Growing up, I was one of those kids who found joy and enthusiasm with an inflatable globe and atlas. I would go showing them to strangers and quiz them about geography and world capitals. This interest grew bigger, becoming a passion, as I decided to take the field of international relations as my undergraduate study.
August 2009 was one of the most significant milestones in my life. It was the moment when I finally graduated and obtained my degree. I can still recall how I was excited, nervous, awkward and unsure at the same time. At that point, my passion was to work at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The common conception was that this governmental institution served as the ultimate professional goal for IR graduates.
Reality sunk in quickly as the organisation would only hire a handful of recent graduates, and that most of the enlisted personnel are not from universities in Eastern Indonesia. To sum it up quickly, rejections are very high. Many of my colleagues ended up working as bankers and entrepreneurs as an IR degree is not necessarily seen as providing distinct skills which directly transfer to a particular speciality or occupation. The need to make as much money as possible, given I was not a student anymore, also presented itself as a bit of personal pressure.
An opportunity presented itself from a former classmate who passed me a recommendation to work as a local consultant for Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), for a technical cooperation project with the provincial government of South Sulawesi, on the issue of urban development management.
I jumped at the opportunity in an instant and ended up staying until the finalisation of the project in early 2012. My next employment started later that same year with a more significant undertaking as a program officer for one of World Bank’s projects. Also working in direct collaboration with the provincial government, along with local university researchers on the issue of good governance, public expenditure and financial management.
During both employments, I was so preoccupied with the details of my particular assignments on a daily basis, I neglected to see from the birds-eye view that I was in fact taking part in the sphere of development practice. It was not different than any other regular office work, as I did most of the logistics of the projects, from procurements and budgeting, stakeholders engagement, implementation of events, and monthly reporting to the central WB office in Jakarta, in addition to periodic evaluation of the project. I could barely remember that I did something that could be construed as ‘making a change’ or ‘making a difference’, even though I might have done it without knowing it at that time.
In truth, I received a fair amount of cynicism from colleagues who regarded my decision to work for one of the world’s largest financial institutions as selling out my ‘idealism’ as I would become an ‘agent’ of neoliberalism. They would remind me of our discussions about how destructive such global influences and their capitals are, and the values that these institution brought presented even bigger challenges for the global community to make progress in development.
Meanwhile, government stakeholders were not entirely receptive to the World Bank: officials who were on the project committee would convey their disapproval of the collaboration with the Bank on a regular basis. They would go as far as disreputing me as a neoliberal agent and developed uncooperative attitudes, neglecting to participate in project events. When the time came, they were even reluctant to receive the final analysis report, performed by WB and other stakeholders. This is no doubt due to the fact that this particular project was related to a sensitive issue for the provincial government – about public budgeting effectiveness – thus they tried to find numerous excuses to not participate in the project.
These perceptions and behaviours were daily challenges to getting my work done. However, I always reminded myself that this position was merely professional, and the negative attributes of the institution I worked for had no reflection on me personally.
Getting Some Perspective
It was not until my most recent employment that I finally took profound interest in the discourse of development, a discourse which I might have subconsciously participated in for the past several years.
BaKTI (Eastern Indonesia Knowledge Exchange) is a regional-based NGO, which strives to assist the local and regional stakeholders in their respective efforts to improve development effectiveness in Eastern Indonesia, through knowledge sharing endeavours. Working with many local communities and stakeholders in the vast areas of Eastern Indonesia, I became exposed to the distinct needs of specific regions, as well as learning their local innovations and motivation to address development challenges. I was assigned as the program officer of one of BaKTI’s core programs, JiKTI (Eastern Indonesia Researchers’ Network).
It is not unknown that the Eastern provinces of Indonesia have been structurally disadvantaged. Isolation, lack of access to resources, poor communications, diverse minority groups and central government’s neglect have contributed to a poorly educated population, high levels of unemployment, poor nutrition, high mother and infant mortality rates, as well as low life expectancy.
These long-standing problems of Eastern Indonesia exemplify why the study of development is desperately needed because it provides insights into the deeper challenges the marginalised society faces on a consistent basis. These challenges directly contribute to an imbalanced development, as has been clearly documented with regards to the vast Indonesian archipelago.
The more I delved into this with BaKTI, the more it fueled my fire to learn more about development. I began to search academic journals to find out more about the field and the people who contribute to the discourses of development such as Sachs, Easterly, and Sen, and their approaches and doctrines. As I learnt more, I began to sense the need to pursue a higher level of education in the study of development with a particular emphasis on the practical application, and that is why I chose to study the MIDP at Monash.
There is a substantial social aspect to development which I definitely want to explore further in a formal academic setting. The knowledge and skills I am already gaining will help to contribute to the empowerment of the community, strengthening their capacity for community-centric approaches, not only to tackle challenges, but to sustain the progress of development.