International Speaker, Journalist, Social Entrepreneur - Melissa Jun Rowley, The Triple Threat.
As 20-somethings, most (all) of us have no idea what we want to do with our lives. Yeah sure, we’ve got degrees and diplomas, live ‘independently’ in big cities, and work 9-5 jobs while preaching to our Twitter followers about how hard we grind (lol).
But in reality, none of us actually know what the heck we’re doing - not yet.
Enter Melissa Jun-Rowley, who knew she wanted to be a journalist since before she could even read. I don’t know how that’s quite possible, but it’s true.
After graduating from Ithaca College, Melissa moved to New York City and began working at a small startup; the first platform of its kind to stream videos online, so basically YouTube’s great grandmother. She took on some corporate jobs in the city that she wasn’t necessarily in love with, but as we all know, when you’re in your mid twenties and need a reason not to move back into your parents’ house, you take any job you can get. Or is that just me?...
But ultimately, her drive to become a successful journalist brought her back to the field she knew she was destined for.
“So many people in our country are… feeling unfulfilled because they’re not living their purpose and because they’re not really pursuing what lights them on fire.”
Making the transition from the job you have to do to the job you want to do isn’t easy, and it often comes down to timing and luck. But she explains that it’s important to always nourish the dreams that you have, even when you’re not yet able to pursue them professionally.
Melissa encourages young people to start nurturing your creative dreams on the side, developing portfolios and honing the skills that are necessary, so when it’s time to make the jump into professionalizing your passion, you’ll be ready. “There are ways to plant the seeds around you so that you can land more safely,” she explains, and continuously working on your passion projects while grinding through your less-than-exciting job-of-the-moment is key.
We’re women. We multitask.
After bouncing back and forth between NYC and California a couple of times, she began meeting the many tech entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley and watched as they harnessed technological innovation in order to drive social change. It was there that she made the decision to pursue the passion that had burned within her for her whole life, and she began writing about technology and its capacity for social impact.
“It didn’t come from the technology, it came from the people creating and harnessing the technology. And it came from the people who were getting to benefit from the technology,” she explains.
So she made the jump of her career, moved to London and began working with singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel on The Toolbox, an online platform that curates apps so that we can be more connected to the social issues, movements and events that they are involved with around the world. This is important because as we all know, if you’re Millenial or Gen Zer and you don’t have a cause for which you would die (or at least endlessly post about on your Instagram story), then you’re officially uncool.
From apps that track the environmental footprint of your grocery list to web-based tools that help refugees locate support resources, The Toolbox was Melissa’s way of helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs scale their platforms and projects in a way that would actually result in purposeful impact.
It also helped her to see that any company or organization can have a positive social impact, as long as the drive exists:
“You don’t necessarily need to be a social enterprise or a non profit to have impact in what you’re doing or what you’re outputting. You can have that impact in [...] hiring practices and
how diverse your staff is, or in whether or not you’re using clean energy.”
Melissa also regularly travels to countries in the Middle East where, despite some areas experiencing regular power outages and having Internet speeds slower than dial-up, people continue to pursue their incredibly innovative entrepreneurial goals. The people that she has met in these parts of the world are the ultimate display of resilience; they can outwork and outplay anyone on Wall Street any day of the year because according to her, what makes a great entrepreneur is resilience and the drive to have a direct impact on your community.
Unfortunately, tech is still dominated by the White Man Saviour Complex that subjects the rest of us to guys who think they can save the world with a quick little algorithm. It’s the framework within which we have come to understand the world of tech design in a sort of binary way: there are tech ventures and women-led tech ventures.
“I would like to get to a place where we stop having to call them ‘women-led ventures’ and just have them be ‘ventures’, and have women be at the table and have that be a normal thing,” she says.
Is it great to celebrate the accomplishments of women? Of course. But imagine living in a world so equitable that we didn’t have to go out of our way to distinguish between the two?
“I think one of the reasons that people attach the word ‘female founder’ or ‘women led’ to things right now is because there’s no female Mark Zuckerberg, there’s no female Sergey [Brin]… but the people who say that aren’t looking hard enough.”
There are so many ventures being led by women all over the world (you can find some of the Canadian ones right here on our portal), but because they don’t have multi-million dollar marketing strategies or their valuation is not perceived to be as high as other start-ups, they often don’t get the recognition that they deserve. Melissa is working hard to change that, and so are we.
Her story is a reminder that working in a mindless job can be a means to an end, as long as you don’t forget to make the jump to pursue that end when the time comes.
You know you don’t want to work in that poorly-lit fluorescent cubicle next to Creepy Steve for the next five years. You also don’t have to know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life. But you’ve got to know that you can make the switch when the time is right and you will THRIVE.
Watch Melissa’s Five Chapters in the video above.
Written by: Hannah Geiser