My Leadership Journey: Mira Zakaria

Leadership is probably not something that came natural to me. Back in Austria, I started off as a shy girl in primary, high school and still rather timid when I was in university. I was not sure of my own opinion – whether it was meaningful enough, whether it would be taken seriously, whether people would laugh about whatever I would ask. Confidence was not my forte. I was not loud or vocal, I was no natural leader – at least I was not believing I could be, and so I was a follower, or a person who probably would work in the background to orchestrate that things can go well. I also felt that not being an average Austrian, would make me feel have less of the right to lead.

Arriving in Indonesia after finishing school, I was amazed by the very vibrant and social culture, which encouraged me to join a youth and culture ambassador pageant, taking over roles and leading causes.

During my years of study, I discovered, what I’m strong at, is for causes that I believed in. I learnt to understand that with the skills set that I had, that set myself apart in the job market or I could become a bridge between cultures, between differences. Finding people with similar mindsets led me to Polyglot Indonesia. There is where I was entrusted with the role of the Executive Director to work with the founder in a form of co-creation and mentorship and to lead the strive of Polyglot Indonesia, a language and culture non-profit organisation, since 2013.

The enthusiasm grew, the demand for public involvement was very high. Within a few months only, I learnt to concept, to lead meetings and initiatives, to attend to media interviews and do public speaking, to delegate responsibilities, introducing an organisation structure and making it run, whilst we kept on growing chapters. And as we grew, I perceived the need to constantly learn more from others with more or complex leadership experiences.

Parallel to that at work I also started to manage my own team. I learnt by trial and error, that managing and leading is different but intertwined. Progressing into a senior position also meant to deliver and to manage resources, while juggling with all responsibilities that I had as a breadwinner for my family. 

Little did I know that other young and eager women in the region would have similar journeys and struggles, and that an insight into how women can be encouraged to lead. My eyes were opened when I received the opportunity to join the US-ASEAN Women Leadership Academy for YSEALI in 2018. I met over 30 outstanding and motivated women from all over ASEAN that brought across change so far and are eager to continue their strive. Through the academy, I also learnt what was essential for a leader to know: the self – our strengths, our goals and identifying effectively our needs, and when and to whom we should reach out. Most importantly, that it is our right to reach out. The five days academy had been very revealing and personal, maybe one of the most personal training I ever received, as we were also paired up with very competent mentors, with whom we could reach out to after the academy ended. I identified the bottlenecks of journey together with a mentor and got more clues to solve open issues during this time. 

This year, I was entrusted to return to the Women Leadership Academy. the role as aI was honoured to be given the privilege to become Country Lead Indonesia for the YSEALI WLA Alumni Network in 2019 and to design and stir the activities and discussions in country. Working with Indonesia alumni of five cohorts of this programme, I am focusing on amplifying on how young women can succeed towards leadership and how everyone, female and male are able to create a favourable environment to promote equality for all and diversity for progress in Indonesia.

Coming this far, I understand that I cannot stop learning at this point. With the aim of promoting that we can harness from cultural diversity, and especially to promote Indonesia’s diversity itself to the world, I continue my quest of defining the next steps of my journey – with the help of the YSEALI Mentorship Programme implemented by Wedu. I am looking forward to how far I can make my progress, to open doors and break ceilings, for others to continue their endeavours.  I truly thank YSEALI and Wedu for opening doors and supporting me so strongly in my journey.

About the writer

Mira Fitria Viennita Zakaria is Wedu’s programme participant, an alumni of 2018 USASEAN Women’s Leadership Academy (WLA) for YSEALI and the 2019 Country Lead Indonesia for WLA Alumni Network.

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