What do you do for UNICEF Indonesia?
I am working for the Child Protection cluster. My work revolves around efforts to eliminate any types of violence against children in Indonesia. I am mainly assigned to look into child marriage, which is a cross-section issue. Child marriage cannot be seen only as child protection issue (as how UNICEF defines it); it is also linked to education, health, and gender equality – which makes it a fascinating subject to analyse. I also handle some projects related to other issues such as violence against children, social welfare and juvenile justice.
What is a typical day like?
The nature of the work that I am doing for UNICEF means that there is no such thing as ‘typical day’. Sometimes I found myself in the UNICEF office, other times I am attending meetings with government counterparts, academics, NGOs/ CSOs, or even the media. I am really thankful that my supervisor and other colleagues in my team usually invite me to join them in interesting meetings. At work, I'm involved with research, documentation, monitoring, advocacy and I interview people for blog stories.
This is your first job out of university. What was the process of joining UNICEF like? Any tip for readers who would like to do the same?
It is similar to applying to many other jobs – you apply to a specific job opening, sit an exam and then interview. There are many paths to entering a United Nations’ agency like UNICEF. You can join United Nations’ Volunteers or the internship programme. Both are open to entry-level employees. If you want to join the UN, you should have an appreciation for diversity and be able to bring human rights’ values to the centre of your work. For millennials particularly, interest in youth participation in world development is essential. With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being brought forward, we can expect more UN organisations to have more youth involved in their decision-making processes. For those who want to work for UNICEF, it is important to stay on top of issues related to children and development.
You worked as a social media assistant for e-International Relations while studying. What did you do there?
E-International Relations (E-IR) is an open-access resource website for students and academics in the international politics sector. The website has a large number of followers and is recommended by many practitioners and academics. It's run solely by volunteers. During my time there, I was supported the social media aspects of the publications, under the supervision of the editor-in-chief and social media editor. I constantly monitored the content published daily on the website to post on social platforms. I also provided summaries of the material I was sharing. I learned a lot about how I can improve social media reach. E-IR website was helpful for me as a student and the job was rewarding because I knew I would be helping many more students like me in the process.
While at Middlesex University, you were Secretary and then President of the university's Amnesty International Society. Which skills did you gain there that you now use in your job?
I learned significant leadership skills. I was lucky to be the president on my second year, which I saw as an opportunity to engage more people to the society. This is where I learned about team-work and how it can be effective. I also gained problem solving skills, for the times things do not go as planned. I gained a lot of knowledge about the rights-based approach to development. Since UNICEF is a UN organisation, this approach has been important in almost everything I do now.
You started your studies in Indonesia before moving to the UK and then the Netherlands. Why did you decide to change country?
My dad moved to London for official duties at that time I was moving to the UK. I saw that as an opportunity to change the subject I was studying in Indonesia. I have always been interested in International Relations, so doing something different for university did not seem right. However, my studies in German Literature have helped me in other ways, such as the capability to write a compelling story. As to why I chose the Netherlands after the UK, the reason is quite simple – the University of Groningen in the Netherlands offered me better scholarship than the university I was applying in the UK. Plus, I have always been interested in the Netherlands for its distinct take on human rights.
I would very much recommend these universities and degrees, even though they are very different. I was interested in Middlesex University because it is one of universities with the most foreign students – meaning that it's a multicultural place with lots of opportunities to learn from others. University of Groningen, on the other hand, is one of the world’s top universities, established in 1614. Both have very good lecturers, all experts in their field.
How do you use your degrees in your day-to-day job?
Research and writing skills are invaluable in any job related to social development and international relations. I was lucky to study a broad subject like international relations, which means that I will be able to grasp diverse issues – from general themes like politics and economy, to specific ones such as diplomacy, disasters, human rights, and governance of risks.
What are the particular advantages and barriers a woman pursuing a career like yours might face?
Working on an issue that very much intersects with gender equality, being a woman has its own advantage. Women understand more about the plight that many other women and girls faced in their life, and as a result we can bring better results on the work that they are doing. However, development field is very competitive and usually really welcoming to recent graduates. Typical job description requires a person to have at least five years working experience, which means many people might be left out and are unable to gain the experience they should have. However, I would say do not be discouraged – if you think you are the right person, then apply! You never know unless you try.
What would you recommend to a young woman who would like to pursue a similar career?
Most people in this field do what they love. As clichéd as this might be, I believe people won’t be successful unless they are passionate about what they do. Before you decide on taking any job, assess whether you are really passionate about. If so, pursue it.
What was your first job and what did you learn doing it you still use today?
My first full-time job is the one that I am doing now. However, I first got involved with Indonesian Future Leaders (IFL), a non-government organisation, when I was 19. It gave me the opportunity to see how youth participation is central to development. We initiated a program called ‘School of Volunteers’, in which we held workshops in order to find most innovative ideas for high school students to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in Indonesia. Because of this, I was aware of the development goals in its early days. I was leading the research and development in the organisation. The skills I gained from working in that section are useful in my current role. IFL has also inspired more youth initiatives in Indonesia.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?
The most rewarding aspect is definitely the amazing people I am working with. These are the people who, despite the complexities of the work that they do for years, refuse to give up. They are also experts in their respective areas. I have so much admiration for these people and will continue to try to learn from them as much as I can. I think everything that I do is rewarding. Even when I am doing something that seems to be trivial like translation, I knew that at the end it is a very important part of the work and help many people who do not speak English to gain knowledge out of our documents.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
I think that, wherever you go, good management skills will take you far. Whether it is managing people in a team or managing tasks, these skills would be essential to do your projects smoothly.
Research and writing skills that I have gained from universities is also essential. For any strong programmatic planning and implementation, we need a strong research to back it up.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
While ideas are definitely important, I learnt that people matter. You can turn simple programmes to very impactful ventures if you find the right people to do it. This also applies in the office setting, where you need passionate people in your team to turn things into reality.
I also noticed that most people who work in this field are usually doing something that is close to their hearts. Occasionally, some of the things that you do will matter a lot and some things will disappoint you, but you still have to remember to not let it in the way of your professional credibility.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
My biggest challenge so far is catching up with people’s level of knowledge at work. These are the people who have years of experience in the field and the people who fully understand how the UN system works. When I joined UNICEF, I instantly understood that if I wanted to catch up, I had to learn a lot. So I read, not only about the UN system, but also about my own country. I have to understand our national law (especially concerning marriage and child protection law) and governance system. This has been tough, because I've been out of the country for about four years.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am always aware of the Importance of successful programmes in inspiring positive change. I was therefore proud to be involved in various Amnesty International campaigns. I campaigned for Arms Trade Treaty with Amnesty in 2012, and was so happy to hear that it became international law in 2014. I set up the first Raise and Give (RAG) society in my university, which turned out to be really successful. Our fundraising projects have benefitted non-governmental organisations such as War Child, Orchid and Body and Soul.
I was also chosen to represent Indonesia in an international youth summit by HOPE XXL to formulate the Liemers List, which is a vision of how the world should be like in the years to come, developed by young people from all over the world. Last February, the list was presented in the ECOSOC Youth Forum. These types of achievements are very tangible, and they're what inspire me to continue to work in this field.
Do you have a role model and if so who and why?
I think most of the things that I do have been inspired by someone in one way or the other. These inspirations can came from every direction, but the principal one is my father and mother. They were both exchange students when they were in high school, which inspired my brother, my cousins and myself to do the same. We all went abroad at an early age and were exposed to what happened outside of Indonesia early on. The multicultural understanding that I have gained from the experience has led me to be interested in organisations like the United Nations, in which diversity has been the principal driver of change and very much embodied in the organisational structure.
Nationally, I look up to someone like Anies Baswedan, who is now the Minister of Education and Culture. He is one of a kind in the government – someone who understands youth activism and leadership more than any other leaders in Indonesia. That activism has a lot to do with my interest in social development.
Outside of Indonesia, I look up to people like Mahatma Gandhi. Some of his values, such as non-violence and religious pluralism, are the main driver behind my interest for human rights. He also embodied perseverance in achieving peace. Patience is definitely key for anyone who wants to work in the development field.
I also admire women who have a lot of contribution in emancipation like Noeleen Heyzer, who has received numerous awards for her contributions - including the Aletta Jacobs Prize given by the University of Groningen.
Nadira Irdiana | Child Protection Officer | UNICEF Indonesia
Six years' experience
CV in brief
Studied Master's Degree in International Relations (Global Governance) at University of Groningen | Bachelor's Degree in International Politics at Middlesex University | German Literature at Universitas Indonesia (UI)
Languages Indonesian, English, German
Email interview carried out 28 July 2015
"If you want to join the UN, you should have an appreciation for diversity and be able to bring human rights’ values to the centre of your work. For millennials particularly, interest in youth participation in world development is essential. With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being brought forward, we can expect more UN organisations to have more youth involved in their decision-making processes."
Amnesty International National Conference and Annual General Meeting in 2012 | Photo ©Amnesty International UK
"This is where I learned about team-work and how it can be effective. I also gained problem solving skills, for the times things do not go as planned. I gained a lot of knowledge about the rights-based approach to development."
Inspiring girls and young women to choose a career in foreign policy
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