Working in NGO communications has its roots in my childhood. As a young girl, I knew I wanted to do something that helped others. I initially thought of teaching, and so I came to South Africa to join a voluntary education project.
My volunteer experience was dynamic and full of learning curves as I filled different positions, but it wasn’t until I started working for a youth organisation that I was introduced to the world of marketing and communications. They never had a dedicated marketing and communications role, but at the time, they were in financial crisis and needed to elevate their brand and their identity.
I learned quickly what worked and what didn’t. I became involved in campaigns, fundraising, strategy, graphics and rekindled my love for photography (which I studied at university). At the time, I didn’t know that communications played into my natural strengths and likes, but as I gained confidence in it – as you do when you work in something for a long time – I came to see this.
Working for this organisation also exposed me to leadership and self-development training. This exposure and introspection greatly informed my thinking and my path to becoming an independent consultant in this.
The year of independence
In 2015, I got married at the age of 28 and made the decision to become independent. A big driving force in this decision was the need for balance in my life and the desire to start a family. Becoming independent offered me this, but I needed to define who I was, the skill sets I offered to clients, and be proactive in finding work.
As a first step, I needed and wanted to up-skill myself. I signed up for my first online course with Red and Yellow Creative School of Business, a school which has continued to be my go-to institution for my professional development. They have walked this journey with me in many ways. The courses did more than give me content knowledge; they boosted my confidence and helped me to develop a better growth mindset.
Alongside this, I started to attend more networking events and increased my exposure to other organisations in the sector. This environment boosted my confidence. I was able to speak to people, make connections, develop relationships, and surround myself with the right people, all of which has been intrinsic to my work.
This new-found independence paved a clear path for what I wanted to do and what I was good at. Communications work for NGOs was my what, but I could not answer why I had a chosen the path of communications.
Finding my ‘why’ in lockdown
I have often asked myself why I pursued a career in the NGO communications sector, but I have never deeply reflected on it. Lockdown presented an opportunity for pause and reflection. It has made me think of the work I do and the vital role communications teams have played in the Covid-19 responses. This has been especially true for the organisations I work for, where it is vital that the client base – often made up of vulnerable members of society – understand what is going on locally and nationally. Communications has also been intrinsic to the continued existence of these organisations as they have shifted their services and programmes online. It is through this process that my why has become so clear.
I do not consider myself to be a strong, loud, advocating voice, but I am able to amplify the voices of others. Using communications, I can make others’ voices easier to understand and hear. I can amplify their messages, which improve the lives of others. I can support the front-line workers dealing directly with some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and support these heroes by celebrating them, making their work shine through written and visual mediums. This is not work; this is passion and love.
I’ve always known that I’ve had a strong social justice streak. I didn’t know I was going to be doing this, but I always knew I was going to be doing a job that meant something and supported others in their own journeys. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not excited about what I do. Overwhelmed yes, but always excited.
Five tips to finding your ‘why’
- Surround yourself with the right people. From those with greater knowledge and experience in various roles and knowledge areas, to colleagues on a similar level that give you the opportunity to grow, develop and learn together. Importantly, the people you surround yourself with must push you in some way to do more, be more, and reach further.
- Expose yourself to networking spaces. Networking is big.
- Continual self-development and self-reflection. Why do you do what you do? If you’re going to work on your own, you must be seriously invested in what you’re doing. You haven’t got the comfort of being an employee. You must be intentional with what you’re doing.
- Find opportunities to pay it forward. Pass on a skill, knowledge or provide a platform for others to find their own why. By finding the opportunities to support others in their own journeys it also continues to inform your own.
- You don’t have to do it on your own. I’ve found a bubble, which has formed a support network – from a work standpoint, but also emotional. Find people to create your own little team with. That has been quite something for me.