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Adopting a Growth Mindset

"You have to be a risk-taker and have a 'no turning back' kind of mindset if you want to try something new. There is no guarantee you will be successful, but stay motivated and do your best in whatever you choose," says Derma Taksiah Ariffin. Derma is the First Secretary (Economics) for the Ministry of International Trade & Industry (MITI), Malaysia and is currently stationed in Bangkok.

Derma had not worked at MITI, and economics was not her forte, yet she became the first outsider to get an overseas MITI posting. "I am lucky because I had worked with people from MITI and had handled trade negotiations related to biodiversity issues previously at the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (KeTSA)." That, plus her Master of Public Policy degree at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), helped Derma to reach out for an opportunity that gave her career a new direction.

Before Derma got the prestigious assignment with MITI, she had worked with the Prime Minister's Department (MAMPU). "It taught me how to deal with different kinds of people and agencies. I am familiar with the bureaucracy of government agencies and had experience in FTAs and trade-related matters during my years at KeTSA. I was familiar with international policies and commitments related to trade and sustainable development, too," she explains how she qualified for the assignment.

In Thailand, as an officer of MITI, her role includes monitoring, analyzing, and preparing reports on Thailand's economic situation and assisting with any economic or trade issues between Thailand and Malaysia. "I assist in the preparation of policy papers and reports focussed on Malaysia-Thailand economics bilateral relations. I also prepare inputs and talking points for ministerial visits and the Embassy," says Derma.

This 2015 Master of Public Policy student says LKYSPP trained her to be more analytical, critical and optimistic. As someone who had not worked with MITI before or for whom economics is not a forte, securing this current role is a giant career leap. Derma believes that "spending two years in a classroom with professors who challenged your opinion taught me that I have nothing to lose in trying to make the impossible possible and be the best in something so alien to me. If I could survive and thrive at LKYSPP, I was sure I could excel in a new role."

Spending time in a new country, where one is unfamiliar with the language, people and policies, is never easy. Derma says working on human relations and communications skills is the key here. "Have good relations with everyone, regardless of their position and rank. Don't be afraid to meet and connect with new people. Also, mix with local people, try to understand their culture and daily activities, and explore the country. They'll appreciate your effort and will be willing to help you." She believes that negotiation and report writing skills learned at LKYSPP help a lot. Also, presenting a paper at the Global Public Policy Network's (GPPN) Student Conference in 2014 at The Hertie School of Governance, Berlin was an enriching experience.

Her advice to people joining LKYSPP is to have fun and focus on learning through experience, finding new friends and creating a robust global network. "My friend Nicholas Tan and I created a group called Let's Go Out (LGO) to encourage people to go out and explore nature in Singapore. Initially, LGO was supposed to be a project for the Negotiation Class, but we managed to turn it into a student group... to do things that we like the most, outdoor activities. The biggest event we made was that we rented a boat to St. John Island, and 30 people joined us for that trip. I think that's the biggest achievement for our group."