By: Felicia Widjaya
Question and answer has been edited for length and clarity.
Dressed in teal-colored batik with her hair up in a low bun, Hillary Bakrie exudes the warmth of Indonesian pride in the midst of a rainy, New York weather. Despite us only meeting for the first time, she goes in for a hug instead of a formal handshake, all the while profusely apologizing for her being (just a little) late.
Hillary’s humility and passion for her work radiates throughout our casual conversation over brunch. With a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Universitas Pelita Harapan and a Master’s degree in International Development from NYU, Hillary is both experienced in the private and public sectors. As an officer in the Communications and Engagement department in the United Nations, she speaks with both eloquence and confidence, eagerly sharing her experience as a recent graduate working in the centre of a world-class organization striving towards global cooperation.
What attracted you to the work United Nations has to offer?
My family has a long line of people working in entrepreneurship and private sectors. I did business as my undergraduate studies, but I ended up hating it, like really hating it. It works for other people, but it turns out that for-profit work is just not for me.
Living in Jakarta, it’s very ironic how we have all these privileges: you have your driver and your maid. You go to Union (a famous brunch spot in Jakarta) every single day. But along the way, you see these slums. The inequality contrast is so high in Indonesia, but we’re so used to seeing these conditions that we ignore them. I decided that I wanted to do something to change that, so I switched to International Development in graduate school.
What would you say is the biggest challenge working in the not-for-profit industry?
The thing is, if you work for non-profit or development, it’s either you work for international institutions, or you work with really good NGOs. I tried interning at both. If I’m thinking about a career in development in the future, I know that I need to start with something big first then work my way into a narrower, more niche NGO later. In private sectors, if you have the merit, you would be promoted right away. But in development (public sector), it’s really dependent on your years of experience.
How did you land your current position?
Back in Indonesia, I briefly interned in one of the UN offices in Indonesia. So the UN essentially has 3 levels: headquarter, regional, and country offices. I interned at the country office in Indonesia, and I would say the experience was more hands-on as you get to work directly with the people you’re helping.
In New York, I landed an internship at the Global Communications department, where I deal with issues concerning the younger generation. Then I got another internship in Global Compact, which is the private sector counterpart of the UN that engages with Fortune 500 businesses to raise funding.
In your Global Communications internship, you’ve tackled issues concerning youths. What would you say is the biggest challenge the younger generation is facing right now?
We have the biggest generation of young people. In most countries, young people are always seen as a burden: you’re either too young to work, but too old to be taken care of. So youths are always perceived as liabilities. That’s why a lot of countries neglect young people, accusing them of being lazy and not taking advantage of the many opportunities offered. But in reality, there are a lot of institutional barriers that hinder them from running for office or getting employment. Their access to human rights is less prioritized compared to children and seniors.
What about your Global Compact internship? What was your experience like working there?
The Global Compact internship moves in a very fast pace. These businesses are pledging to make a donation every year, but if they’re not careful, their donations can be seen as “greenwashing,” as in they’re only doing this for exposure.
How did you utilize your skills for your current job?
I used to write for a fashion magazine in Indonesia, so I ended up using my editorial experience to pursue my passion for peace-building. I utilized my branding and visualization skills (using pictures) to work on micro narratives and promote awareness. It’s easy for people to read about fashion and trends because it’s something fun and relatable. But when you’re talking about crisis in Sudan, many people are less likely to be interested because it’s not a happy topic to read about. That is why I believe promoting awareness through micro narratives is so important especially with everything that’s currently happening in the world.
What’s your plan for the future?
I would be interested in being involved in technical stuff, like policy-making. But in the not-for-profit sector, you do need decades of experience before you’re able to be involved in decision-making. That’s the challenge.
What advice do you have for youths interested in pursuing a career in the not-for-profit sector?
To be honest, working in the not-for-profit industry will be very challenging for fresh college graduates since people in the sector can be very ageist. It’s hard to move up the ladder when your experience is still limited. For example, in the private sector, you have a chance to be promoted as long as you perform well. For people our age interested in being involved in the not-for-profit sector in the future, you can always apply for consultancy jobs, where you determine your own rate based on the project and it’s more flexible (in terms of hours). But for permanent positions in NGOs, you need to be prepared for a lot of bureaucracy.
Any last advice for youths?
Tailor what you have and use that to your advantage. Determine your best, or your “niche,” quality and focus solely on that. Don’t compare yourself to others. For example, I use my experience as a writer and convert it to storytelling for my current job. Since I did have some experience in the private sector, I told [my employer] this is not how you do it to appeal to the younger generation. I was honest, and told them exactly what I have to offer, why I was different.
There’s only one you, so don’t focus on what the other 500 other candidates have, but focus on what you have to offer for the position.
Learn more about Hillary Bakrie here: