An Hour with Ariana Alisjahbana

Ariana is an MBA candidate at University of California, Berkeley. Spreading the Diaspora spirit, Ariana was the first Indonesian working in the World Resources Institute in Washington DC and convinced the headquarters to open an office in Indonesia.


Halo Ariana, thanks for saving your time for Orang Jakarta. How’s life?

Life is good. I will start my internship at Google Singapore next week. Feeling excited to work on a new field which is far different from my last job.

What was your previous job?

I worked for 3 years at the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington DC, a global research organization on environment and development. I was a researcher on tropical forests. Indonesia has a lot of forest but we are destroying them at a record rate. It’s one of the main contributors to climate change. I wrote blogs, papers, and speak at conferences about the topic. I also led the establishment of WRI’s first office in Southeast Asia. Even though I was based in the U.S., I got to travel often to Indonesia to develop partnerships and build a strong team.

What made you change your careers?

I was involved in a big project at WRI, Global Forest Watch, which partnered with a lot of organizations including Google. I was honestly surprised by how much the media credits Google, even though many organizations contributed to the effort! That made me curious: what is it like to work for them? To do such a career transition, I needed an MBA…”

Orchard Road, 10 June 2015

That’s why you’re taking an MBA now. Isn’t it hard to get into Berkeley?

Haha…yes hard but possible. Coming from a research background, I had a non-traditional profile. I was rejected by a few universities in the first round. That shattered my confidence a bit. But I don’t give up easily for things like this so I applied to a few more and got into all of them in the second round. My boyfriend was very supportive. I’m lucky to be surrounded by optimists.

Wow..a hard work is always ended sweet. Can you share how you got the Google internship position?

I was interested at Google from the start and one of the best advice came from a Berkeley alumni who said “Get to know people and play to your strengths.” I know my background would be interesting to the Southeast Asian team so I applied to the MBA Internship opening in Singapore. I got referred by a current employee and went through two rounds of interview via Google Hangouts.

Google actually discloses in detail how it does interview in the book “Work Rules.” I read it and found it quite accurate. One of the interview was knowledge based (about social media & internet) and the other was more behavioral. After the interview process, they got back to me with an internship offer in about 2 weeks. I was excited because I’m switching industries but will still be focusing on the Southeast Asian market.

You are a Secretary General of Indonesian Diaspora Foundation in Washington DC, right? Can you tell what Diaspora is?

I’ve been involved in it for about two years. The Indonesian Diaspora Foundation (IDF) is an organization run by Indonesians living abroad (and in Indonesia) that focuses on humanitarian and education programs. There’s also the Indonesian Diaspora Network (IDN) that does political advocacy on behalf of Indonesians abroad. The two were established at the same time but legally separate.

Do you think Indonesians living abroad have to come back and work in Indonesia to be nationalistic?

Most Indonesians I’ve talked to think that if we work abroad or for a global company we are working for “foreign interests.” That is outdated. If more Indonesians work abroad or work for a global company, they can make decisions from the inside that benefit both Indonesia and the company. For example, at World Resources Institute there were only two Indonesians, my colleague Rauf and me.

Although Indonesia is an important country for our type of work, it was not a priority for senior management . Very few people know anything about Indonesia in the U.S., so our team brought Indonesia to senior management. We provided data and made a proposal for WRI to open its first office in Southeast Asia. Of course it was rejected at first! We didn’t give up and tried again a few months later.

We persuaded senior management one by one and after a change in our CEO — they approved of the proposal! We designed it so the office would be Indonesian-led, including an Indonesian managing director. Now we have three times the amount of money flowing into the country, approx. a team of ten, and a seat at the decision making table. We could not have done it as fast or as well had we not been inside the organization — and personally based in headquarters.

With all your achievements, have you ever felt desperate and incapable of doing something or being somebody you want?

Of course! I fail many times but I don’t let it stop me from trying again. Everyone in my family has done something useful for the country. I felt like I haven’t done anything in comparison and that motivates me.

What do you want to do or to be in the future?

I want Indonesia to reach its potential as a country — and be personally part of it. I don’t know what it will be yet, perhaps connecting the US and Indonesia, perhaps help develop the technology industry, perhaps through policy.

The last but not least, if you could give an advice to a large group of people, what would it be?

This is true for especially a large group of young Indonesians. Explore the world and have global ambitions! Don’t be afraid to face global or regional competition because we can win it. Indonesia doesn’t only need you at home but also abroad.

Ariana thank you for sharing such inspiring stories for Orang Jakarta. Good luck for your future career!