GoAbroad Interview

Ana Jovanovic - International Cooperation Manager

Ana Jovanovic - International Cooperation Manager

Ana is a Serbian environmental engineer with a strong passion for NGO work. She has worked in field of human rights, mainly working on poverty reduction and training programs for youth, but she is currently turning her professional career toward her real passion, which is environmental protection. Ana was managed an an NGO in Serbia for almost a decade before joining the SOLS team, and she hasn’t looked back ever since!

You founded an organization that supports the expansion of educational opportunities for young people from Serbia. What inspired you to establish OSMEH?

I decided to start OSMEH after being a volunteer for many years. I had passed through European Commission EVS program (European Voluntary Service) and I did my service in Slovenia for six months. I got offered a position in my host organization, where one of my main tasks was to coordinate international projects with refugees and monitor volunteering programs.

After staying in Slovenia for two years, I decided to go back to Serbia and start a youth NGO that could provide free non-formal education programs for underprivileged youth. I was always inspired to start something similar, but my experience in Slovenia gave me courage and knowledge to do it. Once I was back, I was ready to go for it. I was just 22 years old when I started my NGO and in the next eight years we became one of the most active organizations in Serbia in the field of youth.

Snorkeling in Tioman Island, Malaysia

Just finished a shark diving session in Tioman Island

How has running the organization prepared you for your role with SOLS 24/7

My decision to come to SOLS came after I realized that I had practically achieved everything I wanted. I am a very non profit oriented person, so I was looking for an opportunity in Asia that would widen my horizons and give me a different approach to what I do.

I actually found SOLS on GoAbroad.com and after filling a small questionnaire I was invited for an interview. The real excitement happened when I got accepted, and when I have realized that I would be moving to another part of the world: Malaysia.

Running an NGO for so many years helped me a lot to understand SOLS. Even though many things are different in the way we work, our work ethics and communication, I was able to understand problems SOLS is facing every day. I applied for a position as an English teacher, and I ended up running the most amazing department called NGOHUB. My previous experience in OSMEH gave me a strong foundation to understand mentalities of NGOs and at the same time be able to develop a great new platform for them in Malaysia. I can easily say that if there was no OSMEH I wouldn’t be part of SOLS today.

How did you first get introduced to SOLS 24/7?

I discovered SOLS 24/7 on GoAbroad just by simple search of NGOs around the world. I was not specifically interested for any country, but when I saw that there was an NGO in Cambodia, I wanted to jump in and experience something completely new. Luckily, SOLS Cambodia was not hiring at that point so I had to make peace with the fact I would be based in Malaysia. Today, I am very happy it turned out that way, considering that Malaysia brought me so many amazing experiences that have changed my life.

Friends at a wedding in Malaysia

My colleagues and I attending a wedding of our office colleagues

You have a bachelor’s degree in tourism and sustainable development and a master’s degree in environmental engineering. How does your academic background help you in your current role?

I am quite proud on my formal educational background because it gave me variety of skills that are very useful in my work. But in this case, I have to be honest, my non-formal education brought me to the place where I am now. University taught me to respect deadlines and how to focus and be productive, but what I have learned throughout my NGO experience, a variety of trainings, and internships I attended, has brought me concrete leadership and management skills.

Based on your own experience in the nonprofit industry, across multiple countries, what characteristic of SOLS 24/7 programs make them unique?

SOLS is something that I would characterize as the real-deal. I have variety of experience freelancing and working for different NGOs, but what I found in SOLS is a true spirit for the field work and real grass root education for the poor. Visiting just one SOLS 24/7 community center gives you exactly this impression; these people are real. SOLS is in compliance with my understanding of what one NGO should actually do.

All around Europe we meet so many projects devoted to youth leadership, creative thinking, and social support, and many of them are great. But, they don’t bring ten percent of the impact that SOLS makes on a daily basis. I believe that everyone who wants to understand what does it mean to be a real non profit, nongovernmental organization should visit SOLS.

What do you believe attracts participants to join SOLS 24/7 programs?

I think that there are few things. I have conducted many interviews for volunteers and interns and what I frequently hear is that people want to join in order to be able to help. There are so many young people out there looking for a platform they can use to express their need to help others, but many of them end up paying insane amounts of money to be able to go out and volunteer. SOLS offers all of that, great possibility for young people to do something good, but SOLS doesn’t charge for it.

An amazing thing about SOLS is that we take care our volunteers by providing them accommodation and food, and even some allowance, in order for them to be as comfortable as possible while in Malaysia. Not many other programs offers that.

The last thing I think attracts people to us is the international, multicultural, multireligious, and multiracial environment. SOLS HQ looks like every day is a UN assembly meeting, and this is what makes SOLS so unique.

Networking event in Malaysia

Ceremony of receiving a prize for being the best CSR project for 2014

Describe an average day of work for you.

We all come to the office at 9:00 a.m. We start our daily activities is silence (I don’t think there are many morning people working in SOLS). We have our lunch break between 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m., and by then we usually already have had a few meetings, we have responded our emails, and we are getting ready for the second part of the day.

When we finish our lunch we usually hop down to Chinese restaurant for a drink, where we use our free time to socialize with colleagues or meet new people that joined SOLS (there are always new people around).

The second part of the day I usually spend on meetings outside of the office (my job is to connect with the government and profit sector through networking), so I will usually struggle to get a transport around KL in order to reach my desired destination.

After six o’clock we usually go home, or if we are staying in the center we gather in the club house and watch a movie. If it’s a weekend we go out. One of the reasons it is great to work in SOLS is because you will always find someone to go out with.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoyed the flexibility of my work. I started as a manager of department that was working on supporting Malaysian NGOs, and from there I grew into international cooperation manager. I am bringing European NGOs to SOLS now and I am opening contact points around Europe, and traveling is of course my favorite part.

On the other hand, I really like the people in SOLS; they are a string that keeps me in no matter what. My friends are my colleagues, and my colleagues are my friends. I also love the fact that SOLS is quite a recognizable organization in Malaysia, so whenever I declare that I work for SOLS people give me this approval of a head movement so it always boosts my ego a bit.

SOLS 24/7 Staff Members at the headquarters

SOLS 24/7 HQ team 2014

When participants return home, what do you think they appreciate most about their time abroad with SOLS 24/7?

Stories! So many amazing stories! They will talk about the hard adjustment to Asian culture and great hearts of Asian people. They will always talk about people from SOLS and the experience they gained.

I believe the benefits of working for SOLS are not visible right away, but they will slowly show their impact, year by year in how people's careers continue to grow.

What are your goals moving into 2016?

Believe it or not, I am planning to go back and work for SOLS ENERGY. That is a new social enterprise that will be working in the solar panel industry. Being an environmental engineer, I managed to build my understanding about the organization and build my credibility, so I have got an amazing job opportunity. I am really excited about it and I am very happy that SOLS is one amazing organization that offers so many career possibilities for everyone.