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Career Journeys: Emily Whitehouse is rolling up her sleeves to help make the magic happen

People find amazing jobs on EthicalJobs.com.au every day. This is part of a series of articles that go behind the scenes to meet some of the people and organisations finding each other through EthicalJobs.com.au. 

Today’s story is from Emily Whitehouse, who found her role as Partnerships Manager at So They Can on EthicalJobs.com.au.

So They Can is a not for profit organisation committed to empowering children living in poverty through education.

Starting out with work 

My first job was working at Woolworths in the UK at age 15. It was the equivalent to Big W, and in those days there was a record bar, where you could buy vinyl records or cassettes of the current top 40. A role on the record bar team was highly coveted as we got to choose what music was played across the store!  

I studied Geography at University, and then went on to study for a Postgraduate Certificate of Education in order to train as a primary school teacher. I taught for a number of years, which I loved. Having an education background has always stood me in good stead, it’s amazing how many roles there are that aren’t directly teaching but are related to education. It’s been a constant throughout my career journey and something I’ll always be thankful for.  

While teaching in London I became involved in a pilot program helping to develop curriculum resources for a new subject. They asked me to come out of teaching “for a year” and work for them, training other teachers in the new subject. I really enjoyed my teaching job and was worried that I’d miss it but I took the opportunity and haven’t looked back! Since then I’ve worked for a number of educational charities, and at a University, working on programs that help young people to reach their full potential. 

Working for So They Can

So They Can is a not-for-profit organisation registered in Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Tanzania and the United States. We partner with communities and their governments in Kenya and Tanzania to educate and empower children and their families, so they can break the poverty cycle, realise their own potential and meet their own needs. We take a holistic approach to ensure our model is sustainable and we are meeting the critical needs of the communities over a 7-10 year development cycle.

One of the things I love about my role is that there are no normal days or weeks, but my days are focused around having exploratory conversations, building trust, and uncovering golden opportunities where we can bring the expertise, passion, and resources of both partners together, to have a big impact and change lives for the better.

Last week, for example, I connected with two of our ambassadors to progress two very diverse projects to raise awareness and funds around some of the issues that girls are facing: 85% of 9-13 year old girls from Pokot, Kenya will be subjected to Female Genital Cutting and 98% will be forced into child marriage. I also explored some new and exciting employee engagement initiatives with some of our business partners, using their skill sets to make an impact. And I ended the week with an inspiring Zoom call with some year 6 students and their teachers, who were passionate about taking action around poverty and gender equality. 

Every day at So They Can I wake up to program updates from our teams on the ground in Africa so that I can share them with our supporters. One day there might be a photo of children seeing clean water for the first time as a water drill finally hits a natural water source at 79 metres deep, providing access to life changing safe water for the school, the childrens’ families and the community. Another day it might be a photo of women receiving certificates for completing business skills training in order that they can grow their own income and provide food and other essentials for their families. And the next day it might be a picture of some girls who’ve received washable sanitary pads, meaning they can attend school while on their period. It’s extremely rewarding and motivating, and I feel privileged to be a part of the So They Can family. 

Working for a better world 

When I emigrated to Australia 10 years ago I was looking for a purpose driven role and during my research I came across EthicalJobs.com.au. I got my first job in Australia through EthicalJobs.com.au, as well as my subsequent two roles. I have a lot of trust in the organisation, as well as respect for how they work. 

When I saw this role advertised on EthicalJobs.com.au it ticked all my boxes for the type of NGO I wanted to work for by having 100% local teams in Africa, a sustainable program model building local capabilities, a holistic model ensuring that the whole community is strengthened through healthcare and empowerment programs, and DFAT accreditation. But it was also a sentence in the ad that stood out and made me want to apply: ‘Do you want to roll up your sleeves and help make the magic happen?’. I did. I wanted to be empowered to build relationships with people and other organisations in order to make a positive difference in the world together, and that’s exactly what I’m doing now and I’m loving it. 

Many of us spend so much of our lives at work, so if we can find a role that we are good at, feel passionate about, and we also know our efforts are making a positive difference – there isn’t anything better than that.  

When you consider changing roles, look for opportunities that will take you towards your dream job, even if they don’t directly take you there. It can be tempting to take roles that go off in another direction because of extra pay or because you’re desperate for a new job, but try to stay true to the course. 

While working at the record bar at Woolworths I was offered the opportunity to work with the much older, and in my teen eyes, less cool, finance team in the back office. My initial reaction was to turn it down, but I was encouraged to give it a go to see if I liked it. I did. I liked it even more than the coveted record bar role. While it’s important not to take roles that lead you off track, don’t let the fear of the unknown or wanting to stay in your comfort zone stop you from taking opportunities that could lead you closer to your dream role.

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