Graduate focus: Josephite charism fueled passion for social justice

Rachel Donovan can’t pinpoint exactly when she knew she wanted to work in International Development. But one inspiration was definitely the work of the Sisters of St Joseph, which she learned about as a student at Mount St Joseph Milperra.

“We had a connection with their East Timorese study centre, and every year we’d raise money to send to the sisters in Peru,” she said.

“It was very clear throughout high school that if you have the capacity to help someone overseas you have the obligation to help someone overseas”

The 30-year-old, who graduated in 2006, took an unusual path to her current role in her dream field. It wasn’t her two master’s degrees that led to her first job, or to her current one running marketing and communications for Palms International.

It was a great opportunity to give back – but also to learn as well

– Rachel Donovan

“Getting that entry level position after university just wasn’t really happening,” she said, “they’d ask for five years of experience and several languages.”

“But for a couple of years, I’d been volunteering at a community radio station – just because I liked it”

When she stumbled on a volunteer position supporting community radio in Timor Leste, it was an ideal opportunity.

In the end, Rachel spent about 18 months in Timor, travelling extensively and working with radio stations all over the country.  She then took another position in Mongolia, helping to create resources for a journalism school.

“Arriving in Mongolia was quite an adjustment, it’s a middle income country whereas Timor’s low income, but there’s such a difference in development there,” she said.

“The press institute had several rooms full of computers – in Timor we had this tiny little radio studio with one light globe.”

“It was a great opportunity to give back and to share the skills and I had – but also to learn as well.”

Learning to use resources efficiently during her time overseas still serves her well in her current role at Palms – a not-for-profit that connects skilled volunteers with grass-roots organisations that fight poverty in other countries.

Like the organisations that sent Rachel overseas, Palms allows those on the ground to determine the skills they’re after, empowering locals. Rachel’s own time overseas gives her a perspective on the work that most wouldn’t have, and helps her engage with volunteers.

“Working with Palms – it’s not how we would colloquially use the term volunteer,” she said. “It’s a full time commitment for in excess of one year. It’s not paid in the same way that a job is paid but, it’s a completely comfortable lifestyle supported with a living allowance, a rental allowance, insurance and the flights.”

This article is part of a series that acknowledges the professional skills Sydney Catholic school graduates contribute to their communities and the wider world.

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