Victoria

JOB TITLE
Senior Quality Assurance Associate

INDUSTRY
Sustainability / Certifications

EMPLOYER
SCS Global Services

I grew up in the outskirts of Paris in France and I attended an international school. I would say that I am a feminist and an environmentalist, a passionate, determined individual who is efficient but very impatient. At the moment, I am really into cycling and next month, I will be riding 300+ miles over 5 days along the California coast to raise funds to fight climate change!

My mother and I took a trip to visit a bunch of campuses the year before I started university. When we toured the University of Kent campus, I fell in love with the place – so green and beautiful and peaceful. Of course, the Politics and International Relations course was of interest to me as well and I remember speaking to a staff member about the module options, etc.

When I started university, I was pretty clueless about life. I had a very sheltered upbringing and was lucky enough to be able to focus solely on my studies during my undergraduate degree. I studied Politics and International Relations with a minor in Spanish. This allowed me to do a year abroad in Argentina in 2008-2009 and it is undeniable that this international experience literally changed my life. It was, to this day, the best year of my life and affected me in so many ways.

Firstly, when I graduated from Kent, I decided to pursue a Masters in Latin American Studies at the Institute of Latin American Studies (School of Advanced Studies, University of London) that took me back to Argentina for my dissertation research. Then, with my Master’s degree in hand and very few interesting job prospects in Europe in 2011, I decided to return to Argentina where I was fortunate enough to find a job in Corporate Social Responsibility in a large multinational company, thanks to my network. And this is when I met my boyfriend-now-husband, Esteban (see, that year abroad really did change my life!).

After a year, I left Argentina for Brussels, Belgium to do an internship at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO) Latin America team – essentially the dream of any Pol IR student with a passion for Latin America! This experience was my biggest professional disappointment to this day: I thought I was entering the EU Commission to stay but in reality I didn’t like the work environment and could not imagine myself having a career there. At that point I was pretty lost and confused, and unsure about what I wanted.

Once the internship was over, we packed our bags and headed to London where I struggled to find work. All I was being offered in the field of politics and/or sustainability were unpaid internships (this is a touchy subject, I hate the concept of free work). One thing leading to another, I finally found a paid internship at a non-profit membership organisation for sustainability standards (The ISEAL Alliance) and this is how I entered the niche world of sustainability standards and certification, where I work today… in San Francisco, California.

Because after a year and a bit in London, we moved to the USA for Esteban’s job and I found work within a few months at one of the two organisations related to sustainability standards in the Bay Area.

I kid you not… had it not been for that year abroad during my undergrad at Kent, who knows where I’d be now?

The boring version of my job is: I am an auditor.

The fun version of my job is that I’m not that kind of auditor! I work for a Certification Body – we audit clients to a range of sustainability standards, e.g. the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). If the client passes the audit, we certify them and they are able to make a claim and/or use an eco-label on their product. Basically, when you buy a product that is certified organic, sustainable, or fair trade, there’s a lot that has been going on behind the scenes to ensure that the product truly is sustainable, organic or fair trade.

My role is within the Quality Assurance department: we conduct internal audits of our programs (in a way, we audit our auditors) and are responsible for maintaining our accreditation’s (to be able to provide certain auditing services, we need to be accredited – this means that we as a company get audited too). Currently, I am very excited at the prospect of travelling to India to visit our partners there – it’ll be my first international business trip.

The one piece of advice I would offer to current students is: relax and enjoy the ride!

I was very focused on learning and giving everything to my studies. I was not a good student in school, and I think that arriving at university and finally doing something that I liked gave me the energy and drive to perform well. I was student rep in 2nd and 4th year, but that’s about it (I regret not having done more fun activities during my undergrad). Getting involved in societies and clubs are good ways to stand out – be the treasurer of something, lead a team and demonstrate leadership early on.

I would also encourage students to engage with lecturers and teaching assistants, I have very fond memories of coffees and drinks with two TAs in particular. Developing and maintaining your network is important from the get go. At the end of the day, it is all about who you know and having that extra fabulous reference, so start networking as soon as possible.

To a large extent, my experience at Kent shaped my beliefs (or reinforced them). I still remember my first year course “Introduction to International Relations”, given by Doug Stokes I think. Each week I left the room thinking “wow, this is how the world is run…”. I got pretty dispirited at some point in my first year (because studying Politics and International Relations can do that to you I guess!) but I used that negativity and decided that whatever I would do professionally, it would be for the best; and so far I have been able to uphold this promise I made to myself by working in the fields of sustainability (in the corporate and non-profit sectors) and of international development (in the public sector).