By Alexandra Paucescu
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” —Alan Kay
There could be no better saying than this one, to fully describe Rona Jobe.
An American with Filipino origins, Rona grew up in sunny California, graduated from prestigious UC Berkeley and then moved to Washington DC to pursue a career, at first focusing on education research and policies and later as a program analyst, working on providing and tracking grant results and successes.
‘Eventually, I found my way into the consulting world and ended up staying, because it offered a more tangible and faster implementation cycle compared to policy and non-profit work. I enjoyed the fast-paced environment and the quicker feedback loop with clients. I loved solving problems based on research, strategy, and best practices and then implementing them. But the international twist in my career came when we were posted in Brazil, where I continued to work, albeit remotely and in a limited way. It was during this time that I experienced first-hand how the lack of meaningful and progressive work opportunities for diplomatic spouses impacted our entire community. Back in the U.S., I ventured fully into the world of small business, first helping friends with their marketing and business plans; and then officially joining a small business to help them grow significantly over the next six years. Through that work, I found fulfillment and homed in on my passion for helping drive progress and implementation to other businesses, which I turned into a vehicle to tackle the diplomatic spouse employment opportunity issue. It’s been a diverse and exciting journey.’
She is now the CEO of a remote and asynchronous consulting firm, LVL-Up Strategies. ‘One of my proudest achievements has been building a company that supports and aims to address the problem of spousal/EFM (eligible family members) employment within the diplomatic community. LVL-Up Strategies strives to create opportunities for career-progressive work that can be carried from one diplomatic post to another, regardless of location. We hope to make an impact by not only further developing our company infrastructure, but also building an ecosystem for meaningful careers and employment for the diplomatic spouse community. We still have a long way to go, but being able to start this company and continue to build support for diplomatic spouses has made me incredibly proud.’
Rona is also Partner and Corporate Strategist for Smart Settlements, a Washington DC area title and settlements firm. She is relentless in her pursuit of new opportunities, growth, and development. ‘My interests are quite diverse. When I have a moment to myself and have “free time”, I find myself playing music, working out, hiking, cooking, learning new languages, traveling, and playing with Microsoft Excel to model/calculate an idea. These activities bring me joy, inspiration, and a sense of progress, both in my personal and professional life. I draw motivation from the concept of progress, not perfection, and I believe that achieving small victories every day, even in my hobbies, fuels my drive.’
Ever since she has joined the diplomatic circles, she recognized the opportunities but also the downsides of this kind of life. ‘Diplomatic life offers a unique opportunity to connect with people from diverse cultures and introduce them to your own. Being able to immerse myself in different languages and cultures, learning from them, and gaining a deeper appreciation for people’s backgrounds is incredibly eye-opening. I wish more people had the chance to experience it, as I believe it contributes to a deeper understanding of one another.
However, discussing the challenges and sacrifices that diplomatic spouses often face can be considered ‘taboo.’ It’s crucial to recognize that, while the diplomatic lifestyle has its rewards, it also entails significant personal and professional sacrifices for many spouses. Most people think the actual logistics and the move itself overseas would be the most challenging parts of diplomatic life. In my opinion, one of the most challenging aspects is the need to reinvent oneself with each new move abroad. Both diplomats and their spouses experience that, but while diplomats have a position within the embassy, along with the built-in day-to-day support at work, which allows for their identity to stay intact for the most part, spouses often have to give up their own careers, identities, and even their roles in the communities back home. Learning how to advocate for themselves and knowing what resources are available at post are crucial.
It’s difficult to find and grow a career. Often diplomatic spouses end up filling this void with volunteerism, freelancing, and government employment (if any available), but the options are still highly limited. A great solution to this would be to have programs that encourage and guide employers to hire and retain diplomatic spouses, much easier to do these days, with the advancement of tools for remote work resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic years. Also, there are times when spouses must live separately from partners because of competing interests between work/life/children’s needs and the needs of the mission (also my case these days). And in that scenario, it’s usually the diplomatic spouse who takes on the heavier lift, especially when children are involved. I think that diplomats and their spouses should share more about the challenges they face and look at challenges that others in their community are facing through a more empathetic lens, to foster a more balanced understanding of their lives.’
Maybe hard to believe, but many of the stereotypes circulating in the diplomatic world are often maintained by diplomats as well. In most of the interviews that I have conducted over the last 4 years, I have tried to dismantle, together with my interlocutors, many of these myths and stereotypes, which do us no favors and make our lives more difficult.
Rona Jobe is a great example of a woman who understood that it is in her power to change the narrative and turn things around in her favor, with tenacity and perseverance.
‘Success comes by no accident, but by wit and grit’, she says, strongly reinforcing the importance of hard work and determination in achieving goals.
Rona Jobe, Founder and CEO of LVL-Up Strategies, www.lvlupstrategies.com
About the author:
She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian, gives lectures on intercultural communication and is an active NGO volunteer.