In times of crisis, it’s well understood that clear communication can help people stay calm, keep safe, or act. But for Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) volunteer and communications professional Grace Loftus, this understanding goes much deeper.

Prior to starting her assignment with VSA, Grace worked across multiple strategic communication and engagement roles across several government agencies, supporting Aotearoa New Zealand’s COVID-19 response. Grace says that working on the 24/7 COVID-19 response was demanding and challenging but taught her how critical concise and targeted communications can be, in highly stressful, fast-moving situations. “It showed me how important good communication is,” says Grace. “I knew that the work I was doing was helping me and others to keep calm in a very unsettling time.”

Grace Loftus

Once she moved out of the COVID-19 response and had more time on her hands, Grace began looking for opportunities to volunteer. “Moving more into the proactive communications space, I wanted to broaden my skillsets and had more capacity to contribute through part-time voluntary work,” says Grace. “This type of assignment felt more manageable than it would have been a few months previously.” Having volunteered overseas before, Grace already knew what it meant to volunteer; however, this was her first time volunteering remotely. “I saw the remote role with the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a great opportunity to share and further refine the communications and engagement skills and tools I had gained from working on the national COVID-19 response,” explains Grace.

"I knew that the work I was doing was helping me and others to keep calm in a very unsettling time."

Grace began her VSA assignment with the WHO Representative Office for the South Pacific (based in Suva, Fiji) in September 2021. The purpose of this assignment was to support WHO’s Regional Office prepare communications that clearly articulate the health impacts of a changing climate on communities in the Pacific. “I was attracted to the fact that this assignment offered me the chance to work simultaneously on two of the biggest challenges of our era: health and climate change” says Grace.

Lauren O’Connor, Communications, Resource Mobilization & External Relations for WHO, agrees. “WHO has released a global statement saying that, even in the midst of the pandemic, climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity,” says Lauren. “Here in the Pacific, the threat is particularly evident, as climate change is threatening lives, livelihoods and some nations’ very existence. That’s why we need compelling communications to convince people across many different areas of society to take climate action.”

Grace’s time and experience has proved invaluable to the development of these critical communications. “I don’t know how VSA were able to find someone so well suited to the job but I’m glad they did!” says Lauren. “Grace is a strong communications professional with experience in the health space. She just gets on with it and delivers high quality work week after week.”

While the nature of the assignment has demonstrated some of the challenges commonly associated with remote working, such as scheduling conflicts, this assignment has further enhanced Grace’s ability to be resilient, self-motivated, and flexible, while also providing a moment for self-reflection.  “Despite the challenges of remote work, this assignment has given me the opportunity to meet many interesting people living all over the Pacific,” says Grace. “It has also given me great insight into the daily lives and challenges of people in the Pacific and has helped me put my life in perspective. I feel very fortunate to live in New Zealand at this point in time.”

Lauren also agrees that “there are, of course, challenges working with an e-volunteer but those are the same challenges that we’ve all faced when working remotely over the past two years” she says. “Luckily, I think Grace and the rest of my team are all flexible and dedicated individuals who are committed to finding ways to connect with others, even virtually, and to getting things done.”

This assignment was developed together by VSA and WHO and is the first assignment delivered through this working relationship. Tamar Porat, Business Development Manager at VSA, says that while it’s only the beginning, it’s an incredible opportunity to make a real impact in the Pacific.

“Our relationship with WHO provides a unique opportunity to work alongside global experts in health and climate change,” says Tamar. “Developing and implementing advocacy and communications regarding the health impacts of a changing climate and environmental threats is crucial in the promotion of a healthier, more equitable and greener Pacific region. It encourages policy makers to make decisions that safeguard people’s livelihoods while protecting and promoting health.”

VSA remains dedicated to developing both remote and in-country assignments, with leaders in international development and with our partners across Pacific Asia. These assignments will continue to allow skilled New Zealanders like Grace, the opportunity to volunteer, and to make meaningful change that transforms lives.