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Michelle wanted to change her home country of Indonesia for the better, so she became a consultant.

I started as a business analyst in Indonesia in 2016. Now I’m a senior business analyst, and in between, I worked seven months as a fellow at McKinsey.org, an independent nonprofit founded by McKinsey. It focuses on alleviating social challenges and developing structural solutions. I worked on solid waste management. We partnered with stakeholders, including consumer goods manufacturers, waste processors, regional and national governments, and local village enterprises.

It’s a big deal

That cross-collaboration was special. Most people know about marine plastics and overcrowded landfills. What is less obvious is the reason so little waste is recycled and processed; much of it is because the volatility of the recyclables market, due to unreliable demand and poor supply quality. This vicious cycle is a huge part of the problem, so we’re trying to tackle it with our partnerships with private players.

Through this work, we empowered communities. I worked with waste pickers each day, who work in terrible conditions. I’m so happy I made their living conditions a little better. I talked to a lot of village leaders in Indonesia who really care about the waste problem. We co-created solutions that enable them to achieve their vision for being zero waste.

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Helping at home

I’ve always been interested in solving social challenges. I’m originally from Indonesia, and went to undergrad in the US. While in college, I built toilets for people in rural America, water filtration systems for people in South America, and housing foundations for a tribal community in India. As I did this work, I remembered how many complex challenges need to be addressed in Indonesia. I felt a strong calling to do what I could for my own country. When I started my professional careerwith McKinsey, I went home.

From engineer to consultant

I hadn’t planned to be a consultant. I wanted to be a platform engineer, drilling oil rigs in the middle of oceans. During my last year of college, I participated in a program called Projects with Underserved Communities. We designed and constructed housing structures for marginalized communities around the world. I went to India to build the foundations for a tribal community.

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In the evenings, my colleagues and I played with the children. One day, I asked the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. In response to this very common question, only three of the 50 kids could articulate an ambition, and those three wanted to be teachers. My translator told me, ”They all want to be teachers because that’s the only profession they’ve ever seen. Their parents don’t have jobs.“

That was a wakeup call for me. Being a teacher is a great profession -- but it hurt to know these children had never seen anything else, and thus were unable to see themselves as anything else. I realized it takes more than physical infrastructure to improve people’s lives. That’s what brought me to consulting.

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