Prashant Murthy: “There's a lot of opportunity in Indonesia, and it’s been a great professional and personal experience”
Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance
After studying at the University of New South Wales and working as an Associate Operations Officer at the International Finance Corporation in Sydney, Prashant Murthy was tapped on the shoulder and asked to move to the IFC’s Jakarta office. Having now lived there for two years, Murthy has considerable insight into living as an Australian expat in Indonesia. Over a recent catch-up, Prashant spoke to Advance about how Jakarta has become a more progressive society, industries that are lucrative for Australians considering making the move, and what his role involves working at the World Bank Group.
Could you give me a quick overview about how your journey to Jakarta transpired?
I work for the World Bank Group, which is a multilateral development organisation focusing on eradicating extreme poverty throughout the world through finance. I worked with the World Bank Group in their Sydney office and then two years ago my boss suggested that I move to Indonesia. From a career perspective it was a big leap, going from a population of 10 million across the Pacific to a population of 270 million.
Why Jakarta? Does the World Bank have many outposts around the world?
The World Bank is like the UN in the sense that it's owned by all the countries of the world, but it differs in nuances in voting rights and things like that. For example, the US has a higher voting percentage than some of the other countries. We don't touch the high-income G20 countries, such as Australia, United States, Canada, and so forth, our focus is on developing countries. Indonesia was a natural fit because from a work organisation perspective it is a hub for both Indonesia and the Pacific.
You’ve been living there for two years. Have you noticed many changes in Jakarta in that time? Has it become a more progressive society?
Yeah definitely. You can get really confused in Jakarta because some areas are like expat bubbles. You could be anywhere in the world; the buildings are first-rate, there's a lot of top class restaurants and really good bars, and there's a decent nightlife. You realise you're in Indonesia and not in Australia when you go into the next suburb, and you see that there's much more poverty. The alleyways are much narrower, they've got many more people on the streets.
Is there a big Australian community there?
Yes, for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest embassies outside of Australia is in Jakarta, and it’s one of our closest trading neighbours. They still put a lot of resources here because of the bilateral trade. Traditionally, Indonesia used to have a large resources sector base; a lot of mines and gas, and because Australia has a lot of that as well, there was a lot of knowledge and technology transfer.
In terms of expats, there are definitely a lot of Australians, and a mix at that. You’ll see young development professionals, who are out trying to do something different. You’ll get the very grass root expats, and expats who are working for NGOs. You’ll also see the older generation who might have been here for 20, 30 years, who came here for whatever reason and just never left.
Do you plan on going back to Australia? What's your timeline in Jakarta?
There's a lot of opportunity in Indonesia, and it’s been a great professional and personal experience. I think by hanging out with a lot of expats it becomes a very transient life, and a lot of friends you build a relationship with tend to leave at some point. I think in that way I probably want to do a few more years somewhere else in a developing country before possibly I go back to Australia.
What are the most lucrative industries for Australians making the move over?
Definitely oil and gas and the mining sector. That's where you get a lot of the Australian engineers, a lot of the mining experts who tend to come through here to do their business.
You started at NAB in Australia before moving on to the World Bank. What were the biggest differences you experienced going between those two organisations?
I think it's development more than anything. NAB is obviously a private sector entity, just straightforward, very profit orientated. It's much more decentralised in terms of decision-making. In IFC, because it's a multilateral organisation owned by all the governments of the world it is quite public in some of its policies. So in terms of getting decisions made and moving things forward, you'll always need to get consensus, you always need to get so many different approvals.
Do you partake in a lot of social impact initiatives at the World Bank, or is it that's just more the overarching goal that you're all working towards?
In any project I do, I get measured on an economic objective, in the sense of how much profit can I make, but I'm also measured on the social impact of the project. If we lend to a hospital, for example, I will be measured on how many more people are going to get access to healthcare because our funds have been used to build the new wing of that hospital.
If we're going to fund a renewable energy project, for example, we have to make sure that the project is viable. We're not a grant-making organisation so that project has to be able to pay us back. We need to know how many greenhouse gas emissions it's going to save, how many people are going to get access to that electricity and how that has an overarching impact on those communities. The added bonus is that it's clean so then we're also saving the environment. We'd document, measure and track all these sorts of metrics throughout the life of a project, whereas at NAB, for example, a lot of these metrics would be nice to have but don't need to be measured. All I need to measure is that that renewable energy project is paying me back on time and at the rate I required it to pay me back at.
Do you think there are any misconceptions about living in Jakarta or Indonesia as a society?
I think there are; Indonesia is a Muslim majority country and so that immediately shapes the way some people see it. Jakarta especially is very moderate, in terms of what people wear, the empowerment of women, the ability to walk around in the street without having to worry about anything happening to you etc, it's very safe. In that sort of sense, I think there is definitely a misconception about what Indonesians are like in general. A lot of the people are probably going to be less exposed than your average Australian, but the locals have done remarkable things and really created a lot of everlasting impact in Indonesia. There are projects and businesses that would be viable in any first world country in terms of innovation, research and design.
Do you have any recommendations for Australians visiting or thinking about moving over to Jakarta?
I think a lot of it you learn by doing. I've lived in a few different countries so I think an adaptive personality is always very useful. Work hard to build networks, and once you do that I think you end up in a nice little space. It's really important to engage in face to face interaction as opposed to just looking online.
For Jakarta specifically, I think a lot of it is patience. Traffic is an absolute nightmare, there is a language barrier, sometimes it can be pretty frustrating. Indonesians are lovely people, very polite and well-meaning, so I think it's just about embracing the differences.