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“Making change – it’s relentless!” Ruwanie Ekanayke on what it takes to change the world for people with blindness and low vision

People find amazing jobs on EthicalJobs.com.au every day. This is part of a series of blog posts that go behind the scenes to meet some of the people and organisations finding each other through EthicalJobs.com.au.

Today’s story is from Ruwanie Ekanayke, known as Reeni, who found her job as the Campaigns Advisor at Vision Australia on EthicalJobs.com.au. The leading national provider of blindness and low vision services in Australia, Vision Australia supports more than 27,500 people who are blind or have low vision to help them achieve the possibilities they choose in life.

Hi Reeni, thanks for chatting with us! To start us off, can you tell us about your first ever job?

My first ever job was working for McDonalds; I was there for about four and a half years. I worked my way up from a 14-year-old up to management while I was at uni. It was really good training – very thorough.

Tell us about your education – what did you study after school?

I did a Bachelor of Communications with a major in comms and public relations and a minor in journalism, and my postgrad is in human rights.

So it’s worked our really well that I was able to then enter the marketing and comms field straight out of uni– it was actually the week I was graduating that I was really fortunate to have secured a job as a marketing and comms officer!

Uni can be quite theory-focused, so I was quite lucky that when I got into industry straight out of uni, I really did enjoy the variety of work. I’ve always deliberately kept my work quite broad – under marketing and comms comes events to public relations to internal comms to external comms and beyond, and that suits my personality, to have variety.

How about the rest of your career before you started at Vision Australia?

I’ve always loved working in the not-for-profit sector. I started at an organisation called Baptcare, and some of my other roles have been working for an agency, RSPCA Victoria, and also for Victoria Police – always in marketing and comms roles.

My last role before this one was working as a media adviser for Wesley Mission.  When I look back, I’ve had quite a varied bunch of roles because of contracts finishing up or wanting change.

I particularly enjoyed utilising my postgrad degree in human rights when I worked for the RSPCA – that really was around campaigning for change in issues affecting animals. That’s when I really tried to shift towards having more of a focus on not only using my marketing and comms skills, but using them to change government policy and legislation through lobbying and campaigning.

For those who may not be aware, what does Vision Australia actually do?

Vision Australia is the largest provider of services to people who are blind or have low vision in Australia. It’s a multi-faceted organisation providing a range of services and in the areas of employment, social inclusion, education, and independence.

It’s around ensuring that we can give our clients what they need from a practical level so they can continue to live the life they choose. What I like about working here is that you can see people’s quality of life improving so quickly when they get what they need. They’re able to make the same choices that I would as a fully sighted person – and get the outcome they’re after – but simply just do it a different way.

Another core part of the organisation is around the government and advocacy work. There’s a team that works across the country to really heavily lobby government via submissions, and work closely with politicians to inform debates, discussions and policies so the law is on the side of our community.

And what does your role as campaigns advisor involve?

It’s a new role for the organisation. It’s really about identifying the systemic issues that affect people who are blind and have low vision – is there an opportunity to take some of these issues and turn them into campaign or public affairs opportunities?

A typical point where I might intersect is if I know that some of the work we’re working on behind the scenes has enough relatability to take it ‘above the line’ – to share this in a strong, concise, tight and effective campaign to garner community engagement.

And that might be via getting our community to share their voice, to contact their member of parliament, or something else. It’s around finding those opportunities and then providing the support and resources to make it happen.

So what first attracted you to Vision Australia when you saw the ad on EthicalJobs.com.au?

Definitely the role itself. I didn’t know too much about the issue aside from the obvious: knowing that Vision Australia, just by the name, is associated with blindness and low vision. The position description made my eyes jump – it was very similar to the campaigning work I did previously.

I knew it was going to be hard. Complete blindness only affects a small number of Australians, but low vision and losing eyesight affects a lot of people just through the ageing process. So I knew I’d have a really challenging role, and that turned out to be accurate. Making change . . . it’s relentless! That’s what really appealed to me about the job.

And how did you first come across EthicalJobs.com.au?

I don’t know! I’ve been working in the not-for-profit sector for so long. I think if you work in this sector, you know quite well to turn to EthicalJobs.com.au as a place to look for like-minded organisations. It’s always my go-to; I’m always excited to see what organisations are out there and what roles they’re recruiting for, and already knowing there’s a fair chance they’re going to align with my values.

Many people who work for community organisations are well aware they could earn a more lucrative salary in the public or private sector. What has motivated you to work in the not-for-profit sector?

I was born in Sri Lanka and decided to go back there to volunteer a long time ago. That experience really was the switch for me to recognise that the skills and talents I’ve been gifted are something I want to use to enhance lives.

I feel really purposeful working in the NFP sector, which is really important to me. I’ve maintained that for more than 10 year in my career: I’m really satisfied by having purpose in my life, by putting my skills into something that has impact or makes social change.

It’s true that it’s not as lucrative. But at the same time, I recently bought my own property in inner-city Melbourne on a single income from saving, and I’ve only ever earned a not-for-profit wage. So I don’t completely buy into that perception of living paycheck to paycheck.

And just finally, what advice would you give to the many ethical jobseekers who dream of a landing a job like yours?

Be really thoughtful in what you choose to study and in where you put your energy when you start, because it can only get better if you make the right choices at the start.

Life is becoming more and more competitive, so if you really want to do it you need to align with organisations at the start through volunteering. I volunteered a lot when I wanted to identify what I was interested in.

Thanks, Reeni!

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