Alumni Spotlight: Rachel Messina, 2015 cohort

Alumni Spotlight: Rachel Messina, 2015 cohort 

In her Fellowship, Rachel worked as a Digital Marketing Consultant with Sabka Dentist in Mumbai in 2015. With her background in digital marketing and ecommerce in the fashion industry, she worked with Sabka Dentist to leverage digital channels to expand market share and increase public awareness about the importance of dental health and its connection to overall wellbeing. In the following interview, Rachel shares how she transferred her skills to the social sector and the learnings that she still applies today.

In the Alumni Spotlight series, we dive deep into past Fellows’ experiences and learnings from their Fellowship, and their career trajectories since then.

Question: From the fashion industry in New York to a dental healthcare social enterprise in Mumbai – how did that change happen?

Transitioning from a high-profile office in New York to a bustling social start-up in the middle of Mumbai was one of the most dramatic changes in my life.

At that time, I had worked in the luxury fashion industry in a digital function for six years. Though I found the ecommerce and technology sector interesting and dynamic, I felt more and more drawn to doing something that was more aligned with my personal values. I came across the term impact investing and it instantly clicked with me. I was always a strong believer in the potential for the private sector to have a positive impact, and I started to research opportunities in that space. I came across the LGT Impact Fellowship and decided to apply. I was very excited to use my existing skills in a meaningful way in a new sector and a new country.

Q: You are an ecommerce expert and applied your professional skills at Sabka Dentist (formerly Mydentist). How easy was it to transfer your skills? What were the main challenges?

Despite the seemingly extreme differences, quite a few of my skills were transferrable: Firstly, I had worked in entrepreneurial environments in NYC, which equipped me with the flexibility to adapt to the new workplace in India     . Secondly, I was still applying my expertise in digital marketing and ecommerce, which was familiar. However, what was new were the objectives. Instead of commercial objectives, in a social enterprise I had to set different targets that are directly linked to the social mission.

What was challenging in the beginning, was to learn how digital resources have to be applied differently for the kind of services that Sabka Dentist offers. I had to reset my understanding of the audiences – which channels are most effective in reaching the target audience, which channels are most accessible, what’s the most effective messaging, etc. My learning curve was very steep in the beginning as I was learning about the healthcare sector in India. Moreover, a common challenge among social enterprises is the combination of limited resources and fewer digital experts. I was therefore very thoughtful about      allocating resources, conducting training for the teams, and managing change effectively to ensure tools could continue to be used post my Fellowship.

Q: After the Fellowship you enrolled for an MBA at IESE. What was your plan post Fellowship and how has the Fellowship influenced your career ambitions?

While I had the idea of pursuing an MBA already before the Fellowship, I wasn’t 100% sure and wanted to be certain that I had clear career goals before making a significant financial and time investment. I always knew that an MBA would strengthen my business foundations     , and      the Fellowship really solidified my goal to work with      a value-aligned business.

Moreover, the Fellowship in India inspired me to pursue an international MBA, which led me to IESE in Barcelona     . IESE is also known for its focus on responsible business practices, which allowed me to participate in extracurricular      activities related to impact investment and responsible business. The Fellowship enriched and focused my MBA experience and by extension my career thereafter.

Q: Back to fashion but in a responsible way: What do you do at Patagonia today and what do you enjoy most about it?

After my MBA I joined Patagonia o     n the EMEA team in Amsterdam, where I lead the ecommerce operations team. I had always admired the brand for being a pioneer in responsible business and for the quality of its products. We even studied the brand in one of the MBA courses. This opportunity was the perfect merge of my fashion ecommerce background in New York and my new career goal to pursue responsible business.

What has kept me with Patagonia over the years is: Firstly, the values and mission of the brand. I am     continuously impressed by the authenticity and dedication towards the values and how everyone, regardless of their role, is expected to apply a responsible business lens. And secondly, the people. My team is genuinely nice and collaborative. The brand attracts an interesting      and fun group of people who have shared values–similar to the LGT Impact Fellowship.

Q: Are your Fellowship learnings still relevant today? In what way?

The Fellowship was such an intense and packed experience with so many learnings. The most important ones are:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help: Especially when you move to a new environment, it is important to lean into your extended network – ask your co-Fellows, reach out to the Alumni network and your personal network, ask your new team members at the host organization. Asking for advice can help you integrate into a new organization, new city or country, as you are building a new life.
  • Build relationships: Earning trust goes a long way, especially as you enter as an outsider into a new organization, sector or country. I always tried to spend time with direct and extended team members and get to know them on a personal level. Moreover, I was always open and honest about what I didn’t know.
  • Be curious: Do not go in with too many rigid assumptions or expectations, but instead approach a situation by asking questions and being open to changing your mind.
  • Manage expectations: Especially if you are the first LGT Impact Fellow at your organization, it is important to clearly communicate your role and mission as a Fellow, as some team members may be nervous about working with a Fellow that is associated to their funder – LGT Venture Philanthropy.

Q: What career advice would you give to candidates considering the LGT Impact Fellowship?

I have three pieces of advice:

  • Reflect on your long-term career goals. In many industries it is easy to fall      into the trap of thinking short-term chasing one promotion after the next. You feel like you’re progressing, but it’s not until you take the moment to zoom out, do you recognize whether you are actually going in the right direction for yourself. The Fellowship might look like a detour compared to the traditional path, however, if it is aligned with your long-term career goals, it might be the right step for you.
  • Do not undervalue the experience and expertise that you have and how it could be of value for the Fellowship. Therefore, even if you are uncertain, just give it a try. Going through the application process can be a good experience to start your impact journey, even if you do not get nominated for the Fellowship.
  • Reflect on your values and choose a career path that aligns with them.

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