Owain John

BE(Hons) 2017

Match Manager - Philanthropy NZ

Owain John

You have a civil engineering degree under your belt, but your past few roles have been very community and social-focused. Can you tell us a bit about your career journey so far since graduating from UC?

Yes, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster! Post-uni I started out exploring a couple of different engineering-related jobs, but knew that my heart wasn’t ever in them - I couldn’t see the on-the-ground value of my mahi and felt like I had potential that wasn’t being used! 

The first goal was to become my own boss - this felt extremely important to me at the time as I wanted the responsibility to determine my own future. My first idea was to start a small business at the local farmer markets in Tauranga (thanks to inspiration from Bacon Brothers whom I worked for during my time at UC) - this led me to take annual leave from my engineering job every Friday during that first summer post-uni to sell… hot jacket potatoes! (I know, odd choice eh! haha #PotatoPeople). I didn’t make much money but had a wonderful and empowering time - ultimately this gave me a lot of confidence to back myself to pursue my own ventures. 

Following this, my interests grew towards wanting that same feeling of self-determination/passion, but wanting to direct it towards something more meaningful - notably towards protecting the environment. This led me to help co-found a movement (refillNZ) that reduces plastic water-bottle pollution and later was invited to join Squawk Squad with a couple of friends I’d met during my time at UC. Squawk Squad quickly became my focus - we made environmental educational programmes for primary schools nationwide. This was a big success but acquiring sustainable funding for non-profits in Aotearoa is difficult work, and ultimately we had to close down earlier this year due to lack of ongoing funding. 

Post these experiences I became fascinated by how our society is/isn’t supporting our non-profit & community sector (things that create value that aren’t economically valued) - I’m convinced that there is so much potential here if only we can support it better! This path has ultimately led me to my current position with Philanthropy NZ - working to better fund the non-profit and community sector. 

Yes, what are you currently up to with Philanthropy NZ?

I’ve recently begun a role as the manager of a new service called Match Te Puna Taurite. This service aims to make it simpler for non-profits to acquire philanthropic funding in Aotearoa - quite exciting! It consists of an online platform (and wrap-around support service) where charities and funders will be able to connect over shared goals and interests - i.e. more effective and efficient matchmaking between fundseekers and funders. Ultimately, we’re looking to facilitate a more equitable, accessible and collaborative funding system in Aotearoa NZ - more details here.

Are there skills or experiences from your time at UC that you call on in your work now?

Yes - but often not directly the technical skills that I picked up through my engineering studies given that I’ve changed careers a number of times. Studying higher education is (and should be) far more than simply focused on the technical skills that you pick up through the specific course you study - it’s really more around the personal development, wider experiences (shout-out to UCCC!) and the friends you make in the process. In that respect, there are many things that I picked up during my time at UC that I will always be grateful for.

In addition, I’m also glad to have a highly-regarded engineering degree to fall back on if ever I need it - knowing that this is the case has helped give me both confidence in myself and has helped to justify taking a few career risks!

What advice would you give to recent engineering grads unsure of their path?

Be brave! If you aren’t stoked on where you’ve landed your first job then know that you’re not alone. The first step is to be brave enough to acknowledge that - and once you confront this then you can dream about what it is that you really desire (Nneed some inspo?? Watch this Alan Watts video - guaranteed to motivate!)

The biggest thing holding anyone back from doing anything that is outside their comfort zone is old adage - 'the fear of failure'. Most people stop before they even start..!  This is very common when you're considering making the decision to leave a stable/safe career path. Some things that have helped me overcome these barriers have been:

  • Focus on the journey (including personal growth) not the shiny end goal - i.e. what is one step you can take tomorrow to begin to make your dream a reality?
  • Sometimes starting small and gradually can be a good thing - i.e. part-time work to tide you over until your other passion is up and running can be a good way to approach starting up something new - so there's less depending on the economic success of your passion project.
  • Surround yourself with people who are interested in the same things as you are.
  • Surround yourself with people who support and encourage you - who believe in you and your potential! 

Taking risks is something that’s easier when you’re younger as often young grads won’t have so many other considerations to factor for (i.e. like a mortgage, supporting a family). Know that it’s not wasted time if you decide to pivot away from what you studied. I think it’s too common for people to become self-limiting and narrow-minded regarding their career options by thinking that simply because they studied something that then they have to continue pursuing it. But higher education shouldn’t limit you to a tunnel-visioned view of your talents - higher education should do the opposite (it’s just that now you’ve also got an extra skillset in the specific area that you studied to help you out). Think of the alternative -  a wasted life spent in a career that you don’t enjoy! 😉 So, know that you’ll have picked up heaps of transferable and valuable skills through whatever previous study you’ve done and enjoy the rollercoaster of life! Kia kaha.