Catching up with Jakarta-based Thomas Brown: 2016 Advance Mentee


Celebrating all things Jakarta throughout the month of October, Advance caught up with Thomas Brown, a 2016 Advance Global Australian Mentee who is working as a Research Analyst at the World Bank Group in Jakarta, Indonesia. 

Thomas has been working with refugees in Indonesia for more than two years, ever since he conducted ethnographic research on the way that Afghan refugees self-organise to get around barriers to health and education services they face while in transit in Indonesia. He has published Op-Eds on this topic for the Lowy InstituteThe ConversationJakarta Post and the Development Policy Centre, and published two peer-reviewed articles on the topic. 

Whilst conducting this research, Thomas started to work with a small group of young professionals who worked with refugees in various capacities for other organisations and found that the models were not serving refugees well. This was the beginning of Same Skies - a small NGO that seeks to empower refugees by supporting them to use their skills and experiences to help one another. Same Skies supports and builds the capacity of ‘refugee-led initiatives’ that mobilise the significant human capital of the refugee community, which so often goes untapped in international humanitarian efforts intended to assist refugees. The NGO has expanded from a small core team to some 40 people and now has registered operations in four countries. After two years working with Same Skies, Thomas has now become the Indonesian Board Director.

Thomas joined the World Bank in July 2016 as a Research Analyst, working in the Education and Social Development sections. This work has provided him with a wide range of experiences, from making policy recommendations to senior government officials and governors, to travelling across the archipelago to conduct primary research on the interaction between communities and service providers.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re currently doing in Indonesia? Why is it important?

I'm currently working as a Research Analyst at the World Bank, working across Education and Social Development Portfolios, am the Indonesian Board Director of Same Skies, an NGO that works to empower refugees living in transit across Southeast Asia, and am running the Jakarta Development Network (JDN), an initiative which aims to connect the brightest minds in Indonesia's development sector across disciplines and institutions.

World Bank Indonesia:

My team has been responding to the priorities of the Indonesian government, in particular around child stunting, by developing and implementing an early childhood education and development program which is training some 15,000 community educators from some of the most remote and underprivileged parts of the archipelago in better teaching practices. 

Same Skies:

Since 2014, we have successfully facilitated two refugee-led community centres in Indonesia. They provide regular education for refugee children, English and Bahasa classes for adults, a tailoring workshop, arts and crafts, sports, community-based health promotion, informal legal assistance and urgently needed social interaction. Together they have a social impact on a community of up to 2000 refugees who are unable to go to school or engage in employment whilst living in transit. We are now expanding our operations to Malaysia with a number of new projects, where we will continue to help refugees living in transit. 


Solving Indonesia’s biggest challenges requires cooperation across institutions and sectors of development, and JDN is making real progress towards this by fostering stronger people-to-people links. We believe these links will translate into increased synergy in the development space so that the limited resources available can be used in the most efficient and impactful way.

What are you currently working? What’s next?  

Things have been full steam ahead at the World Bank – I’ve been predominantly working on Early Childhood Education and Development initiatives which aim to increase cognitive development and reduce stunting in children under the age of six. Over the last six months I have spent a great deal of time in the field, in East Java, Sumatra, West Timor and Sumbawa conducting research on the needs of communities and how to improve service delivery in this sector. In regards to my work with Same Skies, I recently moved from the position of Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator to become the Indonesian Board Director. We are continuing our operations in Indonesia, and have recently expanded our operations with a number of projects in Malaysia. Jakarta Development Network has had a great year, with a rapidly growing network and events with high profile guest speakers attended by between 60-100 people each month. Next year we are looking to expand our operations further to keep up with increasing demand. 

How did the Advance Mentoring Program excel your career?

Being paired with Alison Thompson as a mentor has been immensely useful for both my professional and personal development. Alison has been a fantastic source of inspiration and perspective and has encouraged me to better define and work hard to achieve my goals. 

The McCarthy Mentoring program has added structure to our meetings and encouraged me to reflect on my goals, and ways to work towards them.

AsiaAdvanceJakarta, Mentee