Elisabeth Schmidt-Hieber

Communications Advisor Advocacy, Communication and Brand SOS Children's Villages International
photo: © Stefan Lechner Photography

Taking up New Challenges to Grow

New challenges help us grow. At the same time, they are an opportunity to broaden our skills to advance values and principles we work for and build new networks. This is why I like taking on new challenges.

However, the longer we stay in a familiar setting, the less we might be willing to get out of our comfort zone, especially if we are in a good situation. I clearly was in a good situation with a job I loved at a migrants’ rights NGO, a constantly busy work environment in Brussels with nice colleagues and friends around.

Nonetheless, this inner feeling of moving on, exposing myself to a new environment with the aim of growing and further developing strategies to work effectively for the values I stand for, stayed with me. I was therefore very excited to take up a position as Communications Advisor for advocacy work at SOS’ international office in Vienna.

I arrived in my new city and at my new work place on the 2nd of January. Outside, it got dark early, lightened up a bit by the snow on the ground. Inside the office, it was also still pretty quiet with most colleagues out for the holiday break. It made me feel a bit impatient for the following Monday to finally meet my entire new team. 
Finding your place and building trust
The first weeks in my new role passed. I got to know so many colleagues and new processes. It gave me a true impression of the enormous size of the organisation which, at times, also comes with complexity.
I received a lot of very valuable input from colleagues who took their time to sit down with me to explain things. Sharing their work tasks and ideas, they often also told stories about the people who all contributed to shaping the organisation and its identity through their work expertise and their personalities. However, there were also moments where I felt some discontent, knowing it would still take more time to get to understand things in depth.

Unpacking the boxes in my new home was not the final step of my move. I considered the whole move to be successful at the point at which I could feel that I am fulfilling my new role, when my colleagues no longer address me as someone who is new but as an established and needed team member.
To start a new role is a bit like a free fall. While so many nice colleagues are there to answer questions, you have to try out for yourself what proposals resonate with the team, what steps you can implement. Having worked in Brussels in a politicised environment for a smaller organisation and on an issue often confronted with a hostile climate, I was used to a quite outspoken work environment. Being in a new environment and working with colleagues across teams also required me to take a step back, observe and rethink my own working habits.
Self-reflection and open mindedness
Adjustment requires a process of self-reflection and careful balancing of your own approaches and the dynamics and processes in the new environment. Relationship building and open-mindedness are key. 
I consider myself very lucky to work in the area of communications and advocacy with colleagues from around the world. It is inspiring and shows a multitude of practices. It is like a colourful patchwork quilt, which would fall apart if the pieces were not properly sewn together.

It meant a lot to me to receive encouragement and positive responses after putting some of my initial proposals and plans into place. New colleagues approaching me, asking for advice or offering to brainstorm ideas and strategic approaches was probably the turning point when I felt that my role had become an essential part of my team and our planning. If I had stayed in my comfort zone, I would likely not have been forced to undergo this process of self-reflection, which is key for personal and professional growth.
We have a common denominator: commitment
One clear common denominator we have across the whole organisation is our commitment to our target group. We might at times have different views but commitment connects us and can help build bridges. Besides trust, commitment is a key element, which gives strength in our daily work, something that has once again become clear in conversations with colleagues from around the world during Harvesting.
Commitment is closely linked to the wish to make an impact ourselves. Our organisation depends on fundraising support to sustain itself but to fulfil the promise to our target group, we have to advocate for structural change, meaning that policies and measures are put into place which positively affect the lives of the children and families we work for.
It is my personal commitment to invest my skills and learn from colleagues, to broaden my skills, to contribute as best as possible to reach our target audiences through the communications we carry out; to raise awareness of the children and young people we work for; and to convince decision-makers that change is needed.

However, my aim is also to advance the synergy of strategic communications and advocacy within the organisation: to show through success stories as well as through potential failures that investments into strategic communications and advocacy bring us closer to our goals and have an impact on our target group in the long term.
Making sure gains outweigh struggles
The exchanges I had with colleagues from all over the world at Harvesting have been truly enriching. Sharing our stories was not only inspiring but made me rethink the whole adaptation process of the past months. The process of movement and development has not finished.
Although I feel well immersed in my new role and in the organisation, challenges will keep arising. All of the colleagues, no matter how long they have been in the organisation, face challenges and have to constantly find ways to master them.
We have a huge treasure box holding the impact of 70 years but we also have to openly share and further develop our personal resources to address and overcome the conflicts that sometimes arise internally as well as the external threats that can impede our impact.
As a colleague from Liberia, who supported children and families throughout the Ebola crisis, stated: “We can make the gains outweigh the struggles.”

Elisabeth Schmidt-Hieber

Elisabeth’s mission is to speak up for those who have no equal representation in our societies, who are excluded from full participation, or whose voices are intentionally silenced. She is grateful that working as a Communications Advisor allows her to do this. Communications also plays a role in her free time: she loves languages and can speak German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and a little Arabic. Apart from this, she loves dancing, volunteering and watching Netflix in the evenings.
“Family” for Elisabeth is living in settings with a community spirit where people share time and thoughts and encourage each other. In addition to her own family, she therefore has an extended family of friends and colleagues from around the world.
Similar to family, the concept of “home” for Elisabeth is not only the southern German city where she is from. She also considers Brussels, where she lived for 9 years, as one of her many “homes”. There are probably some more ...