Interviewed by Marella Ricketts
Meet WTP8 Talent Gitanjali Roche, Digital Communications Manager for Advancement at INSEAD. Gitanjali opens our eyes to the beauty of storytelling, sharing with us what she loves about working in communications, how she overcame career pivots and challenges, and why it is important to hold on to your passions.
Your LinkedIn profile states that you studied social and culinary anthropology, and prior to working at INSEAD you spent several years building your business as a communications consultant in food and wine. Can you tell us more about how this interest of yours started when you were younger? How did this turn into a job working in communications at INSEAD?
To explain this to you, I’ll have to share a bit of my background. My father is from India and my mother is Syrian-Armenian. I was born in the United States and when I was eight, we moved to Greece. Having this mixed background definitely contributed to my passion for food. I always wanted to help my mother or father in the kitchen, and I always had a lot of questions about what they were cooking.
It never occurred to me that I could actually study food until I did my bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology. In our first year at the University of Utrecht, we had to take classes across all sectors first to find out on which areas we really wanted to focus. It was interesting, but I remember afterwards telling my advisor, who was an anthropology professor, that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. She told me to go home, look at all the books I had on my shelf, and to come back to her with their common subject. I had a lot of cookbooks and novels about food. When I told her this, she suggested that I study culinary anthropology. I didn’t even know before that it existed!
I remember telling my advisor, an anthropology professor, that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. She told me to go home, look at all the books I had on my shelf, and to come back with her with their common subject.
So that’s exactly what I did: I studied sociology and anthropology but through a culinary lens, which is exploring what, how, and why we eat certain things. After my bachelor’s, I moved to Paris and did a master’s in the same topic at EHESS then went to a cooking school called FERRANDI Paris. Currently, I am doing my wine training, studying for the WSET 3 certification. I think that it’s important to complement the theoretical with the practical.
To answer your question about how it turned into working at INSEAD: after graduating I embarked on a couple of projects, including doing freelance work as a communications consultant for food and wine brands, and I also started my own company. I was the COO of a startup called OpenKitchen, where we organised culinary immersions in restaurants with chefs. Anyone passionate about food could go into the kitchen and see how they do the mise en place before the dishes are served in the dining room. Things were going well until COVID-19 hit. My clients, who were mainly restaurants, had to close for a year and a half. I tried to keep my company going, but we had no idea about how the coronavirus would evolve, so I ended up closing it. Just as I was trying to come to terms with this, I saw my current position at INSEAD advertised and I saw that it was everything I had been doing for my clients: social media, content creation, writing articles, event coverage, but for higher education. The great thing about doing digital communication is that you can pivot from one sector to another, as I have managed to do.
As the current Digital Communications Manager for Advancement at INSEAD, what is a day in the life for you like? How do you balance this with other things that you are working on such as preparing for your WSET 3 wine exam?
I am part of the Advancement Communications team, which is involved with alumni and fundraising for INSEAD. My day to day, which can be very varied, involves working on a lot of event comms, whether it be for an alumni reunion, the alumni forum that we host around the world, or Global INSEAD day. I also create a great deal of content. There is the day-to-day social media management where we promote articles about different topics, such as about the school and about what our alumni are up to. Since our target audience is INSEAD alumni, the objective is to keep them engaged and connected to their time at the school. I also work with digital ambassadors to amplify events, webinars and other initiatives.
As you mentioned, in my free time, I am studying for the WSET 3, which is the exam for an internationally renowned qualification in wine training. I admit that it is a bit challenging preparing for this when working full time! I am a year and a half in and have made good progress at balancing my passion project with day-to-day work. I’m preparing remotely now for the exam, which involves a lot of memorising and a lot of tasting. It’s a good excuse at night to open a bottle of wine at the end of the working day!
What was a career challenge that you had encountered and how did you overcome this? Was it difficult to shift from the culinary industry to education?
I encountered two difficult career challenges over the last few years. The first would be, as I mentioned earlier, closing my own company and letting go of being my own boss. What was hard for me when we decided to close OpenKitchen was that we had a lot of amazing chefs who wanted to continue, asking us to figure out a way to host people in their kitchens and share their love for food. It was a difficult decision because in a way, it was my dream job.
The second challenge was transitioning to a different sector; or, more specifically, making the decision to no longer be self-employed and go into a full-time job in a different sector. The academic sector is very different, and I felt clueless in the beginning. But I am also very curious, and I read a lot. I tried to apply the skills that I had acquired earlier to this challenge. During my career transition, I kept telling myself: You just have to do it. What I learned is that you have to go with the flow, especially during a period like the COVID-19 pandemic. In the end, I was happy that I made this decision as it would have been more difficult to push and try to make my company survive. I jumped into my role at INSEAD headfirst, hoping that things would turn out okay, and it has!
The sector change has indeed been a big learning curve. But what I insisted on from the start was continuing to develop my hobbies on the side. Learning and developing new skills is what keeps me going. During times when there is drastic change, it is important to hold on to things that are important to you, things that remind you who you are. It gives you the energy to keep moving in the right direction. In the end, you learn things about yourself and surprise yourself with things that you didn’t know you could do.
During times when there is drastic change, it is important to hold on to things that are important to you, things that remind you who you are. It gives you the energy to keep going in the right direction.
As someone with many passions, and who has had experience across several industries, how do you tie these things together? Looking at your career from a larger perspective, what drives you the most?
I think communication or “storytelling”, is really my thing, and I discovered this thanks to my interest in food. At school, I studied the stories that food tells us: from how we eat, what food says about us and our backgrounds. It’s the story behind it that I find so interesting and this is what made me realise that communication is the place for me. I have also been immersed in different cultures and languages growing up and this has made me communicative in nature. Communication is about seeing the story behind things and figuring out how you can share it in a way that will resonate with people.
What motivated you to apply for WIL’s WTP Programme? I know you’ve only been in the programme for a few months, but are there any take aways that have already made an impact on you?
What motivated me was the emphasis on women supporting other women. I was freelance for a few years and so I lacked a strong personal-professional network, and this aspect really drew me to the programme. From the sessions and discussions so far, I can already see the sincerity that the women here have when it comes to helping each other, and the idea of a more caring, helpful, supportive approach really appealed to me. It has been interesting to meet people from different backgrounds. We all come from different sectors but many of the questions and the problems seem to be the same. It is refreshing to see that despite having different ages, backgrounds, cultures, and sectors, women are really looking for the same type of connection and support with each other.
It has been interesting to meet people from different backgrounds. We come from different sectors but many of the questions and the problems seem to be the same. It’s refreshing to see that despite having different ages, backgrounds, cultures, and sectors, women are really looking for the same type of connection and support with each other.
Your work certainly requires you to be creative. Where do you find your inspiration?
Social media! It’s my job to consume a lot of it, but I try to do it in moderation, of course. There is just so much inspiring content online, offering different formats and different ways to engage with people to tell a story. I am constantly inspired. Whether it be Instagram or TikTok or LinkedIn, it is very cool to see how people use different mediums creatively.
As an avid food blogger, if you could eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Anything spicy! I’m one of those people who always has chili pepper in their purse. It is difficult to name a dish in particular, but I wouldn’t be able to live without spice.
Video edited by Juliette Travaillé