The purpose of media is not to entertain us with sensational stories but to enlighten us with pressing issues that need our immediate attention and stir us to action !
Sourabha Rao, our next pathbreaker, Media & Outreach Manager at Wildlife Conservation Society, India, ensures that the work of scientists, conservationists and many more people working in the field of conservation, and its significance is shared with the world so as to create awareness and urgency around wildlife conservation.
Sourabha talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about transitioning from IT to wildlife communication after being unable to resist the call of creative writing influenced by her childhood fascination for literature.
For students, everyone has their own expectations from their career. Be honest to yourself and try to identify what triggers you !
Sourabha, tell us about your background?
I was born and brought up in Mysuru and graduated as a computer science engineer (B.E). But my tryst with literature had started early on in life – thanks to the huge library of both Kannada and English books my dad had at home. I started writing poems when I was in 6th grade and words have ever since been my saving grace. My father has a master’s degree in English literature and my mother was a farmer – now an adept homemaker.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I studied computer science and engineering for graduation. It wasn’t an obvious choice for a literature savant but I had to take the shortest course at the time to become financially independent. And the job prospects, I had assumed, as many of us still do, were better with an engineering degree.
What made you transition to such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
Being initiated to the life-altering habit of reading at a tender age, I was and still am influenced by some of the most radiant minds of Kannada, English, Greek, North American, Russian and European literature. These were and are my mentors in their own right. To name a few – D. V. Gundappa, Da. Ra. Bendre, Kuvempu, Homer, Cavafy, Sappho, George Eliot, Shakespeare, John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mary Oliver, Wisława Szymborska, Czesław Miłosz, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Albert Camus, Simone Weil, Simone de Beauvoir, Nietzsche and oh, so many more.
It was only after graduating as an engineer and spending some time in the IT industry that I started to realise that it is perhaps possible for an aspiring writer-and-poet to pursue other career paths. I started looking out for opportunities for content writing and that’s when the books team at Flipkart was looking for a writer. To quit a well-paying IT job for a job as a writer was indeed a hotly debated question with people around me (who indeed meant only good because they care), but that was one of the best decisions I have made, and it has continued to look so in retrospect.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path.
My first IT job was with Unisys. When the calling of writing became stronger than it ever was, Flipkart happened and this was my beginning as a professional writer. I was fortunate to join a bunch of young writers who were writing about all kinds of books that one could buy from the e-commerce platform. Then came the opportunity to work with a travel-and-photography company, Toehold, where I worked with a great editor, the head of the content team. I had the incredible opportunity to write for blogs, website content (sometimes in Kannada, too), social media and marketing content, short-film scripts, PR/news articles and so on.
Having been working for the travel company as a storyteller for over three-and-a-half years, known mostly for its wildlife tourism and photography education, I realised I wanted to move on to wildlife conservation. This desire stemmed from my love for other animals who have equal right to live peacefully and freely on this planet just as us human beings. After a brief stint with a creative agency where I loved writing ads and marketing content for books and hoardings and such, I finally was fortunate enough to work as Media Manager at the Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS). I had the opportunity to be what you can call a content architect there – website, features and interviews for the blog, social media (including ideating video content for YouTube), communication design for donors and other stakeholders – along with managing media relations and opportunities to do some field work in Karnataka and Maharashtra.
I currently work with Wildlife Conservation Society-India (WCS-India) as Media & Outreach Manager, and my role is similar to my one-year stint with CWS. I also write a weekly column for a Kannada newspaper.
As a lover of literature, poetry, I must admit that I give more importance to a sense of purpose and meaning to the work I do every day than the worldly, materialistic way of approaching jobs and career paths. Time is life, and how I live every single day is what matters the most to me than just some special occasions like a better job and salary hike and owning things. This thought process might not fit the bill if one defines success in terms of money and possessions. But my choices have brought immense joy and satisfaction to me at the end of the day every day, so if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t do it any other way.
How did you get your first break?
Although I always wanted to pursue writing as my profession, I am very grateful to my first IT job that came to me through campus selection (at Maharaja Institute of Technology, Mysuru). It brought me financial independence which was very much the need of the hour for me then. Every job has taught me a lot about not only the domain I’ve worked in, but also about dealing with different kinds of people and situations in various challenging as well as inspiring situations. I am not sure I am someone who even looks for what one would call a ‘break’. I’d like to emphasise again on my faith that every day comes with a conscious choice of living as meaningfully and as beautifully as possible.
I’d like to believe that maintaining a blog (https://wheremindsmeet.wordpress.com/) of my own ever since my engineering days, being the editor-in-chief of our college magazine, all the freelance writing projects I was working on since my college days, the poetry I was able to publish in some newspapers and online platforms, some articles and essays I had written to some newspapers were enough to vouch for some humble experience in writing. And it helped that I could crack Flipkart’s test designed for writers and face the interview with honesty and sincerity along with the incessant passion for writing.
What were some of the challenges you faced ? How did you address them?
From a practical point of view, as I’ve been told time and again, the biggest challenge is perhaps the financial aspect of it all. If I were to have continued in my IT job, I would have probably be earning a lot more than I do in an NGO, but then again…to each his own. Each one has different priorities, and each one has her/his own definition of joy and contentment and peace. That way, even if it were to be considered a challenge, then I have traded that aspect for peace and a sense of purpose and joy at work on a daily basis.
Where do you work now? Can you tell us the essence of what you do?
My work with WCS-India is more about being a storyteller of people and organisations that try to solve conservation problems. As a writer – a communications person – my job is to ensure that conservation stories (or any kind of content created at all), are told effectively to its audiences. Communication is one of the most fascinating things not only in the human world but between everything alive, so ensuring that value content is created every day is a big responsibility and hence the most exhilarating one for me personally.
What skills are needed for the job? How did you acquire the skills?
Writing, editing, translation, social media, interpersonal skills as the work involves interviewing people in forest departments, conservation and science communities, and rural Indians who are the beneficiaries – and everything else that comes under content architecture. We have some incredibly talented graphic designers and filmmakers in the organisation and we collaborate and work together to create aesthetically appealing, valuable and appropriate content based on the requirements that come our way.
What’s a typical day like?
A typical day is about ensuring we stick to our blog and social-media calendar and keep generating planned content while also catering to ad-hoc needs frequently. As the communications and outreach team, we also try to get our stories out in the newspapers, including regional languages, as frequently as we can.
What is it you love about this job?
This job is the culmination of two of my biggest loves – language/communication and wildlife. I couldn’t ask for more and am more than grateful to be with WCS-India.
How does your work benefit society?
While there are scientists, researchers and many more people working in the field for the conservation of various wildlife, our team strives to ensure that their work and its significance is shared with the world – needless to say, primarily with all the stakeholders involved. Most of our work also focuses on creating awareness about wildlife among people.
Planet Earth does not exist to cater only to our (human) needs. Every single creature, no matter the size/scale, has an equal right to live as freely and as naturally as it can. Unfortunately, we have come to dominate the planet – our only home – at the cost of not only our own future but also of other animals. How many other animals have already gone extinct because of our greed and gluttony? We hope that we play our role, no matter how small it is, as a cog in this mammoth machine called conservation.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
One such work was talking to the beneficiaries of certain conservation programmes that aim to benefit both people and eventually wildlife as well. Writing these stories for various newspapers and blogs of other organisations apart from our own website, blog and social media. This is in fact an ongoing responsibility which by itself is rewarding. It is reassuring that any of us can do meaningful, useful work if only we care a little more than what constitutes our own selves and our families and our little bubbles.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
It is no cliche when most people we look up to keep saying that we need to follow our hearts and dreams. As trite as that might sound, it is simply the only way for fulfilment in professional life. We live in extraordinary times when anyone can achieve anything one wants to. All we can do is realise what means the most to us in terms of work, and work very hard to begin that journey. Perhaps examining our own understanding of meaning and joy time and again can also put things in perspective. As for inspiration, there is no dearth of it if we consciously, wisely choose its sources – it could be science or art or great people or all of it. I wish you all the very best. May immense beauty, meaning and joy happen to you all.
I intend to live one day at a time, and to consciously try to live as beautifully and meaningfully every day. The best gift one could ever get is to make the most of this one and only life.