Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere, and the United Nations’ International Labour Organization or ILO was set up to improve working conditions globally, for a more equitable planet.

For those unfamiliar with the ILO, it’s like a global parliament involving 187 member states around the world, which meets to discuss prominent issues regarding labour and employment. If there is a demand or urgent need for a new labour standard or employment policy, this is set through legally binding conventions and protocols, as well as non-legally binding recommendations.

People may also not be aware that the ILO is a tripartite organisation involving the government, employers’ organisations, and workers’ unions. Our decision-making process is inclusive, because we consider the viewpoints of the different sides.

In the past, the eight-hour workday was a phenomenal change when it became the first international labour standard in 1919, as it led to a better work-life balance for people across the globe. A century later, we’re looking to eliminate violence and harassment—including sexual harassment—from the workplace, as well as preparing for a future of work driven by globalisation, technological advancements, and demographic and environmental changes.

I’ve been at the ILO for almost 20 years, and it’s the longest time that I have dedicated to a single organisation. The ILO’s efforts are built around the idea that ‘decent work’ is key to achieving social justice through poverty reduction—this is what keeps me here, because it’s what I believe in too.

Our definition of ‘decent work’ covers workers’ rights, employment, social protection, and social dialogue. During my time at the ILO, I have worked across these four areas, managing projects in Indonesia and Bangladesh. In Indonesia, I helped to mitigate stigma and discrimination for workers with HIV/AIDS, implement local economic development efforts in post-conflict areas, and promote a social protection floor for all. Over in Bangladesh, my team tackled the issues of social dialogue and fragmented unions in the ready-made garment industry, by supporting the establishment of a worker resource centre, which has become a platform for capacity building and empowering female workers to improve their working conditions.

My latest ILO project has a regional focus, where we examine if a skills-driven approach is an appropriate pathway to promote inclusive growth in Asia. Within Indonesia, my role is to set up a responsive skills development policy and system, where we engage with industries to establish competency standards, vocational curriculums, and quality apprenticeships. Our ultimate beneficiaries are our youth, which is crucial as our country’s experience with youth unemployment is higher than the global average.

I enrolled in the LKY School in 2006, several years after I joined the ILO. At the time, I’d been putting off plans for further studies, but I spoke with one of our international consultants, who was a guest lecturer at the National University of Singapore, and he recommended the LKY School’s MPA programme.

Studying at the LKY School helped me to sharpen my analytical skills, because I had to take practical steps to identify core policy challenges, analyse them, and come up with recommendations. I was impressed that all the professors were prominent specialists in their fields, and had written books that we used as textbooks in our classes. But what I’ll always remember is the ‘strategic triangle’ model taught by the School, where public value is created when a strategy is supported by the community, and when the government has the operational capacity to execute the strategy. These three interlinked factors—public value, support, and operational capacity—served as our reference whenever we identified problems and crafted solutions, and I still refer to this model today.

With my LKY School qualification, I was able to apply for international professional positions within the ILO, which gave me access to ILO jobs in countries other than Indonesia. In addition, my MPA degree opened up an opportunity for me to be part of the graduate school teaching staff at Jakarta’s Paramadina University. My knowledge of policy analysis has also allowed me to contribute better public opinion editorials and articles to major English newspapers and academic journals. Finally, the academic experience has increased my confidence when participating in public debates and discourse, and I’m always pleased to see my ideas accepted and adopted by policymakers.

My current contract with the ILO ends this year, but my dream is still to contribute to building a better society. I’m eager to write about everything that I know about policy analysis, capturing what I learned at the LKY School and matching it with the realities on the ground. I’m also considering establishing a policy platform where we can share ideas, knowledge, experiences, good practices, and lessons learned.

I’m even thinking about writing songs—one of my side projects during the pandemic—as well as a novel or a documentary to create change from a cultural point of view. My approach in life is to think big, but start small and act now!