VP, PACIFIC NORTHWEST & GLOBAL NON-PROFIT | INNOCENTIVE
What do you do as VP, Pacific Northwest & Global Non-profit for InnoCentive?
I’m responsible for developing our business in Canada, the US West Coast, and to non-profits around the world. I speak about crowdsourcing, present our services, and close deals with new clients.
You’re also an advisory board member for Future Foreign Policy - what does that entail?
My role is to support the founders, most often by giving advice and input on the development of the organisation – everything from community, to offerings, to FFP’s first conference.
Describe a “typical work day”.
These days, I travel about 40% of the time, mostly across Canada or in the US. When I’m on the road, I’m usually presenting to prospective clients, speaking at events, and attending workshops. I squeeze in emails and phones calls in between. When I’m not travelling, I work from home. I spend the majority of my time on the phone, speaking to prospective clients, coordinating with colleagues and catching up with on-going clients. I spend the rest of my time working on proposals, dealing with emails, and staying on top of innovation-related news and new content.
Quite a few challenges on InnoCentive have a foreign policy angle. How important is crowdsourcing in foreign policy?
I think it’s important that, when we talk about actors in International Relations, we consider the crowd as well. The crowd is not new, but the ease with which crowds can form, collect and plan online is a relatively new development, and events of the past few years, from the Arab Spring, to the Turkish government attempting to ban Twitter are good indications of the impact of connected individuals. The crowd doesn’t need to be viewed exclusively as a force against government – it can be a source of help and innovation too. Just as people around the world contribute to Wikipedia in the spirit of shared knowledge, people contribute ideas and potential solutions to challenges put forward online. Governments around the world are starting to embrace crowdsourcing. A few examples for those who are interested:
- Using Prizes to Engage Citizen Solvers: A Progress Report (White House)
- Seeker spotlight: U.S. Department of State (InnoCentive)
How did you get to your current job?
After spending a bit of time in think tanks and political offices, I was looking for a different pace of work, and wanted to help build something. I found my role the old-fashioned way, responding to an ad. I joined a small London-based startup as Marketing Manager. We had two rooms just off Baker Street, and about five staff, but we worked hard, we grew our client base, and were acquired by the American market leader, InnoCentive. I stayed in the company through the acquisition and after working in Marketing and Operations, I was eager to get to know the sales side of the business. I started in London, and moved to Vancouver to tackle a new territory at the beginning of the year.
The Euros is an online publication, created by graduates as a place for young professionals to publish their analysis of various EU issues, in a non-academic setting. I started writing for them at LSE and continued on as an editor for a while. At EGMONT I got the opportunity to write and publish more academic pieces, working under a scholar whose work I had studied for my dissertation. Friends of Europe focuses more on events and live debates, so together these three experiences gave me good exposure to different ways in which people try to influence and impact policy.
Given that I didn’t stay in the politics/policy field, what I’ve noticed most is that people recognise the LSE name (Queen’s too, but it’s not as well known in Europe) and associate it with high quality and high standards – that certainly has helped open doors.
Of course, certain skills you hone in a politics degree will come in useful in almost any job: making persuasive arguments, appreciating different actors and motives, and critical thinking skills.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career?
I think the most rewarding part continues to be the relationships I form – whether it’s growing with a team internally, or helping a client with something important to them, and gaining their trust.
What advice would you give to somebody who would like to do a similar job?
Join a startup! Don’t worry too much about seniority or department when you’re starting your career – try something you like in an organisation that you can help build. Most importantly, push yourself into uncomfortable situations. It’s easier to tackle your fears at the start of your career, when mistakes are more readily forgiven and forgotten, than to spend years avoiding them until they become obstacles.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
I primarily draw on two skills: self-motivation, and ability to connect. I’m extremely self-motivated to work hard and perform well. I think that comes from within, but is partially taught too. I was brought up with these values – if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well – and was fortunate to study at institutions that value, and even demand, focus and discipline.
Social skills – the ability to connect with people, to empathise, to interpret – are incredibly important in a sales or client-facing role, but also invaluable for relationships within your organisation. In terms of how I gained these skills, a multi-cultural and multi-lingual family was a great starting point. It’s often said that language affects how we think, not just how we speak, so learning other languages helps you appreciate how others might see things differently. Exposure to different cultures and perspectives through studying and working in different countries also really helped.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
It’s a work in progress, but I would say learning to choose my battles. I find it challenging to look around and see things I think could be better done differently, and to not say anything. There’s value in learning the right time to speak up on broader organisation issues, but sometimes you need to also need to focus on making your own contribution as best as it can be. I think this is a big part of why I like startups – job descriptions tend to be more fluid, and pitching in on things beyond your personal scope tends to be valued.
What is the mistake you wish you hadn’t done?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes – and will continue to, I’m sure – but you really do learn a lot more from mistakes than successes, so I try to make it a habit not to wish them away.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
One of the biggest challenges I faced starting off my career was not knowing what direction to go in. I chose my Master’s programme thinking that I’d like to work in the European policy space, but after exploring different functions like the ones we just discussed, I felt a bit lost. Knowing what you don’t want to do is pretty useful, but it still leaves you with a lot of different directions to consider. I had to realise and accept that there was no ‘correct’ path, just many opportunities, and I’d have to start with one. I think it’s important to not be too hard on yourself when you’re starting to figure these things out. Choosing the “wrong” position, or finding out you don’t like what you’re doing after a few months doesn’t mean your career has stalled, it just means you need to look for opportunities to pivot, in the same organisation, or a in a new one. I’m not usually one for analogies, but I think the image of your career as a jungle gym, not a ladder fits well here (I’m not sure who said it first, so I won’t attribute it).
What achievements are you most proud of?
One of the first that always comes to mind is building a team when I ran operations at OmniCompete. I got a huge amount of satisfaction from hiring a group of individuals; working with them and watching them grow. And of course, along the way you realise they are challenging you and forcing you to grow as well.
Siobhán Gibney Gomis - VP, Pacific Northwest & Global Non-Profits of InnoCentive
Seven years' experience
CV in brief:
Previously worked at: EGMONT - Institut royal des relations internationales, The Euros,
Friends of Europe, Liberal Democrats,
Find her online