It started with math
Practicality underlies many of Maricar’s life choices, but it has also led her to a path she truly enjoys, from helping draft a state of the nation address to processing and administering projects in India.
There is an uncommon honesty in Maricar Reyes-Barrogo, a project analyst from the South Asia Urban Development and Water Division (SAUW).
As she sits with her coffee cup in hand, she doesn’t shy away from sharing the straightforward and practical reasons that have led her to ADB nor the challenges she has faced since working here.
Previously a member of the Presidential Management Staff under the administration of former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, she switched to ADB in late 2008 because she wanted a better opportunity for herself and for her then budding family. So although there was a steep learning curve and numerous guidelines to digest, Macar – as she is known by most – relished the experience of being an operations assistant, juggling transport, energy, and other sector work in the Pacific Department (PARD).
The range suited her since her prior scope as presidential staff officer also dealt with researching, coordinating, and providing technical inputs for policies and projects of various sectors—including assisting in the preparation of the state of the nation address. This exposure, especially to infrastructure sectors, drove her to earn a diploma in urban and regional planning (an addition to her bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering). These experiences and choices eventually paved the way for her to fit in in her current division in 2011. Looking back, it has been a series of serendipitous events that all started from wanting a math-related course in college.
“ In ADB, you are 'learning things by doing,' and the challenge is you must learn all these things as fast as possible! ”
Why did you study agricultural engineering?
Macar: I was really interested in math-related subjects when I was in high school. So when it came to choosing a degree, since I was a University of the Philippines (UP) scholar, I wanted either accountancy in UP Diliman or math in UP Los Baños. Both were quota courses (courses with limited
slots – ed.). But I didn’t make the cut for both, so the registrar’s office made me pick from the non-quota courses such as agricultural economics, agricultural engineering and so on. I leaned towards agriculture since it was not a popular choice, and because I am interested in numbers and science, I went with agricultural engineering.
What kind of work does this entail?
Macar: I started out my career doing a lot of research and fieldwork. My very first job was a short stint for an office under the agriculture department, working with cooperatives and rice post-harvest since that was related to my thesis. I realized, though, that I wanted more of a research and development-related job in the university, before I eventually moved to my colorful stay with the Presidential Management Staff.
What made you transfer from academe to government?
Macar: At that time, a career in agricultural engineering was not yet very promising. Agricultural engineers call themselves “jack of all trades, master of none.” Without a solid experience to back me up, I had to explore other options. I just tried applying in the government and as it turned out, the one who interviewed me was also an agricultural engineer. So when I was hired some people thought I had a backer! As part of the technical arm of the Office of the President, we had to produce succinct reports, monitor directives, coordinate with other government agencies, and even prepare speeches.
Sounds like an exciting environment. Why pursue ADB and urban development?
Macar: Salary, benefits. But also, it was a dream job and I was already doing some development-related work in the Presidential Management Staff. I didn’t know anyone when I moved here but I had attended a few events in ADB before, such as Water for All week. I told myself I wanted to work here and be a part of something bigger. Urban development and water supply, on the other hand, have been my interest since I was in the government and that’s why I pursued urban and regional planning studies even before ADB. I guess this paved the way for me to be a member of ADB’s urban team in South Asia.
Almost 9 years here and counting, describe both your challenging and best moments.
Macar: At the beginning, I found it quite difficult and very different from the government because you do things mostly on your own. In ADB, you are “learning things by doing,” and the challenge is you must learn all these things as fast as possible! With the amount of work in your plate and the different personalities that you have to manage, I guess you really have to be determined if you want to build a career in ADB. I also think mentoring should be institutionalized especially for new staff to help them cope with all the things that they should learn and do here (policies, guidelines, systems, etc.).
This aside, the actual work, though challenging and demanding, is manageable. Now, having been involved in many projects, I can say I’m more confident in what I do, such as assisting in project processing and administration. And you just have to continue learning to improve your skills.
As for the best moments, personally it’s the relationships built, especially with local staff. The good relationships that we have with our peers and colleagues – be it local staff or international staff – helps a lot in terms of efficiency in the tasks we do. Professionally, to be part of a project that gets approved, such as big projects that you know will benefit a lot of people, like in India where most of the projects I support are. Also, in implementation, that feeling of satisfaction when you help move projects forward.