Written by On Purpose
Published: 26 Mar 2019
On Purpose London October 2017 Fellow, now Advisor to the Board President at C40 Cities
Pauline always wanted to work on the protection of the environment, but found herself in e-commerce gaining great management skills in the non-environmentally friendly fashion industry. This is how she managed the sector change.
Can you tell me about your background and your career prior to On Purpose?
Soon after graduating from my MA in Translation and Interpreting I joined the translation department of a luxury fashion e-commerce group, where I worked for 5 years. As I progressed, my role involved less and less linguistics and more and more management and operation planning, which I really enjoyed, so I moved into a management position in their Studio Production department.
What are you doing now?
I am now Advisor to the Board President at C40, a leadership group of cities across the world taking bold climate action. My first role here was as Project Manager on the C40 Cities’ Women4Climate team. Women4Climate is an initiative launched by C40 Chair and Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo which aims to empower and inspire the next generation of climate leaders through research, a mentorship programme and a Tech Challenge, and I was in charge of managing the latter.
How did you feel in your work before you decided to make a change?
I really enjoyed my role and the skills I used on a daily basis. I felt very disconnected from the industry I worked for, though, and could notice a real contrast between the passion of my colleagues for fashion and my concerns for the negative impact of this industry.
My role was too demanding for me to have time to reflect or act upon these considerations and I grew increasingly frustrated with the feeling that I was investing a lot of my time and energy into something that was fundamentally opposed to the mark I wanted to leave on our planet.
At what moment did you decide to make the change?
I always wanted to work to protect the environment. Working in e-commerce was only meant as a brief learning opportunity initially (!). So in this sense I suppose I always knew I was going to try and work in this field at some point.
Every time I looked for opportunities outside of e-commerce, I started with environmental services. Unfortunately, changing sectors with little to no experience is no easy task!
Why did you join the On Purpose Associate Programme?
I knew all I needed was to get one relevant experience in climate action or sustainability to learn about the field, develop my network and prove I could transfer my from one sector to the other. And then I could have built it up from there. But I could not secure any job, even when applying for more junior roles. I joined On Purpose to get this opportunity.
What was the most difficult thing about making this change?
Initially, the impact of the change on my financial situation was awfully daunting. But I started the programme seeing it as a challenge and an opportunity to experiment with my lifestyle. I soon realised that operating this type of change is much easier when you are surrounded with a group of people in the same situation. It’s also much less painful to cut on unnecessary consumption when your work consists in fixing its consequences!
Can you tell me more about your placements?
My first placement was as an Innovation Associate at Interface. They are a carpet manufacturer and one of the most pioneering companies in sustainable business practices. I developed a network of reuse partners as part of the re-launch of their ReEntry service in the UK.
My second placement was as a project manager for innovation foundation Nesta. I was part of their Challenge Prize Centre and developed their portfolio of services, so their methodology could be rolled-out in different ways, to solve a wider range of societal challenges.
What’s the most important thing you learnt during your year as an Associate?
You will get nowhere on your own. To schematise things a bit, I saw leaders as inspiring and supportive figures, but very self-driven and isolated. Consequently, as I tried to lead myself, I only too rarely sought for support or alternative points of view.
The programme showed me that relying on and including others’ experience and knowledge always yields much better results. And that successful leadership always includes collaboration of some sort.
What support did you get along the way?
So much that I couldn’t list it all!
My friends and family really bought into my decision and never questioned it (if anything, some thought I should have done this sooner!).
My On Purpose mentors and coach talked me through my numerous considerations to help me stay focused and persevere. But the best support was, and still is, my cohort.
It’s invaluable to be part of a group of talented people who have the same goals as you,and are going through the same process as you, but all have a different background and network. We all mutualised our experiences and skills, and fully committed to supporting each other so we could move forward as a collective. Nothing could have worked better for me. And I like to think they all felt supported in the same way.
How did your year with On Purpose set you up for your new career?
It did so in three ways:
In my placements, I learnt about the key aspects at stake when dealing with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions: after On Purpose, I was able tounderstand who I wanted to work with and how they work.
On Purpose is a wide community through which I developed a network that was incredibly useful when looking for job opportunities: my On Purpose contacts introduced me to their C40 connections so I could discuss the role I was applying for!
Running a Challenge is a specific methodology, which I’d learnt in my
placement at Nesta, and then became my core responsibility at C40: without the skills I learnt in my placement, I would probably not have secured my position at C40.
What advice would you give to others in a similar situation?
It is difficult to make such a radical decision on your own and it always raises doubts and concerns. But purpose-driven people love to share and help.
Connect with fellows or people in organisations you admire. Tell them about your doubts and ask about their experience. Their point of view will help you make an informed decision and be confident about it. And if you’re not ready yet, they might support you in getting there!
What do you miss about your old career, and what don’t you miss?
I miss managing a team. I got a lot of energy from working with people on realising and exceeding their potential. But management opportunities will come again.
I don’t miss the relentless feeling that I am contributing to a system that is opposed to everything I believe in.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The prospect that I might contribute, even to the smallest extent, to restoring a bit of balance and beauty in this world.
Written by On Purpose
Published: 26 Mar 2019