Staff Spotlight: Vanessa Rees

Senior Program Manager


After 20 years in sales and marketing, Vanessa joined GVI in February 2017 as a teaching volunteer, it was soon apparent that she had found her purpose. She was welcomed onto the staff team to assist with the running of the service-learning program.

Vanessa joined the GVI Phang Nga team in Thailand in March 2018 again to work with the service-learning groups. She has been managing the GVI hub for over three and a half years now and loves every minute.

What is your favorite travel memory?

This is a tough one as I have so many amazing memories that I'd love to share. However, I think my trip to Costa Rica is my favorite most life-changing memory. When I was in my early 20's I wanted to go there to volunteer, but life got in the way and I never thought I would have the opportunity. Many years later I decided to go on a 3-week trip. The first time being in an actual rainforest was incredible. The smell, the sounds, the size of the trees! It was all overwhelming. That's when I decided there was more to life than work and it gave me the push I needed to change my life.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

I joined GVI as a teaching volunteer in Kerala India in Feb 2017. Since then I've had an amazing life-changing journey. I fell in love almost immediately with volunteering and the difference I could make, I loved GVI's mission and the values they uphold. It seemed I had found my purpose. After 20 years in project management, I found a lot of my skills were transferable. GVI has enabled me to change how I live and supported my personal and career development.

My understanding of sustainable development has increased massively, I now have a deep understanding of what makes a project work on the ground, how engaging with the community, and understanding their frustrations and needs are the core of everything we do.

Instant gratification is short-lived, if you want to make a difference it takes time. Even a short-term objective can take many years to achieve, especially in conservation.
My knowledge and appreciation of conservation and community development topics have grown exponentially. Every day I learn something new.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

Again I have so many it's hard to choose. I'll go with this one. We had an 18-year-old from the UK come on our teaching volunteering program for 6 weeks, she extended it to 10 weeks as she was loving it so much. She then returned back to the UK but couldn't settle. She worked hard and did lots of work with our ambassador program so she could return. Return she did for another 8 weeks. Again she had the best time.

Just before Christmas last year I got a message from her ......

"Honestly thank you for your support over the years I honestly don’t think I ever would have gotten this far in life if we had never have crossed paths GVI really did make me believe in myself and realize my passion and now I’m on track to become a qualified special education needs teacher. To think I was a rowdy 18-year-old when we meet now I’m turning 21 soon and got a dream job! I really can’t thank you enough for making me realize my worth."

This makes my heart sing!

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

My first choice would be Phang Nga as that's where I work, I've also been fortunate to travel to different hubs including, Peru, Tenerife, Cambodia, and India.

This is not enough, my aim is to visit them all. So next on my list is GVI Limpopo, I've never been to South Africa and I've never seen a wild giraffe (my favorite animal). The research they do there sounds amazing and they are really making a difference with their rhino protection (anti-poaching) project. From there I could skip across to Madagascar and Seychelles!

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

Every day I am proud of my team! I love working for a company with sustainable impactful projects that make a difference. GVI is a very unique company that not only makes a difference on the ground but also in personal and professional development. I have the opportunity to work with so many amazing people from all around the world. Seeing the change in people is one of the best parts of my job, it may be people come and find a new passion, they may develop their career aspirations, and are able to see how they can achieve their goals. And just as important, we have had people who really wanted a career in the field but then after experiencing it they have changed their mind. I always say it's important to find the things you don't like doing as much as the things you do like doing!

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Every successful company has a mission statement and a set of values that everyone lives by, by sharing a common goal, everyone's united by their passion to achieve it. Knowing that you are valued and listened to no matter what your position. Having a culture that allows you to be open, with great communication. Diversity is also very important as this allows for different, wider opinions and perspectives to be integrated and actioned, allowing a company to grow and develop.

A successful company doesn't wait for things to happen, they see the change beforehand and are ready.