rural sociology, conflict resolution and facilitating community engagement. Proven ability to manage complex projects, build collaborative cultures and deliver results through innovative problem-solving. Holds a PhD in Rural Sociology and a Masters in International Studies, with published research on social identity dynamics in rural communities. Highly skilled in navigating contested issues, mentoring diverse teams and advocating for rural and agricultural advancements.


  • Proven ability to lead research teams in developing and executing projects that generate data-driven insights for influencing policy change in the agricultural sector.
  • Extensive experience managing research projects, promoting collaboration between researchers and stakeholders and ensuring deliverables meet the highest standards.
  • Demonstrated success in crafting impactful research reports, facilitating communication across diverse audiences and building strong networks with researchers, policymakers, industry partners and community members.
  • Expertise in translating research findings into actionable knowledge, driving knowledge exchange and facilitating community engagement to support transitions and build resilience in rural areas.
  • Proven ability to navigate complex situations, mediate disagreements and build consensus among stakeholders with diverse interests.
  • Deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing Australian agriculture, combined with a successful track record of advocating for the interests of rural communities.
  • A strong foundation in research methodologies, project management frameworks and budget management, ensuring projects are delivered on time and within budget.
  • Experienced speaker with a proven ability to present complex information to diverse audiences, with recent conference presentations on rangelands, SEGRA (likely Socio-Economic and Environmental Gradients Analysis), and disaster preparedness.



Dr Marlyn McInnerney

PhD, MPRS, Grad Dip, BA 

Dr Marlyn McInnerney’s research interests include resilience for women on remote farms in Australia, including investigating the culture and dynamics of farm families on large broadacre farms, climate action, mental health and creative innovation. Her thesis explored how women in farm families in remote areas in Queensland navigate through the entangled discourses of male hegemony and traditionalism, agrarianism and neo-liberalism to achieve their wellbeing, resilience and empowerment. Marlyn’s current research, the Women in Ag Project, centres on what factors influence women in broadacre farming families when making decisions about investigating and implementing climate-smart production.

Marlyn’s research skills add to her strengths in project design and articulation as well as project management and community engagement. Marlyn has 25 years of regional development experience, working for local governments and Indigenous groups in South West Queensland as well as conducting consulting and contract work with USQ, community non-profits such as Lifeline Darling Downs and South West Queensland and CALD groups. 

Marlyn and her family lived and worked on their broadacre wheat and cattle property near Surat in SW Queensland for many years, and now run cattle on their farm on the range between Dalby and Toowoomba.



Dr Lila Singh-Peterson 

PhD, Grad Dip, BSc (Hons)  

Dr Lila Singh-Peterson is a climate change professional who has worked in the public and private sector specifically in the fields of climate change policy, sustainability, climate adaptation and climate risk. More recently, over the last fourteen years, she has lectured and undertaken research examining the societal and cultural impacts of climate change – particularly in the fields of community resilience, rural development and food security. Lila has been awarded almost $3m in research funding as a principal or co-investigator. As a mixed methods researcher, Lila has worked across the South Pacific with the United Nations and AusAID and across Australia with multiple funding partners.



Andrew Drysdale  

With 35 years’ experience in the rural and regional sectors, Andrew Drysdale is recognised as a leader in community engagement and has a passion for furthering the endeavours of community based natural resource management.

A former primary producer himself, Andrew has a unique appreciation of the complexities and challenges that exist for farming communities on a day-to-day basis. Having worked for leading organisations in the agricultural sector, Andrew is acutely aware for the need to have proper mechanisms in place for the responsible management of land and other natural resources.

Before starting his own community engagement consultancy business, Andrew worked extensively in leading organisations responsible for developing and delivering community based, natural resource management. His role in these organisations included empowering land holders, local government and community interest groups to better manage their natural resources. This has transitioned into a role in the RECoE team, where Andrew has primarily been involved in the development of regional drought resilience plans.

Andrew has built a solid reputation for developing and delivering effective community engagement strategies through its involvement with many government and non-government projects based in regional and remote areas of Australia. Andrew believes “If you're finding that community engagement on a particular issue or range of issues has been poor, either the issue isn't relevant to them, or they're simply not convinced of its relevance. It really is that simple!”

Relevant work experience

  • Over the last three years, RECoE have been responsible for the development of five Regional Drought Resilience Plans for southern Queensland. Andrew has played a key role in the development of these plans through providing practical experience of the challenges that drought creates for rural communities as a previous land holder and small business owner at Charleville. Andrew used this experience to guide him in looking for information and data that provided objective evidence of the impacts of drought. He also co-authored the plans along with helping in facilitating workshops throughout southern Queensland.
  • In 2019 and 2022, Andrew was contracted to facilitate community workshops throughout regional Queensland for the Queensland Government’s ‘Land Restoration Fund’. Andrew NRM designed and delivered the workshop and produced a workshop report. The workshop evaluation revealed that 85% of participants came to the workshop with a low to medium level of knowledge of the Land Restoration Fund. By the end of the workshop, 73% of participants felt they had a high level of knowledge and 27% with a medium level of knowledge.
  • As Chair of the Rangelands NRM Alliance, Andrew worked with Barry Trail of the Pew Charitable Trust. Together they identified the need for a multi-sector alliance to be established. In 2018 the Outback Alliance was formally launched in the gardens of Parliament House, Canberra. The role of this alliance is to bring to the attention of governments that remote Australian communities are suffering from poor government policy. This required Andrew and Barry approaching outback stakeholders and winning their support along with the politicians who represent them, to establish a forum to promote their cause. The Outback Alliance has been active in advocating for genuine place-based investment by governments. This principle is closely aligned to the objectives of the of the development of a community-owned energy program for Queensland.
  • Andrew Chaired the Lake Eyre Basin Community Advisory Committee (LEBCAC) for eight years. This committee provides advice to the appropriate Ministers of the three jurisdictions that cover the Lake Eyre Basin plus the Australian Government environment Minister. The committee consists of groups and sector representatives who live or work in the basin. Often the representatives had opposing agendas and Andrew’s task was to harness this difference into a constructive dialogue. The LEBCAC was a significant contributor to the development of the recently released Lake Eyre Basin Strategy. At present, Andrew is a community representative on the Murray Darling Basin Consultative Committee.
  • Andrew has spent the last two decades working in the natural resource management sector in leadership roles at a regional, state and national level.



Dr Robert Mellor


With over 45 years’ working experience, Robert has a rare combination of practical expertise with both professional and academic knowledge. From his working background as a government, manager, Robert helped establish and then managed the self-funded UTS Centre for Local Government and build its reputation as the source of quality services and advice – in Australia and around the world. As a respected consultant and advisor, Robert has since designed, managed and evaluated a wide variety of projects for both public and private sector organisations in 21 countries. He is a confident team leader, a responsible project manager, a thorough researcher, and a valued team member, who has also proven his skills as an engaging and calm facilitator in sometimes difficult and complex situations.

Robert’s significant experience has also developed his Research and Project Management Skills in: project planning and design; project review and evaluation; project management & implementation; designing and implementing MEL systems; research design and management; development of concept notes; writing (successful) project proposals and bidding procedures; team-building & leadership; staff management; and a wide variety of writing; presentation and reporting styles.

Specific Experience and Technical Expertise:

Engagement, Facilitation & Consultation

Policy Analysis and Reform

Climate Change and Disaster planning

Local Government/Governance-Practice and Law

Training, Learning and Capacity-Building

Local Development & Inclusive Planning



Emeritus Professor Jim Cavaye


Jim Cavaye is an accomplished regional development specialist and organisational leader  with 42 years’ experience working with rural and regional communities.  He has assisted over 140 local communities across Australia and internationally with community development, engagement processes, and economic development strategies. 

He was formerly a Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Tasmania where he led the university’s research, teaching and engagement across the Cradle Coast region.  He was also a Professor and Program Manager at the Institute for Resilient Regions at the University of Southern Queensland.  He is a well-known consultant in regional development operating his own national consultancy business for 10 years. Prior to that he was a Principal Rural Development Officer and Regional Manager with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

He chaired Regional Development Australia (Darling Downs and South-West) and was a long-term board member of the International Community Development Society chairing the International Committee of the Society.  He has also been a board member of a range of regional community-based organisations including Rural Immersion (a rural education initiative), Condamine Alliance, Southern Queensland Landscapes (a natural resource management organisation) and Burnie Works. He also chairs the Welcoming Universities Advisory Committee.  He is an International Fellow at the Rural Futures Institute in the United States, and is an international speaker and author.  In 2020, Jim co-authored the Paper of the Year in the journal Natural Resources. In 2019, Jim was awarded the prestigious Outstanding Achievement Award by the International Community Development Society.



Dr Chad Renando


Dr Chad Renando is a Research Fellow (Innovation Ecosystems) with the Rural Economies Centre of Excellence at the University of Southern Queensland, with a focus on understanding the contribution of innovation and entrepreneurship on community resilience in rural economies. His current leadership roles include heading up the innovation and policy mapping tier of the Queensland Decarbonisation Hub, evaluating the impact of the Future Drought Fund's Drought Innovation Hub for Southern Queensland Northern New South Wales, assessing the three and ten year impacts of leadership programs for the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, and mapping agriculture technology needs and investment for AgriFutures and AusAgritech. As co-founder of the Ready Communities two-year place-based program, Chad applies his experience in practical outcomes for local impact and global relevance.

Chad has over 30 years’ experience in leadership positions in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors in the United States and Australia. His industry leadership roles have included quality, human resources, business development, environmental sustainability, and operations within manufacturing, business consulting, and digital services industries. His current applied research includes supporting collective impact approaches in rural innovation ecosystems, monitoring and evaluating performance of programs and policy, and mapping and evaluating the impact of innovation ecosystem actors and policy.



Dr Habib

PhD (UniSQ) , MAgribus (UQ)  

Dr Habib is a Research Associate with the Rural Economies Centre of Excellence at the University of Southern Queensland. He holds a Master’s degree in Agribusiness from The University of Queensland and a PhD from the University of Southern Queensland. His doctoral research focused on understanding the adoption of modern technologies in Australian agriculture specifically in vegetable supply chains. During his doctoral research, he has actively collaborated with growers, industry partners, technology providers and government bodies to enhance the uptake of technologies.

At the Rural Economies Centre of Excellence, he is currently working as a researcher with the Queensland Decarbonisation Hub on mapping decarbonisation technologies and relevant policies. He has more than seven years of professional experience in the development of existing value chains in Pakistan by working with numerous international organisations including USAID, UNDP and CABI.



Dr. Mahdiyeh Razeghi


Dr. Mahdiyeh Razeghi is currently a lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland's School of Surveying and Built Environment and is affiliated with the Institute for Resilient Regions, the Rural Economies Centre of Excellence. She holds a bachelor's and master's degree in Geomatics and earned her PhD in Satellite Geodesy from the University of Newcastle in 2020, where she integrated satellite Earth observation with hydrology models to study Australian water resources.

Following her PhD, Dr. Razeghi joined the Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES) at the Australian National University (ANU). There, she contributed to national projects funded by Geoscience Australia, focusing on the groundwater assessment of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB). Her work significantly advanced the national research on GAB's underground resources, providing critical insights for future policy development.

Dr. Razeghi later joined the Institute for Water Futures (IWF) within ANU as a research fellow. In this interdisciplinary role, she pioneered a novel satellite-based method to study groundwater and underground resources. Her innovative approach combined satellite Earth observation with hydro-climate models, enhancing the accuracy and reliability of water resource assessments.

In her current role at the University of Southern Queensland, Dr. Razeghi's research focuses on the impacts of climate change and anthropogenic interactions (such as farming, agriculture, and mining) on water resources. She projects future scenarios to inform policymakers using advanced satellite Earth observation techniques, including the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), along with in-situ observations and hydro-climate models. Additionally, her current research includes drought analysis, investigating the effects of prolonged dry periods on water resources and regional communities.

Dr. Razeghi's affiliations with the Institute for Resilient Regions and the Rural Economies Centre of Excellence underscore her commitment to supporting regional communities' adaptation to climate change, drought, and water resource challenges. Her work contributes to understanding and mitigating the impacts of environmental changes on rural economies, aligning with the Centre's mission.



Fynn De Daunton 

BAgSci (Honours), Dip Global Issues, Master Governance and Public Policy  

Fynn De Daunton is a researcher at Rural Economies, UniSQ. She completed her Bachelors of Agricultural Science (Honours), Diploma of Global Issues and Masters of Governance and Public Policy at the University of Queensland. Her Honours thesis focused on the intersection and competition between commercial cattle production and ceremonial consumption on the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. Her current project areas are farm diversification, women on farm, climate smart agricultural production and China-Australia agricultural collaborations.




Syasha Aziz 

PhD (UniSQ Student), MBA (UnisQ) 

Syasha is a PhD student with the Rural Economies Centre of Excellence at the University of Southern Queensland. She holds a Master's degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern Queensland. As a postgraduate student who is completing her PhD with the University of Southern Queensland, her doctoral research will explore a complex adaptive systems approach to the development of Australia's renewable energy workforce. She has over 18 years' experience in Human resource management across various industries including energy, finance and professional services. With her professional expertise, she aims to research and address the complexities of Australia's renewable energy organisational capacity and development as organisations decarbonise heading towards net zero emissions.