Garbage, Glue and Doing Good

Katya Andresen’s career path has taken her from editing garbage trade magazines, through a stint as a Journalist in Cambodia and finally to her current work, making a difference for small changemaking nonprofits. Read the real-life story of this journalist turned marketing blogger and Chief Strategy Officer of Network for Good, as she finds her Work on Purpose.

If you could create a tweet that describes your career path, what would it be?
Saw the world, was never the same, and fell in love with the work of change. Tweet this!

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer as gifted as Roald Dahl.

What was your first job, and what did you learn that you still you use today?
Editing a trade magazine for the garbage industry. I worked for a trade publishing company that had magazines for every industry—glue, garbage, you name it. My first position was as an editorial assistant which meant that whoever needed me on a given day, I’d work for them. It was a great training ground because I had to learn to tell interesting stories about dry material. It’s a good talent to have in this world, to be able to take information and weave it into something people want to know about. Storytelling has also served me well in the nonprofit world.

Tell us about an "aha" moment that changed the course of your life.
I was working as a journalist for Reuters in Cambodia, a job where I was constantly witness to sad news and sad circumstances. One of the stories I was covering was the HIV epidemic, and in the mid to late 90’s, Cambodia was the epicenter of rapidly spreading HIV in Southeast Asia. It was really awful to see the toll it was taking. Public health workers were trying to educate people in Cambodia and I remember interviewing a guy who was a bicycle taxi driver, and his response to the concern about HIV was,“Why would I worry about something that could kill me in 10 years when I have to worry about what might kill me next year?”

World AIDS day rolled around and I needed to something so I went to a World AIDS rally. I saw all of this activity in the park on the far end of the rally and I walked over there. There was a booth for Population Services International (PSI) doing experiential and fun education in a way I’d never seen it done at an event like this. PSI was passing out condoms, and they realized that they had to make condoms and HIV prevention become something valuable and affirmative or a sign of prestige, not a precaution. PSI knew that the way they presented condoms and health education shaped whether or not they would be able to save lives.

I realized that the work of social change can happen when it’s done right and if you have a keen understanding of your audience and how they view the world. When you go about social change from that perspective, it’s a powerful tool; otherwise trying to educate people won’t make a difference. I went around Cambodia with PSI on their deliveries and it was areally transformative experience. I was fatigued with being a witness, and their work was the first insight to put me on the path I’m on.

I realized that if I could be a good story teller, and could make ideas interesting, I could apply that to social change and engagement in a way that could really make a difference.

What socially significant career accomplishment are you most proud of, thus far?
I’m proud of my organization, Network for Good. Network for Good has raised $500,000,000 for the smallest nonprofits in our country, for the people doing good who really need the resources to make their visions happen and create positive change.

Describe your typical Tuesday.
One of the things I like about my job as the Chief Strategy Officer of Network for Good is that there’s no typical day. I don’t like jobs that are that predictable. My day is constantly in flux—it’s shaped by what’s happening with our partnerships, our technology, fundraising, and the economy and by what all of the changes mean for our organization and our partnerships. I like that I keep answering questions every day and that just when you sort out a strategy, something fundamental changes. I think that’s one of the most interesting things about a job and life, you can think you have it sorted out, and the environment in which you operate forces you to adapt and change.

What is one book or film that significantly influenced your path and why?
I can’t say a book or film did it. It was really life experience. I chose to enter the charitable sector after years working as a journalist in the developing world. When you witness incredible human need on a daily basis, you can’t help but want to put down the notepad and start solving the problems that cause such suffering.

What is your favorite career mistake?
For better or worse, I’ve always taken jobs that seemed an impossible stretch of my abilities. I’m happiest in jobs where I’m somewhat uncomfortable—perhaps feeling competent 51% of the time and scared and utterly challenged the other 49%. While it’s not relaxing, it’s when I do my best work.

Who is one person whose changemaking career you greatly admire and why?
I’m a big fan of Mark Horvath, a formerly homeless human dynamo who travels the country interviewing homeless people on video for his InvisiblePeopleTv program. He makes a whole community visible to us by inspiring our compassion and alters the way we view ourselves and others. And, he’s done it all with next to nothing. It’s that kind of creative commitment and resourcefulness that leaves me in awe.

What is a song that would be on the soundtrack of your life?
The Road to Find Out. I’ve spent a lot of time in different countries; I’ve lived in Cambodia, Madagascar, and Ukraine, and in addition to being in a constant state of wonder during those years, I learned a lot about myself in the process, which is why this song resonates with me so much.


Katya Andresen is Chief Strategy Officer of Network for Good, as well as a speaker, author and blogger about nonprofit marketing, online outreach, social media and fundraising. She is an adjunct professor of communications at American University’s Key Certificate Program and serves on the board of Nonprofit Technology Network. Katya has trained thousands of organizations in effective engagement, and her marketing materials for non-profits have won national and international awards. She is the author of the book, Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes and was featured in the e-book, Nine Minds of Marketing. She is also an author featured in People to People Fundraising—Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities. Fundraising Success Magazine named her Fundraising Professional of the Year in 2007, and she has since become one of its regular columnists. Before joining Network for Good, she was Senior Vice President of Sutton Group, a marketing and communications firm and marketing consultant in Ukraine. She also worked for CARE International. She was a foreign correspondent for Reuters News and Television in Asia and for Associated Press and major US newspapers in Africa.