It's one of the first perfect spring Sunday mornings in the beautiful city of Vienna - but instead of going for a walk alongside the Danube river or enjoying some sightseeing, we meet JA Alumni Europe's president Sarah in the (well, at least sunny) lobby of the hotel where the bi-annual NCM is just taking place.
Regardless of having travelled to meetings in Belgium ("Why Europe Matters"), Riga (European Board Meeting), Dubai (Global Education and Skills Forum) and little sleep (as always during NCMs...), her energy and enthusiasm is just contagious.
A reason for this may be a new job she has just signed the contract for - as the first Global Alumni Community Manager at JA Worldwide! But there still is her role as president of the Alumni network, so we wanted to know how she's coping with all of this Alumni power at once:
In summer last year, you applied for a second term of being president for JA Alumni Europe. What convinced you dedicating your freetime again to the network and could you imagine to apply even another time when it comes to the next campaign?
It was clear to me when I applied as president [for the first time] that I wanted to continue for a second term because I feel that we are already a big network and growing and need a sustainable environment and stability. If the leadership changed every year, I must say I’m uncertain if we could maintain this degree of sustainability.
We also have this two-years strategy and vision within our work as the European Board, plus, a year passes by quickly and every new position needs some time for a handover etc. Going for another round helped me and the team to evaluate what went well in the first year!
Despite the fact this job is so close to my heart and I’d not hesitate to apply again for the upcoming campaign starting in May, my career as president is going to end with this period as I just started working in a new job...
This new job is the position of the "Global Alumni Community Manager" at JA Worldwide. What will your tasks be and isn't it a weird feeling to start in a position that has never existed before?
It’s really going to be an adventure and lots of trial and challenges, too, indeed! The main aim is to create a global Alumni community, especially with the first global Alumni system ‘Gather’. We want to make it easy for the members to get in touch with each other and to explore how JA works in different areas. There’s a lot of differences between the countries in terms of e.g. the programme's target group and we are planning to create customer journeys for all of those different regions. Knowing those differences is crucial to know in order to bring the Alumni topic to a global level.
Isn’t Alumni as part of your professional and volunteer life not a big much sometimes? And how do you maintain some personal distance to all of the projects?
This is a little tricky to answer and might sound very romantic but:
"If one had asked me some time back what my current dream job was, I had replied: Becoming a fulltime JA Alumni"
And now I find myself in exactly this situation – I’ll be a president for another few months and start working for JA Worldwide. As they're located in the US, my daily agenda is going to move to the evenings a little bit due to the time difference. I’m planning on spending the first half of the day with some personal activities maybe and the volunteer part and in the afternoon I’m going to have internet calls with the colleagues at JA Worldwide.
Sure, my working days will be JA all over the place but on the other hand, the volunteering and this “real” job give me the chance to really focus on JA and the Alumni network. In my previous careers, I had JA Alumni on the one side but still working in some totally different field nine hours a day.
Sure, many of my friends in Malta and in general are Alumni, too, but at least I'm not engaged to an Alumnus...yet! (laughs) Time will tell when I need a little distance from it but for now I’m grateful for having this great chance to do so many things I like as a fulltime job. I still cannot imagine getting tired about all of this one day.
"I'm really bad at not doing anything..."
You’re from Germany but recently moved to Malta. Do you have to move again for this job?
For the moment I call myself lucky to be able to stay on “the little rock” as my location of choice. Even though JA WW’s headquarter finds itself in Boston, I don’t have to move there, as my position is a remote job, I just have to stick to their working hours in the U.S. and keep the time difference in mind.
Where do you see the network in a few years, what are your wishes for the network in the future and how could the members contribute to reach the aims?
I have the feeling we’re about to step inside something really massive at the moment. The “Alumni Virus” is spreading from us in Europe to the whole world as the work of us former participants is seen to be of such big value more and more. I was thrilled to hear that the Asia-Pacific Region they’ve launched JA Alumni Hong Kong and JA Alumni Singapore, just a few weeks ago! So I envision having this great global community of JA Alumni in a few years so many young (to-be-) entrepreneurs can profit from, especially in less developed countries!
Everyone can contribute to this spirit by spreading this energy you can feel especially at events like the conference – this atmosphere of buzzing energy, sharing inspiration and knowledge and motivation to volunteer in this educational programme JA is, is just great!
What are your three Alumni-wisdoms you’d like to share both with regular members and deeply engaged NCs? (e.g. embrace the differences between the countries etc.)
- Nothing is impossible – a few years back I was barely able to make conversation in English and now I got hired by an American company!
- You will always find someone in this network whose actions are challenging you to do even more or better than you have done in the past, but it’s great because you will grow with those challenges and there’s no limit, however, people would never look down on you!
- You will develop and gain not only one skill but a huge range of skills due to the many different fields you get to work on by volunteering at JA and JA Alumni.
As a JA employee you’re also having insights to upcoming projects – can you provide a little sneek peak? What should we be excited for?
Did you know that JA Worldwide is developing our first-ever global alumni system? ‘Gather’, how the system is called, will be my major project. The overall goal is to help establish and grow alumni networks all around the globe as well as connecting our alumni wherever they are, whenever they want and will provide benefits across the network.
Basically, spread the ‘alumni superpower’ across the globe and bring them together online and offline for our first ever GLOBAL JA Alumni Conference in Vienna in 2019!
All the best to Sarah for the start into this new position and thanks for the interview!
If you'd like to know more about 'Gather' and her journey from being recruited for JA Alumni Germany to working on the global level, check out JA Worldwide's newsletter, too!