NAME: Jan Warusavitharana
CURRENT TITLE: Executive Vice President at Save the Water™
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Sedimentary Geology, Management
YEARS EXPERIENCE: Newly appointed – less than 1 year experience
EDUCATION: MSc. and BSc. in Geology from Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas
What’s your job like?
I started working for Save the Water™ (STW™) as a volunteer and quickly managed to work my way up to the position of Vice President of the company in order to revamp the project. I find that this is more like a pastime for me than a job, because I am very passionate about the current water issues that are present globally. Coming from South Asia, I know about the daily issues that people face in obtaining water, filtering it to make it drinkable, preventing waterborne diseases, and having water cuts (where the water company stops flowing water in your house for several hours to days straight). The best part of my job, so far, is that I get to work from home and I am pretty much my own boss. The president of the organization is a very laid back person and is open to new ideas. My job involves having daily meetings with people, whether they are with volunteers, sponsors, scientists, other non-profits or other various stakeholders, in order to get our projects up and running. Currently, we have over 60 volunteers worldwide working in different departments. Our teams consists of Education and Science, IT, Social Media, Marketing, Events, Accounting, and Fundraising. I have yet to have a dull day on my job.
What’s a typical day like?
I start my day at 8 a.m. and it can sometimes go on until midnight. I am constantly seeking new information on how to run the organization more effectively. We also have weekend meetings to accommodate our volunteers’ schedules. I start the day by scanning the latest global news on various sources, including Twitter. Then I get all the agendas ready for the day’s meetings, which can start as early as 7 a.m. Meetings can go back-to-back on some days. On other days, in between meetings, I make sure that our message is sound and the same across all of the social media. I also research other organizations and universities to partner with and prepare marketing content. A typical day can entail 5 to 6 meetings which can go on till 8pm. But the day doesn’t end there. After dinner, I’ll head to bed, but I’ll still be reading articles sent in by volunteers so that they can be published on the website. I’ll also read LinkedIn articles on how to effectively manage and market STW™. The day typically ends around 11pm or midnight. Some days, I volunteer my time at other organizations as well. This is one way for me to meet people and make connections either for myself and/or STW™. While all this seems overwhelming, I do take time to cool off by fighting some mad monkeys in Donkey Kong or playing tennis or hiking in the Rockies. This keeps me sane and keeps me wanting to come back to work. Running an organization requires a lot of patience, dedication, but most of all passion.
It is really fun to meet all types of people from all around the world and all uniting for the one cause of eradicating problems with the world’s water supply. This is where you get to meet passionate people and it is easy to get volunteers to do their work because they are passionate about the cause and/or they get to work in an area that they like to. None of us consider this a job, but rather a fun and challenging cause that unites us all. One of the running jokes that we have within the organization is that we will get to talk to Matt Damon one day because he has his own water organization. Secretly, I think all of us hope this joke comes true!
Working from home makes it harder to physically meet people and get to know them at a more personal level. But I have overcome this by the use of social media and volunteering in other organizations. It is also rare that I get to work out in the field, but some of our programs – like the Himalaya project, once off the ground – will require on-the-ground work to conduct water assessments of the local areas. Other challenges we face is trying to set up meetings due to time differences not just across the world, but also within the US. Our one constant challenge is that Google Hangouts is our method of communicating and sharing files. This is a challenge because more often than not, someone will end up in a different Google Hangout room instead of the right one and we constantly have to deal with internet connectivity issues. Our biggest challenge yet is having some downtime with the different teams (aka team building) since we currently work virtually.
What’s your advice for students?
In today’s highly competitive job market, it is tough for graduates to find a job. I started off in the typical manner of going to conferences to find potential employers. But companies are always looking for experience. So how do you get the experience if you don’t have a job? I thought I would get creative, and the answer was to volunteer in your area of passion. Even if it’s just for a couple of months, you’ll be surprised how much you will learn in the process, and how much experience you will gain. We have four geology students amongst our volunteers, all from different areas of specialty, and one of them is an intern. I myself started off as a volunteer and it has taken me quite further than I thought I would ever obtain in such a short period of time. It has only been a year and a half since I graduated with my Master’s degree, but now I have gained experience that takes several years for most professionals. Some things I have gained experience in include developing strategies, networking skills, building contacts, managing a lot of people including the President, grant writing, other technical writing, reviewing and editing scientific material, project development, event planning, and website management. I used to be a big lab rat, hiding myself with my microscope in the lab. But this job has opened up a whole new life that I could never have dreamed that I would be good at. Try new experiences and make use of all opportunities lent to you. You never know what you’ll like and be good at and what connections you will make.