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Meet Tammy in Australia

Our “ASI Game Changers” series introduces the people who make our work possible, and allows us to learn about what drives them in their quest to create lasting impact in some of the world’s most challenging, complex environments. In this edition, we speak to our colleague Tammy Theikdi, Senior Operations Manager in Australia.

  • Name: Tammy Theikdi
  • Role: Senior Operations Manager
  • Location: Sydney, Australia

What’s your big “why”? What’s the positive change/impact you and others in your field are trying to achieve, and what are some of the challenges you face whilst doing so? 

My parents had a huge influence on my big “why” – as to why I chose my career in international development. My parents lived under a repressive military regime in Myanmar for years. Although I was born there, I left Myanmar when I was 6 months old. I remember my parents talking about how they lived with fear daily – no freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, etc. They talked about how they struggled to give my brother and me the opportunity to get an education and maintain our rights to freedom of expression. Their stories of oppression shaped me. This led me to want to contribute to society, ultimately leading me to pursue a career in international development. Being in this industry, I love listening to others’ “why,” too. I love learning about their passion and the reasons behind their commitment to work. 

If you could write your own job title that best describes what you do here, what would it be? 

I have been given a myriad of titles from my peers ranging from “mentor”, and “good programme manager” to “process-Queen” and “therapist”. I guess I understand programme management well and what it takes to be an efficient and effective manager. For me, to manage a successful programme is to manage and lead a good team, understand the team dynamics, understand your client’s priority areas, management and communication styles, understand your individual team members and your career goals, and allow a safe space for honest feedback. When there is a problem, I also analyse the reasons behind the “what” and “why”. I take the time to think critically about the pros and cons, consult with my team, and remind myself to remain level-headed when providing solutions. 

What do you like about working in a global development company? 

I started with ASI in February 2018, and during these past 4.5 years, I have had the privilege of managing different programmes across different sectors (ranging from economic governance, public financial management, institutional strengthening, rural development, agriculture, eliminating violence against women), different countries (such as Afghanistan, Laos, Myanmar, Samoa, and Timor-Leste) and clients (DFAT, World Bank, and ADB). Working in a global company, you can learn about the different work ASI do and understand the industry better. You can connect with colleagues from different regions, learn much from key experts and advisers who work in this space, and share experiences and knowledge. Besides programme management, I also like being involved in different corporate initiatives and meeting and collaborating with like-minded colleagues with the same shared purpose and passion. 

What’s the most exciting thing happening in your project/at work right now? 

I was excited that TOMAK was granted a four-year extension with Phase 2 of the programme focusing more on an integrated approach – combining food security, nutrition, value chain development, and income generation aspects. Key outcomes and activity areas of the Phase 2 programme will be united under a coherent ‘food systems’ approach. The programme will have a greater emphasis on disability and youth inclusion and a focused approach to climate resilience, private sector development, and institutional strengthening with Government of Timor-Leste partners (including policy development and policy influence). TOMAK is the largest DFAT programme under ASI’s Asia-Pacific portfolio.  

I am also looking forward to my secondment to the Solomon Islands and working on a Australia Solomon Islands Partnership in Justice (ASIPJ) programme. ASIPJ programme is the third programme of Australian support to the Solomon Islands Government (SIG) justice sector. This programme will support Solomon Islands to deliver ongoing stability, security, resilience and prosperity. Concurrently, I am involved in two exciting and important corporate initiatives – Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Young Innovators Programme and Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Working Group. 

The SDG Young Innovators team and I have rolled out a new initiative last year. We are in the process of developing a Preferential Procurement Framework that helps our projects to take the first steps in breaking the chain of inequality, bringing “Social Value”, “Sustainability”, and “Efficiency”. It responds to our mandate as a B Corporation, delivering direct impact through our supply chain. In the past year, we had pilot tests in Pakistan and Timor-Leste. As a Programme Manager on TOMAK (Timor-Leste), the Operations Manager and I did a supply chain mapping exercise to gather information on our existing suppliers in Timor-Leste and learnt more about their business profiles, intrinsic values and impact. We have now identified two new suppliers – a company that recycles old and used IT equipment (in Timor-Leste, wastes often end up in landfills or the ocean), and another boutique hotel which donates a portion of its profits to lower socioeconomic background who needs education. I incorporated SDGs in the procurement process, going beyond the concept of value for money but also considering social and environmental impacts. I needed to formalise this process in our programme’s Operations Manual. 

In other corporate initiatives, the creation of ASI Australia Indigenous Engagement Strategy and Reconciliation Australia endorsing our first Reflect RAP, are significant milestones in ASI Asia Pacific’s diversity and inclusion journey. The Action Plan outlines our proposed activities and initiatives, also focusing on our commitment to gain a better understanding of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, rights and experiences; to build ongoing, meaningful relationships between the ASI community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and business; and to provide opportunities for equal participation. 

What movements or discussions inspire you generally right now? 

I was born in Myanmar during the pro-democracy uprising. Mum faced difficult circumstances when she went into labour with me. There was a curfew imposed by the military government, and citizens were not allowed to go out from 10 pm to 6 am. This meant she could not go to the hospital. Worse, there was a civil disobedience movement in retaliation for the military force happening outside, and we could hear riots, gunshots, and smell tear gas. Mum hid under the bed for 6 hours (in labour!) and ran to the hospital when the curfew was lifted. Ironically, I was born on Human Rights Day. Born under these unique circumstances, surviving them and listening to my parents’ stories, I developed an interest in human rights issues from a young age. My first job was at a human rights NGO established by José Ramos-Horta (current President of Timor Leste). I got to delve into different human rights and development issues through this organisation. 

What volunteering or passion projects do you do outside of work? 

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I undertook short-term volunteer opportunities overseas. I taught English to young school-aged children in Naples, Italy; Rabat and Casablanca in Morocco. I also took a human rights volunteer position at a local NGO in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on women empowerment in a workforce and greater youth participation engagement in an election; and attended human rights capacity building programme in Colombo, Sri Lanka where I had the opportunity to meet other human rights advocates from Asia-Pacific who were working on the rights of Indigenous peoples (in the context of economic development, issues of recognition of unique relationships to land, and of traditional knowledge systems), the rights of migrant workers (labour rights, anti-discrimination, occupational health and safety, adequate standard of living) and transitional justice and reconciliation (claiming human rights in authoritarian and repressive environments). 

I also love to journal and hope one day, I can combine these two passions of mine and create blogs or short stories about my past experiences and adventures. 

What’s a quality a game changer should have and what’s your ambition to be one? 

This is a thought-provoking question! I think to be a “game changer”, one must have a level of tolerance and emotional maturity, a level of understanding of the different contexts, cultures, and people (i.e: the office/environment you work in, the clients you manage, stakeholders you engage with, the programmes you manage etc.). As a Manager, I am faced with different facades of opportunities and challenges, being given a platform to collaborate with people from all walks of life and the opportunity to produce various ideas/outputs (whether it is on my programmes or corporate initiatives). I don’t take a game changer as a solo attribute or mission. I believe to be a true “game changer,” there’s always a team behind you with a shared purpose and goal. I believe teamwork inspires and instigates a real and positive change.  

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