Member Profile: Sinéad Collins and Ovidia Lim-Rajaram
We're in a rapidly changing environment for advancement—and being open to new ideas, insights, and solutions is vital, say Sinéad Collins and Ovidia Lim-Rajaram, chairs of the 2021 Asia-Pacific Advancement Conference.
"The pandemic is requiring us to get more creative about fundraising, and our landscape is changing and unpredictable," says Collins, director of engagement and external relations at UWCSEA.
However, Lim-Rajaram, chief communications officer at National University of Singapore, points out: "There are always options and solutions, regardless of your institutional size, staff, or budget."
Here, Collins and Lim-Rajaram share their best professional advice, how they landed in advancement, and more on the conference’s 2021 theme: transformation.
How did you find your way to advancement and your current role?
Ovidia Lim-Rajaram: A professor hired me to be his deputy and I never left! I am in this role because Lily Kong (now president of Singapore Management University) who was then overseeing the communications office, and Tan Chorh Chuan (who was NUS president at the time) gave me the opportunity to lead the team.
Sinéad Collins: In the last decade, advancement has emerged as a clear profession and many people begin their career in an advancement role, but that wasn’t how it was for me. I began my career as a performing musician and teacher. Part of my first job at the Arts Council in Ireland was working with local volunteer promoters to build audiences, and that’s when I shifted into communications, public relations, and fundraising. I loved the work but wanted an adventure so took myself off to China, with no job, just a wish to experience something different; funnily enough, I found myself back in storytelling and education, doing advancement at an international school. That brought me to UWCSEA and Singapore. When I look back on my career so far, although I’ve done many different things, they are all connected by a belief in the organisation I’m working for, and the twin themes of people and stories. My current role at UWCSEA is the culmination of that.
What do you love about your job?
Collins: There are two aspects of my job that get me up in the morning. The first is the people I work with. I learn every day from incredible colleagues and students. The second is the mission of our school: to use “education as a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.” It’s a joy every day to work with a community that is united in this common purpose.
Lim-Rajaram: What I love most is working with colleagues on strategies to enhance the reputation of the National University of Singapore.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for advancement now?
Collins: Obviously, the pandemic is requiring us to get more creative about fundraising, and our landscape is changing and unpredictable.
Lim-Rajaram: It's a rapidly changing landscape. We also have more sophisticated and discerning stakeholders. It’s a big question whether advancement professionals have the skills needed to excel in this new digital world.
Collins: On a deeper level I think that we are grappling with some deep questions about what and who we serve. With issues of equity and inclusion at the forefront of thinking globally, the role of advancement professionals as “forces for good” is definitely to the fore in the profession, and we have a deep responsibility to do good and do right. This is a challenge, but also a big opportunity.
What are you most looking forward to at APAC 2021?
Lim-Rajaram: The new insights and camaraderie!
Collins: I love the theme of transformation and am excited (as I always am!) to hear from fellow professionals about how they are transforming their practice to respond to current and future challenges. I know I’ll come away with lots of new ideas.
What do you hope participants will take away from the experience, which is all online this year?
Lim-Rajaram: That there are always options and solutions, regardless of your institutional size, staff strength, or budget.
Collins: I want them to take away a few practical nuggets that they can apply quickly in their own contexts, as well as new connections with fellow professionals in the region.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you’d give to someone starting out in advancement?
Collins: Find causes and institutions and communities you believe in and work for them. If you believe in the mission of your organisation, everything else becomes very easy.
Lim-Rajaram: Stay humble and open to other cultures and value systems. Humility, empathy, and respect are important starting points.
What’s something you keep on your desk that’s special to you?
Lim-Rajaram: A prayer wheel I bought from a trip to Bhutan. Spinning the prayer wheel spreads goodwill and is also good therapy!
What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
Collins: In these challenging times, one of the most uplifting books I have read recently is Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman, the Dutch historian. Bregman argues that although we tend to think pessimistically about human nature, the evidence shows that as a species, we tend towards good. I heartily recommend it as a joyous and thought-provoking perspective on what drives us. I think a belief in the basic goodness of people is a core quality for an advancement professional, so think of it as one of our manuals!