Occupation: Kym Rolle, digital community manager
Recently married and currently on her honeymoon, Kym Rolle is the infectiously positive and incessantly productive digital community manager for Compassion Australia, the not-for-profit currently gearing up for its biggest event of the year, Compassion Sunday.
"Any of the Compassion community that's online – people who experience Compassion in the social media spheres (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) – I help them stay connected," says Kym. "I come up with creative ideas to get them engaged and try to keep up the content flow so they're getting all the goods. We've just given away some tickets for Mercy Me and Michael W Smith concerts; they're both ambassadors for Compassion in America."
Compassion's online arm connects and cross-promotes other charities as well as Compassion's team of advocates, many from the music industry who are encouraged to create content for Compassion to post. The page is full of encouragement ("It's Compassion Fans Friday! We think you rock!" says one post) as well as news, sad and good, of children across the world in Compassion's "family".
"Social media can be used to fight poverty," says Kym, "and Australia is right up there with opportunities to advocate now more than any time in history. Information is at our fingertips and we can share it faster than we can blink. We all have something to offer, we all have a voice and opportunity to tell stories – visual, aural, written – to share online."
On Compassion's Facebook page there are stories of sponsors meeting their children, of successful Visa applications for visiting graduates from the sponsorship program and of emergency needs for financial assistance and prayer (Compassion isn't shy about its Christian heritage or worldview; its ministry is hinged on releasing people from poverty in Jesus' name).
The "lone soldier" in Compassion's social media unit, which in her honeymooning absence is a case of "all hands on deck!", Kym feels the weight of responsibility for keeping the charity's online community informed and well represented, which is challenging in the race that is online when certain issues require deeper contemplation than what to have for breakfast.
The recent Kony story that circulated worldwide, for example, required a considered response. Kym, who uses social media dashboard Hootsuite to schedule posts, practises the "Three Rs" of social media: respect, responsibility and relationship.
"You have to respect other people's opinions, you have to take responsibility for who you're representing," she says. "Social media's not a push, it's a conversation. It's about engaging, talking and listening. The best way to start a conversation is to ask questions."
In the new media world, charities are confronted with the challenge of cutting through the clutter with their message of need while also engaging in an affirming, gracious way wary of "compassion fatigue". It's no secret that charities have been affected by the GFC, and also the endless stream of news out of the Middle East, Africa, Haiti, Thailand, and other areas affected by famine and natural disaster (to this end Compassion has a critical interventions arm).
But it's not all doom and gloom. There are hopeful stories in abundance, many of which have found their way into Compassion International's 60th Anniversary magazine, including that of Beugens Theus who was able to complete his Masters in Population Studies and go onto serve as a congressman in Haiti with the help of the Leadership Development Program.
To coincide with Compassion's 60th anniversary, the Australian arm is aiming to clock 100,000 sponsorships with the help of Compassion Sunday activities (sign up to secure a Letter Writing Kit). A stand-alone site, aiming100k.com, has also been set up and postcards to send onto family and friends to encourage them to take part (bearing warm salutations) have been mailed to current sponsors.
The Australian Compassion branch was initiated by Laurie and Olive McCowan in the rumpus room of their Newcastle home in 1977 "with just one old typewriter and a simple hand-writing receipt system". Today Compassion Australia is a sophisticated operation with offices built with a generous donation (here I see where the letters come for sorting and sending on to sponsored kids). Currently, 97,570 children, babies and students benefiting from its programs.
Located next to the charity's creative director Andy Meier, Kym's office corner is a repository for her abundant creativity, its walls lined with her own illustrations and storyboards for Compassion's branding and marketing campaigns (she's the brainchild behind the charity's adorable characters). She calls it "organised chaos" or "storyboard, creative, Post-It goodness".
Kym, who was born in Texas, USA, to Aussie parents, has been with Compassion for two years next month. With a talent for drawing from the get-go, she says she used to "spend a lot of time decorating, rather than doing assignments – my cover pages were always amazing. Even in primary school I was illustrating kids' books. Silly things about ice-cream and turtles."
Her people skills developed as she lost the Texan accent and the red-head jokes eased off. "I definitely got more popular when I went to the right school," she says. In high school, Kym, now 35, won the minister's state art award for a painting called 'A Woman's Work is Never Done' and exhibited in the State Gallery.
"It was a painting on starched tea towels – I found some old ones at home, starched them, hung them inside a frame and painted a Hills Hoist clothes line, a netball skirt and an Aussie flag."
From there she was accepted into the Queensland College of Art, a rare event for recent high-school graduates. She finished her degree, Visual Arts with a Major in Graphic Design, by the age of 19. She harboured a dream to work for Disney in America, but was offered a job at an Australian licensing manufacturer doing illustrating for popular licenses including Sesame Street, The Simpsons, South Park, Sea World and Disney.
"I learnt a lot about working with style guides and the calibre of design that you have to offer for another artist to interpret it," she says. "I got a bit sick of the 2D art form and wanted to go into multimedia, so I worked for another company doing graphic design. Then I worked at Griffith University as a sessional lecturer, which allowed me to do my Masters in Digital Design as well."
All skills on board, Kym also brings to Compassion a social consciousness that meshes with her creativity. After coming into contact with a spiritual art gallery in Houston, Texas, that did "visual worship", she was inspired.
"They basically took parts from the Bible and interpreted them visually to tell the story, and then sold the paintings to fund mission trips," she says. "I came back to Australia and started doing positive art for popular culture, selling posters and t-shirts and hats. I had a freelance business for about eight years, which gave me scope to work with bands and other creative groups."
After a trip to Thailand to film a documentary and run an art workshop for kids in a community centre ("We did photography, hip-hop dancing and graffiti artwork, which was an amazing experience"), she felt she needed to point all her creative energy in one direction, as she was being pulled in different directions and field avenues.
"I really felt God inspired me to say, 'Okay, use your creative stuff to advocate for the poor, and if you can do it always for that, you will also get value out of it'." She started a group called Art for Aid. "Our first exhibition was taking inkings done by pre-schoolers in Thailand, framing them and selling them to fund projects in conjunction with the Invisible Children tour in 2009 in Queensland."
Kym describes her her Christian faith, which she formalised in her late teens, in these terms: "It made a significant difference in how I related to the world and to other people. Practically, it has meant I've never felt alone through good times and bad times, because God sees your heart better than anyone else does. The sacrifice Christ made... it's a privilege to be a part of that and honour that with your life."
She sponsored a child through Compassion when she was 19, so when the role for Creative Director came up, she applied, and both she and Andy were hired to work across campaigns, creative and social media.
"We network with a lot of Christian radio stations, churches, individual supporters and advocates," she says, "as well as other organisations with a similar heart. We never say we are the only ones solving poverty, because we're certainly not, so we celebrate the others. We're all fighting for the same cause together. We want to do ourselves out of a job."
Kym does illustration when Compassion's projects call for it, as well as animations. Day to day for Kym, it's Tweets in the morning ("I try not to get lost in that space for more than an hour in the morning and at lunch time"), acknowledging what's happening on Facebook, responding to things that hit the news and canvassing what's happening ''out there".
"It's not staying inside the Compassion bubble but seeing politically what's happening in government that affects foreign aid, or if one of our ambassadors have achieved some feat and sharing it," she says. "It's being a busybody... but for a good cause!"
In addition to Kym and Andy are a small team of designers and communicators who work across the organisation's campaigns, interacting at events, churches and community organisations to bring the charity's message out into the world.
"I just think everyone needs to take the skills and gifts they've been given and learn how to harness that for the benefit of other people, because they will receive a blessing without even realising they're getting it," says Kym. "People hold back because they think someone will abuse it or take advantage of it, but if you put it out there, you'll get more in return."
Before I depart the Compassion offices, I'm handed a social media card featuring the tagline "Like! Tag! Tweet! Follow!", which Kym and the team take to events. And with that I exit with a better understanding of this quite extraordinary organisation and its newlywed social media maven.
Girl With a Satchel