In this Career Spotlight, we have the pleasure of speaking with Thomas Da Jose, a humanitarian engineer and social enterprise leader, about his career in the international development sector.
Thomas is a humanitarian engineer and project manager with industry experience across the transport, education, and international development sectors within Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. He is the co-founder and Managing Director of Masy Consultants, an emerging social enterprise on a mission to provide vulnerable communities with access to dignified water, sanitation, and health (WASH) education and facilities. Masy Consultants are supported by the Australian Government, the Government of the Philippines, the Australian Water Association, Water.org, NGOs, and the business community. To learn more about Masy Consultants, see this recent press release.
Thomas is a current Westpac Future Leaders Scholar, which is supporting him to undertake a Masters degree in Commerce, specialising in Strategy, Innovation & Management at the University of Sydney’s Business School. He previously co-founded the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Youth Partnership and was an inaugural New Colombo Plan Alumni Ambassador.
1. Going back to the beginning of your career, what did you study and what motivated you to do so?
I studied Civil Engineering at the University of Technology Sydney. This direction was underscored by the joy I experienced using emerging technologies and science to solve complex problems, especially in social infrastructure whether it be education, health or transport. I wanted to build systems that enabled stronger and meaningful community connectivity.
2. You’ve had a fascinating career working across both the engineering and international development sectors. Where did your interest in humanitarian work develop?
It was not until I was introduced to the concept of ‘humanitarian engineering’ and the work of Engineers Without Borders at university, that I realised there were many career pathways and opportunities available to contribute to social betterment within an engineering lens. This first year university subject set the trajectory of my lifelong learning and practice in international development, in tandem with my full-time work.
3. How does your interest and experience in the humanitarian sector complement your ‘day job’?
The humanitarian sector demands skilled professionals who are trained in exercising a high degree of empathy, problem-solving, and adaptability in resource-constrained environments. Arguably, I have developed more resilience from this type of work than my full-time job as a Project Manager, which in itself presents many challenges. However, my lifelong learning has benefited from the blending of both experiences with my humanitarian work equipping me with servant leadership, community engagement skills, and the resolve to overcome any obstacle.
5. You co-founded Masy Consultants, a social enterprise which provides vulnerable communities with access to water, sanitation, and health facilities. What motivated you to establish your own social enterprise, and what have you learned as you watch it evolve?
I started Masy Consultants to address the Philippines’ water and sanitation crisis. Even now, 14 Filipinos die every day due to waterborne diseases. More than half of schools do not have adequate access to water and 60% of reported sick cases are children. It was evident back then that there were insufficient resources and support being provided to schools to improve WASH education and facilities. With my mission gravitated towards innovating a new approach not currently being done, and in consideration of the flexibility needed to accommodate my day job, I knew I could make a larger difference with the agility and versatility offered by managing my own team of like-minded individuals.
Reflecting on our growth to date, I am grateful for all the support we have secured from government, intergovernmental agencies, NGOs, universities, and corporations. These partnership milestones were far from reach when I first started this journey. As a result, I learned that if you have a clear purpose and show you are committed to fulfilling it despite how insufficiently resourced you are at the start, people will take notice and follow you because they can see you are ‘real’ about taking initiative to improve the lives of others.
6. What has been your greatest professional achievement so far?
I consider my greatest achievement to be my social enterprises’ acceptance to the high-competitive and prestigious Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator. Our selection is a testament to the teams’ hard work in creating an innovative learning curriculum called “WASHEd”, which is now recognised by beneficiaries and the Philippines’ education sector as a novel and impactful approach to transforming Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) behaviours. The confidence of Duke-UNICEF to choose us from 100+ applications across the Asia-Pacific is a milestone, symbolising what we have achieved to date and what we will continue to achieve in the future. For me, this achievement was also a reminder that humanitarian work is a respectable craft that takes years of practice and as much learning as any other profession.
7. You have a vast amount of experience working in Asia and contributing to the Asia-Australia relationship. What initially drew you towards the region, and why do you think it’s important that we strengthen the relationship?
I am drawn to the region for two main reasons: (1) my heritage as a Filipino-Australian, and (2) plentiful opportunities to work on the ground and solve complex regional problems.
Growing up, my parents shared with me the importance of the ‘Bayanihan Spirit’, which is the Tagalog equivalent of ‘paying it forward’. This has become a core value that stuck with me throughout my education and early career, which is why I pursued international development roles and scholarships such as the New Colombo Plan, that gave me the platform to dive deep into the Australia-Asia relationship and create change. Australia has a responsibility to help build the economic, health, and climate change resilience of our neighbours who look to us for support. That is why it is important we find ways to collaborate at the people-to-people level, as only then can we unlock meaningful innovation and problem-solving to lift the social wellbeing of all communities.
8. What advice would you give to students and young professionals looking to pursue a career in international affairs, specifically in the aid and international development sector?
Drawing from personal experience, I would highly-recommend any student or young professional interested in this sector to establish their purpose. If you already have a purpose statement, I believe it is a worthwhile exercise to write it down as it deliberately prompts you to reflect on your career trajectory and how it syncs with your values. Mine is this:
“I am committed to improving the quality of life of vulnerable communities through development and delivery of transformative education and increased access to dignified inclusive social facilities”.
Taking the time to clarify your purpose will improve your ability to clearly and authentically articulate it to organisations and mentors in the aid and international development sectors. This will translate to the increased likelihood of being offered unique opportunities because you have already established a deep-rooted sense of who you are and the role you will play in solving wicked problems.
9. With your leadership experiences in both the corporate and volunteering worlds, what advice would you give to students interested in developing their leadership skills?
I would encourage all students to subscribe to the Principles of Empathy in all their endeavours, as this is the cornerstone of servant leadership. This will keep you in touch with your purpose, your team, and communities you work with, guiding every decision you make. So, what does this look like in practice?
It means to:
1. Be curious: When approached to solve a problem, ask what more can I do?
2. Be optimistic: Where things have become difficult, ask what can I do differently?
3. Understand: The problems we solve are not often our own but for others, so practise a high degree of empathy to demonstrate to your client, team members, or community, that you are actively listening. This will help shape how you solve different problems with their needs at front of mind.