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From Regional Life to Leading in a Global Foundation

From Regional Life to Leading in a Global Foundation

Woop! You made it. We know first-hand that building your dream impact career isn’t straight forward. While you may have been told to climb some kind of career ladder, you’re probably feeling more like you’re navigating an open sea or following a zig zagging path. To help you find your sea legs, we’ve gone behind the scenes with some incredible career zig zaggers and ocean navigators to discover ‘How They Did It'.

These are the inside stories of how impact happens, from people you may not know but that are doing some pretty great stuff. They’re stories not just about what they did, but how they did it, so you can get some practical inspo to help build your own impact.

We are so pumped to introduce you to Sarah Spiker, the Global Projects Manager for the Cotton On Foundation.


Before we start, what was your first ever job?

Does cutting apricots in summer holidays in Waikerie count? If not, my first proper job was at World Vision and I was an Events and Volunteer Coordinator.

Can you describe what your current role encompasses day to day?

My day to day… First coffee and a good podcast on my drive to work. I start early to get on top of emails and updates that have come through from our team mates in Uganda and South Africa overnight – sometimes seeing exciting project updates, or reviewing plans for how we need to adjust our work to better meet the needs of community. This week we are reviewing plans to increase government support for secondary schools in Uganda. And today I’m assessing special requests from our partner health centres that have been overwhelmed by an influx in malaria patients, so we are negotiating how COF can help them and do more to prevent it happening in future.

Then I spend a lot of time during the day talking to the team in Aus to make sure they are on track and we are all sticking to our project strategy and focussing on the activities that are most important. This could be reviewing our teacher census results, or discussing how the Comms team are crafting the messages to share with our customers on what impact their support is having in Uganda, South Africa, Thailand or the NT.

At Cotton On we are very casual and love to have fun at work, so the day is usually dotted with moments of belly laughs with colleagues that are more like family and again, a lot of coffee. 

What did you study, and when you set out to do this, what did you imagine your career would look like? 

I did a double degree in Marketing and International Studies without any real idea of what I wanted to do after uni, then 7 years later I went back to uni and did my Masters in International Development. I thought I would work for the UN overseas or the Australian Government. And probably thought it would be in a policy role.

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Have you developed a skill in a role that you thought was unrelated to your desired career? Can you tell us about a time this happened?

I had a baby early on in my career and couldn’t travel for work for a while so I had to find work that was only in Aus. I got a role with Mission Australia as a Project Officer, and work on a really diverse range of projects. I moved through the organisation in a pathway that was not something I would ever have predicated. This gave me a lot of exposure to Government funding and contracts, financial management of programs and exposure to the delivery of programs across multiple sites. This was possibly the most useful skill set I never knew I needed and has helped me so much in every role since. I ended up staying at Mission Australia for 7 years and wouldn’t have the job I have today if I didn’t get that experience. 

In your opinion, what makes a job applicant stand out?

Humility, optimism, a succinct but relevant CV that includes the key words that are in the job ad, some kind of relevant experience (but not someone who has necessarily done the job before!).

What is your advice for people working towards their dream roles?

Don’t let go of your dreams even if you seem like you are headed in the wrong direction. If you have a passion to work in a particular area, it will be worth the wait to get there.

What is one thing you have learnt (in terms of career development) that you keep top of mind now?

It’s good to get a mix of experience that lets you be the small player on a team where you can learn from others, and also to be the big fish on small projects that let you learn to lead, coordinate and project manage. Diversity of experiences also builds confidence in all sorts of different situations and a comfort with ambiguity or uncertainty, and this is a skill that employers will really value.


Check out our listings for aid and development on our Opps Board now!