From Private Sector to Public Service

17 Nov 2016


Panji at MPA 10th Anniversary Panel Discussion, 3 September 2016

Panji Winanteya Ruky (MPA 2015)
Public Policy Advisor, Strategic Economic Affairs
Executive Office of the Republic of Indonesia

I was very fortunate to receive a good education in Indonesia and overseas. This led to a career in finance, where I spent 14 years working in multi-national companies like Citibank, Honeywell, and Visa International. I led a comfortable life but strangely, it was also unsettling. The rewards of a good performance, such as a higher salary, a bigger bonus, and a fancier title didn’t motivate me anymore. I felt my work had little to do with public interests, I also felt I hadn’t paid my dues for my fortunate life, and I was looking for something that energized me.

Pursuing my MPA at the LKY School gave me time to pause and rethink my career. I’ve done an MBA before but that was for a pragmatic reason: To get a better-paying job. With the MPA, I had the freedom and time to enjoy learning again. The programme not only gave me the basic skills to perform policy work, but also the knowledge to understand and deal with bureaucracy politics. Above all, it was the research skills that we used over and over again on class assignments that were immediately transferable to my current work.

It was around this time, in 2014, that Indonesia’s former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono completed his second term, and a businessman and politician from Solo (Central Java) named Joko Widodo was rising to the forefront of Indonesian politics. Widodo’s call for reforms struck a chord with me and I wanted to be a part of this massive effort to reshape the government.

Since 2015, I’ve taken a job as a policy advisor within the Executive Office of the President, Republic of Indonesia. My team provides advice to President Jokowi on economic issues and policies that require his decision or intervention. Our work primarily involves policy analysis; evaluating policies and designing policy reforms take up the bulk of our time. However, we are tasked to lead policy implementation from time to time. I am currently working on implementation of new food assistance program using electronic vouchers as opposed to distributing rice to the poor families. My boss is an economist with her heart in the right place. She wants to fight for the poor and we desperately want the government to implement smarter policies to alleviate poverty.

Prior to this, I hadn’t worked with bureaucrats before. So I had to learn on the job and make adjustments in a rush. The pace of the government’s decision making, especially with President Jokowi at the helm, is surprisingly fast. I’ve had to pick up what I call “bureaucrat speak,” or their “corporate lingo as well as the language used to avoid confrontation. I’ve tried to blend into the work culture, as I don’t want to be seen as an outsider who doesn’t know how the bureaucracy works. This has helped me to gain trust and build acceptance towards new ideas and critique.

The second thing I do more of now is to really think about stakeholders. In the corporate world, we look at impact to sales, costs, return on investments, customer satisfaction, compliance to regulations, our corporate values, and reputation. In the public sector, the list of stakeholders is far more extensive and our decisions impact the wider public. The stakes are always higher when politics and public funds are involved. Through stakeholder analysis, I can identify the winners and losers of a policy, which helps in devising implementation strategies.

One of my most fulfilling moments on the job to date occurred when I participated in a budgeting session at Bappenas, our Ministry of Development Planning. As a representative of the President’s Chief of Staff, my responsibility was to translate the President’s visions and instructions into the right programmes. But instead, I ended up coaching fellow bureaucrats to draft SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time bound) goals for their ministries. After the session ended, several senior bureaucrats came to me and thanked me. They said this was sorely needed to reform how the government works—it starts with better planning.

Another moment was when I heard from the grapevine that certain folks in the government had been saying untruthful things about me, questioning my motives. I was concerned about it, but at the same time I was glad because it meant the status quo has been challenged, and some interest groups probably have felt threatened. It means I am making a difference. So I say, bring them on!

Question and Answer

If you could wake up tomorrow with a new skill, what would it be?

I wish I had a mind-reading ability—it would make my job a lot easier! Seriously though, I want to be able to read people better, their body language, non-verbal cues or the unspoken words, in order to be a better communicator. This is beneficial especially working in Indonesia and Asia in general.

At the LKY School, which classes were most relevant to your current work?

When I see an issue to work on, I find myself returning to the concepts learned in Wu Xun’s Policy Analysis class, Ora and Zeger’s Public Management class, Prof Tikki’s Evidence-Based Policy class, and Prof Ashish’s Cluster Competitiveness class.

Any tips for students looking to switch from the private to public sector?

It is not easy for non-civil servants to find a good opportunity in the public sector. You might have to start from scratch and be ready to deal with the consequences, such as a much lower salary and less attractive benefits. Talk to as many people as you can, in the field that you choose. That helps you understand what skills are needed and what it takes to succeed in your new role. Networking also helps open doors to potential job opportunities. It’s all about transferable skills, and in hindsight, I would recommend building those skills over time in your current job and making the switch when you are more prepared. Once you’re in the new field, you have to be very adaptable. And never use the rationale that “this is how we do things in the private sector.”