Please tell us about yourself
Firefighters, police officers, nurses, astronauts: they’re the stereotypical childhood dream jobs. But for Tejaswini Vavilala, an IUPUI (Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis) Department of Journalism and Public Relations master’s graduate, such aspirations never seemed to fit. Her goals were much more specific, yet equally important.
“My dream has been to get into the U.N., and I’ve always been interested in nonprofit communications,” said Vavilala. “From childhood, the work of the U.N. was an inspiration to me.”
Tejaswini Vavilala worked as an intern for the media and communications branch of the UNFPA in New York City.
In May, Vavilala fulfilled her lifelong dream by completing her internship with the media and communications branch of the United Nations Population Fund in New York City. Describing her internship as a “holistic learning experience,” Vavilala explained how quickly she learned the widespread effect of the U.N. mission.
“There is so much understanding and responsibility. Everything that you do is directly or indirectly impacting someone else somewhere around the world,” Vavilala said.
What did you study?
Vavilala said that her educational and professional background prepared her well. Before receiving her masters in public relations from IUPUI, she completed a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and journalism, literature and political science from St. Francis College for Women in Hyderabad, India. Following her undergraduate studies, she worked in India for three years as a public relations officer at a sustainable housing firm and also completed an internship with Cummins Inc. in Columbus, Ind., during her studies.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
When Vavilala began searching for a university to pursue her postgraduate studies, IUPUI was at the top of her list.
“My idea was to get a better understanding of how nonprofits work, so I was looking for a top university in the United States that ultimately understands community work,” Vavilala said. “IUPUI is known for its outstanding communications related curriculum and for its commitment to supporting various communities all over Indiana, so it was an easy choice.”
Tell us about your career path
After graduating from the IUPUI Department of Journalism and Public Relations master’s program, Vavilala headed to New York City, looking for a career in nonprofit communications. Her visit to a New York University job fair would lead her to the very organization that she had long dreamed of joining.
Vavilala was especiall impressed with the “unbelievable amount of diversity at the U.N.” In the media and communications branch of the U.N. Population Fund alone there are more than 20 committed people representing at least 15 different countries.
Your work at UN?
Vavilala said that these diverse perspectives provide high levels of specialization. For example, during a time of crisis, a staff member in the media and communications branch who is from the affected country takes the lead on crisis management protocol.
But not all tasks required such specialization. Vavilala described her daily tasks as quite broad, saying that her main duties were to “monitor events of concern to the UNFPA and report on what was happening in the rest of the world.”
Of course, she had some help from the rest of the staff. Watching the world, after all, can be quite a burden. But watching the world allows the UNFPA to address issues that others might not see.
During her internship, Vavilala helped redesign the website for campaigns such as the Campaign to End Fistula, a movement aimed at addressing a birth-related injury in women around the world. She also participated in media outreach activities during the launch of the State of World Population 2014 report and assisted the team during the 69th United Nations General Assembly. Later, Vavilala went on to work on the #ShowYourSelfie campaign, a global effort using selfies to alert world leaders to the needs of today’s youth.
Campaigns such as these inspire Vavilala to keep working towards her goals. And despite having to return to her native India because of an expiring visa, she returns with confidence knowing that this will not be the end of her non profit work.
“I’d love to come back to work with international development because that’s where I see my efforts continuing,” said Vavilala. “That’s my new passion.”
What about non-profits?
“Sphoorti Foundation is a hostel home for 257 underprivileged children–orphans, semi-orphans or destitute children–in Hyderabad, India. Started in 2006 by my friend, Srivyal Vuyyuri, Sphoorti takes care of the children’s food, shelter and educational needs. I currently help with fundraising, advising and counseling the kids. In short, I am part of Sphoorti and Sphoorti is a part of me!
I work full-time doing internal communications for a team at an IT firm; however, I had taken a career break for a year in 2017, which allowed me to work closely with Sphoorti and understand its day to day needs. Srivyal and I speak almost every day to plan strategies and find solutions for the organization.
I use Facebook and WhatsApp to reach out to existing and potential donors. (The government of India has certain rules we follow with respect to posting on Facebook. We post once every three days.) I manage the Facebook page with a few others, and we have over 6,500 followers. One of my secret weapons is the WhatsApp status message. This is a channel that has the power to reach out to many effortlessly. It has worked wonders. Donors reach out to me directly with questions related to Sphoorti. The answers are more personal and help in generating a trust factor.
Lucky for me, all my assignments in my PR program at IUPUI were with nonprofits — this gave me an edge with Sphoorti. I had the opportunity to study under some the biggest names in PR in the U.S. Big thanks to my Department of Journalism and PR at IUPUI professors Bruce Hetrick, Julie Nason Vincent, Rob Norris and Kim Walker, who have always encouraged me.”