Finding new goals in your career

Priya at her desk

Priya Elizabeth Ramsumair-John (“a mouthful”, she says) knows how to get around Trinidad. Being from Arima, she knows that commuting to Port of Spain can take her from 40 minutes to 2 hours. “In Trinidad and Tobago traffic is a huge issue. You may spend more time going to a meeting, than actually being at the meeting,” she says. That being said, interacting with her clients, in spite of the traffic, forms the basis of a lot of the work that she does. “We meet with the government regularly in person or by phone and now using video conferencing systems, to see what projects they’re working on, track where they are, work with them to come up with solutions, as well as to conduct training.” In these meetings, she has learned that being a local from Trinidad and Tobago can be an asset to succeed in her job as Operations Analyst at the Inter-American Development Bank, where closeness with the client is key. “Being from Trinidad and Tobago brings a level of comfort to working with the government. There’s an advantage of being in the country sometimes when we interact, there is an openness about project challenges and successes so I can understand what is really happening with certain projects... and getting that kind of insight means there’s a level of trust- and that’s always good,” says Priya.

However, having that trust and closeness with her clients did not happen overnight; in fact, working at the IDB was not in Priya’s life plan at all. She wanted to work in the tourism industry instead. Yet when she returned to Trinidad from the UK after getting her Master’s in Tourism Development, there were not many openings in the sector, so she started lecturing part-time at the local university. That is how she learned about an opportunity to do research at the IDB. “The Student Support Department reached out to me and told me to apply, and I was hesitant because they were asking for a background in economics, but still she told me to just try it and see what could happen.”

Her academic experience got her that first job at the IDB as a Research Fellow. Little did she know that doing research would only be the beginning of her professional journey. It has now been eight years since Priya started working at the office on 17 Alexandra Street. “In this institution, you're exposed to so many opportunities for learning, that it's an environment where you can’t get bored. You’re exposed to a variety of sectors, project complexities as well as a wide cross-section of cultures and skill-sets from a very diverse team,” she explains.

While her first exposure at the Bank was on a project that focused on improving the efficiency of the delivery of cash grants and transfers, her role soon changed focus. She began supporting the Chief of Operations doing portfolio management, something that offered her a more macro view of the IDB’s development work in the country. The Chief of Operations tasked her with the challenge of working directly with a project management consultant to provide support and training to project teams to improve execution. This was a game-changer.  Priya was exposed to project management best practices, became certified, and was able to explore and grow in a new world of opportunity. “I grew to love it because I always thought of myself as someone organized and logical… and project management, in many ways, is very much like that: you have to plan and think things through.” Priya tells us. Being exposed to this discovery changed not only her daily job but also her perception of herself: “Before, I'd have seen myself purely as a tourism professional -and I love it still- but if I were to brand myself today, it'd be as a project management professional.” With these new skills, as an Operations Analyst, she has been able to apply project management tools in her daily work to address key execution challenges and support the client directly in the planning, implementing, training and exposing them to new project management tools such as Scrum.

Speaking with Priya, there is an enthusiasm that punctuates her description of her job. She is humbled by the opportunity to work directly in the development of her country. “Development isn’t easy work but it’s so rewarding to see that incrementally, we’re improving lives. The concept of marginal gains resonates every time I work on a project. – the accumulation of small improvements, in project management, in environmental safeguards, in procurement… they all contribute to building our country through our projects and we see this in our relationship with the client.” Her excitement goes beyond the work she does but also with her opportunities and experiences. “I’ve been so lucky to work with incredible people, especially female leaders, who become de facto mentors that have been so committed to my personal and professional development. I keep learning so much from them and try to apply these in the work I do” Priya says. She also really values the IDB’s promotion of work-life balance where, she says, “in many ways, your family becomes part of the IDB family. My husband feels so welcomed at the office, that he has even started playing football with some of my colleagues…it’s good to know that he feels comfortable to participate so actively in this part of my life.”

When recounting this journey, Priya remembers the influences of her parents’ personalities at home: Her father was passionate about the environment and national development, and her mother enjoyed organizing everything around her. Now, many years later, Priya manages projects in sustainable development, bringing all of it together: “I would definitely say I’m a product of both of them,” she admits.  

And though she once thought that taking up a research opportunity that required knowledge of economics would divert her from a career in tourism, she is still finding ways to integrate her old passions and knowledge with new ones: “I’ve always been interested in development issues linked to environmental conservation and preservation (which was my focus in tourism studies) and it’s great that IDB projects are so highly linked to environmental protection, especially in the Caribbean context, because that's exactly what I would have ended up doing in tourism… I still stay in touch with the tourism sector and even with my former lecturers. When there's an opportunity for a project in tourism, I grab it… I’m in a good place… if you know what I mean.”

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