Rather than following your dreams, Telco Together Foundation's CEO and F&P Digi.Raise presenter, Renee Bowker, says it's better to follow your curiosity. Lise Taylor reports.
How did you first get into the work you do?
I have a background in product and marketing management in the telecommunications industry but always had an itch to make a bigger contribution to the community. About six years ago, I took an opportunity to volunteer in Kenya for a month. I was teaching English to a school of orphans in a rural area and living in a mud house with no electricity or running water. That environment totally changed my view of the world – seeing how happy they were and their sense of community when they had so little (by Western standards). I came back and immediately started working on ideas that could focus my attention on social impact.
Tell us about your current role. What does it involve and what do you enjoy most?
I am the CEO of Telco Together. We are an industry foundation that raises funds across the industry to support disadvantaged communities in Australia, but also seeking to leverage the skills, technology and resources of the industry to support the community, especially through supporting the nonprofit sector.
As with most nonprofit roles, my role can vary greatly from day to day but the main focus is progressing our key projects, which include the text giving pilot (making text giving available to charities as a fundraising channel) and The Skills Exchange (a skilled volunteering initative around building the capacity of the sector around the use of technology).
That usually involves working with our corporate members to define their goals, priorities and the resources they can make available, or helping charities define their opportunities and challenges. We have a small but amazing team working within the Foundation, so often I'll be working with one of them on various aspects of marketing, communications and program design – or on the fundraising events and industry engagement activities we have through the year.
How and what has shaped your early views on the work you do?
Starting a foundation from scratch with no nonprofit experience was certainly a challenge. I reached out to people within the sector to ask for advice and learn from them – and was humbled by their generosity of time and sharing of knowledge. It was a great experience and started to give me an insight into the opportunities and challenges of the sector. It was the start of my thinking about the opportunities for the Foundation to support the nonprofit sector through the skills and resources of the telecommunications industry.
What have you learned about yourself since getting involved in this work?
There is a great sense of reward in being able to give back through my work. There may be just as many stressful days as there were in the corporate sector, but they are made infinitely easier in the knowledge that we are helping people through our work. It has also opened my eyes to the huge numbers of people who have dedicated their life in service to others – and that's made me feel a lot better about the world.
Tell us something unexpected about yourself.
I was born in South Africa and lived there till I was eight. I think seeing the poverty and injustice in South Africa in the mid 1980s may have planted the seed in me that has taken me down my current path.
What's your top career tip?
Follow your curiosity… they’re not my words, but they made much more sense to me than ‘follow your dreams’. I never had a clear dream for my career, but was deeply curious about the different ways I could give back, and now about where community and corporate intersect… and it's definitely proving fulfilling.
Renee is presenting the How to Use Apps Successfully for Fundraising and Supporter Engagement session at F&P's Digi.Raise Conference on 21-22 June 2017. For further information or to book click here.