Jessica explores the big business of microfinance in Indonesia

By Ibrar Khan  Friday, 3 May 2019  @Business School
Then-Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop with Jessica Cong at New Colombo Plan Scholarship award ceremony in 2018.

Jessica Cong says working for local NGOs gives valuable insight into how the skills she is developing at university can be applied in unique real-world situations.

UNSW Business School actuary student Jessia Cong says working with microfinance-based NGOs in Indonesia is a transformative experience.

Ms Cong is the only UNSW Business student in the Development Studies Immersion Program with the Australian Consortium of In-Country Indonesia Studies (ACICIS) and says living in Indonesia has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

“I have been able to draw links between my experiences in Indonesia and development economics theories, the business acumen fostered at UNSW Sydney, and my experiences interning in the actuarial industry,” she says.

Ms Cong is in Indonesia on the New Colombo Plan (NCB) scholarship for nine months of language training, study and internships working in development economics, microfinance and start-ups.

“I arrived in Yogyakarta four months ago with no Indonesian language skills,” Ms Cong says.

“I now attend academic seminars and field visits to local NGOs operating in Yogyakarta. These have provided insight into a range of contemporary development issues in Indonesia such as renewable energy, gender issues, disaster risk reduction, gender and development, politics and governance and urban development.”


Jessica Cong (second from right) with a Development Studies Immersion Program disaster risk reduction case study visit to Dongkelsari Village, a permanent shelter after 2010 Mount Merapi eruption.

The experience has not always been straightforward. There have been character building moments, the UNSW student says.

“Every day presents a completely new challenge and one key lesson that I have learnt is to be flexible and adaptable to the situation at hand,” Ms Cong says.

“Communication is a key challenge and I am often reliant on Google Translate and an abundance of non-verbal communication and smiles. Language plays a powerful role in fostering a deeper two-way engagement and you can’t even begin to scratch the surface of a country as interesting as Indonesia without respect for the linguistic and cultural diversity.

“Studying and interning in a country with such a rich and diverse environment has allowed me to broaden my perspective and understand the complexities of cultural, religious and traditional values.”


The UNSW COMM3020 Jakarta Global Business Practicum at Borobudur Temple, the world's largest Buddhist temple.

The UNSW Business School student says she has always had an interest in microfinance and microinsurance because it provides support to individuals and families who would traditionally not be able to access formal financial institutions.

“As one of the fastest developing economies in South-East Asia, Indonesia is a pioneer and leader in the micro-investment, microfinance and microinsurance sector,” Ms Cong says.

“Microfinance and microinsurance has transformed altruism and philanthropy in the 21st century, and I believe that it will play an ongoing important role in facilitating long-term economic development in Indonesia. I am hoping to learn as much as I can about financial empowerment and development principles throughout my time in Indonesia.”

She says her initial interest in actuarial studies was kindled by learning about the non-traditional application of actuarial skills to transform social policy and improvie the outcomes for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

According to Ms Cong, studying at UNSW Sydney has opened up many opportunities.

“I’ve had the opportunity to balance my academic studies alongside practical industry experience and professional skills development with 15 months of full-time internships across three leading organisations in the actuarial industry through the Co-op Program,” she said.


Jessica Cong at Taman Sari in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

“I enjoy getting involved with volunteering and mentoring programs, pro-bono consulting with Global Consulting Group and Model UN conferences. I completed a semester-long exchange to Pennsylvania State University in the US and I am currently on my second exchange to the Universitas Gadjah Mada in Indonesia.”

Ms Cong says she would encourage other UNSW Sydney students to apply for the New Colombo Plan scholarship or mobility grant program to study in the Indo-Pacific region.

“It is a fantastic opportunity to learn, challenge yourself, build cross-cultural relationships and be part of a global community of young leaders,” she says.

“The strong partnerships and links with industry leaders are what set UNSW Business School apart. There are so many great opportunities that the school offers for students to take the initiative to get involved – from business case competitions to mentoring programs to social entrepreneurship opportunities to global short-term courses.”


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