Does working with the UN sound like your dream career? If so, you may be interested to hear from Prashanthi Subramaniam, who lets us in on her life working with one of the world’s most coveted (and let’s not forget, socially impactful) organisations in Thailand. She shares some great advice on networking and marketing yourself in an over-communicated world, and also speaks about her own passions; including the one book she thinks everyone should be reading.
Introduce yourself to our readers Prashanthi.
I’m a Communications Consultant with the UNEP and UNDP. We help governments’ better plan and finance their sustainable development. Much of the work is macro-economic in nature. It involves moving institutions such as ministries. I provide support on communications, outreach as well as monitoring and evaluation. In my personal life, I am a story-teller. I’m interested in music, art and theatre. To put in succinctly, I consider myself to be a multi-potential person. I write for a web platform called The Glass Elevator as well. My next project is going to be a conversation with someone who works in my household. I’m also involved in mentoring a lovely young woman in Bangladesh through a network of women’s leaders.
What’s the most interesting thing about the work that you do?
Watching the way that the wheels turn at the bureaucratic level is very fascinating. Also, working in a cross-cultural environment is a great learning experience.
What’s a challenge in the whole work process ?
One challenge is seeing where you fit in into the whole process. It can be difficult to see the impact of your work. For example, the difficulty of controlling outcomes and the lack of political will. Working with limited resources creates the ability to find creative solutions to problems!
Speaking of learning and creative problem solving, do share with us what your own experiences with mentors have been like.
I have had different mentors, fill different gaps in my life; rather like a fishing net. One of my mentors has helped me explore my creative side. Another one has guided me regarding career decisions and opportunities. My parents, of course have been my earliest mentors. They are very ‘project management’ oriented, and I’m lucky to have them around.
Well, I’m certain that they are very proud of you as well. You’re not just working with the U.N. but you’re also working overseas, navigating personal and professional challenges and opportunities in an independent and self-directed way. What is it like to work in Thailand?
Thailand is more than just a party destination. It’s very expat friendly. Working overseas gives you an opportunity to examine your own culture. There are many commonalities between Indian myths and Thai myths. There is a very spiritual side to Thai culture which coincides seamlessly with what is perceived as the more materialistic side of it. Thailand is a very high EQ society.
Working in Thailand certainly sounds very exciting! What about the rest of Southeast Asia? Has your field-work taken you to other countries as well?
My most interesting field experience was in the winter of 2014, in Lao PDR. I was travelling in the southern part of Lao PDR. The workers working on the rubber plantations in the Lao PDR are some of the most impoverished sections in the country. Their wages don’t always come on time, they are exposed to chemicals while working and they face a lack of social protection and safety nets. Putting people in need in touch with the right influencers was very satisfying. Providing them a service and seeing the impact of my work made this field trip meaningful.
Do you have some tips on starting a career with the U.N. ? I have a feeling that our readers will be very interested to hear about this !
As clichéd as it sounds, networking is very important. However, it’s not as complicated as it is perceived to be. Sometimes, it’s just a simple matter of saying “This is what I’m interested in. This is what I can offer. Do you know anyone who’s looking for someone with my skills?” Do contextualise your skills while talking about them, in terms of fulfilling the gaps that an organisation has and leveraging your abilities such as knowledge of local languages.
Those are some highly relevant professional insights, tailored to today’s competitive and over-saturated job market. Is/are there any inspirational reads that you’d like to share with us ?
I’m currently in the middle of reading a great book that I’d like to recommend. It’s called “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi. It’s not your typical self-help book at all. It is a very lucidly written memoir by the now-deceased Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal cancer where he explores the age-old question about the meaning of life. He argues that human relationality is the nucleus for all existence. I’m sure that the readers of IndspireMe would find it very enlightening.