Communication as a tool for change: My professional path By kimberly absher

Hi I'm Kimberly, and I use strategic communication to create social change.

Long before I defined my raison d'être this way, I looked for little hints in far-flung experiences and jobs. Below are a few that helped plot my path as a budding communications professional. As I prepare for the next post-graduation chapter, it's been a beautiful process to look back. I can now see the threads - my love of people, fascination with communication, core need to contribute to the greater good - that connect seemingly disparate events. I hope you enjoy the story.

While earning my B.A. at Western Washington University (WWU), I conducted research in rural South Africa in order to develop a sexual health curriculum. As I pushed for its implementation, the vast disconnect between my worldview, beliefs, and language and that of the community partners emerged as a major barrier. Without deeply understanding their values and motives, and skillfully communicating to leverage our common interests, this curriculum would be left in a box and life-saving information could be lost. This was my first lesson in how communication impacts social change.

Back in Bellingham, I was hired on as the WWU Women's Center Coordinator. I was responsible for developing student programming around gender equity, empowerment, and healthy relationships. I experimented with different communication strategies to answer the question: How can we present critical issues related to gender, safety, and bodily autonomy in a way that inspires people to take action?

After graduating, I moved to Korea to teach English for a year, which began an unintentional world tour. While hustling for freelance writing gigs in France & Belgium, I landed my first remote communications role with Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED).

The Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED) is a food justice non-profit that trains young people to start and scale food cooperatives. Joining as their temporary intern, after a few months I became communications coordinator. I developed and implemented a communications strategy, focusing on audience engagement and revenue opportunities. I also managed social media + email updates and collaborated with partner organizations.

At CoFED I learned that HOW we create social change matters. I learned that to truly achieve democracy, we need to build democratic processes into our workplaces, relationships, educational institutions, and food systems. Otherwise, democracy only exists in the abstract.

Back in the Seattle area, I began a new challenge as human resources coordinator for PlayNetwork, a B2B media company. This offered invaluable communications experience. I wrote just about everything from company-wide announcements to executive reports to detailed instructions for employees enrolling in health coverage. High levels of sensitivity, diplomacy, and confidentiality were essential.

An engaged member of the company Give committee, I found meaning in coordinating employee volunteer events, donation drives, and started a monthly meal program for The Sophia Way. I wrote a short article about our partnership here.

In this photo, my coworkers and I have just finished preparing & serving lunch at YouthCare (I'm on the left). It was wonderful to talk to the young adults - not kids :-)

Evaluating how I could best contribute to social, economic, and environmental progress, I decided to pursue communications in order to grow the impact of mission-driven organizations. To make this possible, we decided to lower our cost of living by moving to Bangkok, Thailand.

Soon after, I was accepted into the online M.A. in Strategic Communication program in the Murrow College of Communications at Washington State University! I started in January 2018. I wrote a blog post explaining why I chose strategic communication here. I've learned a ton about marketing, advertising, and communications including how to:

  • Create and promote multimedia content
  • Utilize persuasive theories
  • Conduct and analyze market research
  • Manage crisis communications
  • Segment audiences and examine consumer behavior
  • Develop, implement, and evaluate campaigns
  • Carry out social marketing (often health related, this is marketing for the purpose of social benefit rather than profit)

For more please visit my website at kimberlyabsher.com

Looking for professional experience to complement my coursework, I connected with BoTree, a family-owned ethical seasonings company located in Cambodia and the UK. Starting as their communications and PR intern, after six months I became their communications specialist, supporting brand development, digital presence, and copywriting efforts.

Our two-person PR team created and implemented BoTree's first communications plan. We crafted a resonant brand story and outreach strategy for foodies, retailers, journalists, and restaurateurs that highlighted the incredible heritage of Kampot pepper.

A bit about it: Kampot pepper is a centuries-old crop on the southern coast of Cambodia, long favoured by the French bourgeoisie, and distinguished as the world's finest pepper. In the 1970s the Khmer Rouge wholly destroyed the region's pepper crops. Now decades later, farmers are once again growing Kampot pepper using traditional methods passed down generations. I traveled Kampot's red dirt roads on a motorbike to capture stories, photos, and videos of the seasoning renaissance, a form of cultural and economic healing.

After a year in Thailand spent attached to my laptop (taking requisite sun and fresh mango breaks, don't worry), my husband Joel's dream came true - he was accepted into a Plasma Physics PhD program. The only catch was that it was very far away in Saskatoon, Canada. We packed our bags and prepared to trade shorts and flip flops for parkas and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Continuing my remote graduate program and BoTree role from Canada (with frequent trips to Seattle to escape the brutal cold), I was thrilled to join the board of Saskatoon Sexual Health (SSH).

SSH is a non-profit that provides sexual and reproductive health clinical care, education, and advocacy. Their care is low-barrier, inclusive, and stigma-free, and their small team serves over 3,000 clients a year plus fields thousands of phone calls.

As chair of the communication committee, I am leading the development of a capital campaign to raise funds for a new space and expanded capacity. I love helping the community learn about SSH's vital work and providing opportunities to get involved.

Saskatoon Sexual Health's logo, a print ad I designed, and condoms featuring the names of provincial towns (as part of the Wrap It Up! SK campaign)

What's next

Graduation is just around the corner in July 2019. As I finally bag that master's degree, I'll also be transitioning out of my position at BoTree. Ch-ch-ch-changes!

I am so grateful for everything I've learned and my daily growth as a communications professional (and human!). Looking to the next chapter, my goal is to land a people-focused role at an impactful, mission-driven organization.

I am open and life is good. Thank you so much for reading about my journey!

Created By
Kimberly Absher


Created with images by Byron Johnson - "untitled image" • AdrienBe - "thailand asia koh lanta" • Charlie Firth - "untitled image"

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