This former senior research specialist wasted no time in working for development, and if there was ever any question about her propensity to help others, then her decision to become a full-time ADB staff is the answer—she did it for her family.
Making every second count
She could have been a lawyer. She could have been an economist. However Aimee Orbe took the path of development assistance.
The senior operations assistant for Southeast Asia Urban Development and Water division (SEUW) used to be an ADB consultant for the Independent Evaluation Department (IED). She was still studying her master’s degree in development economics at the University of the Philippines (UP), while working as a senior research specialist for Maersk Line Global Service Centre, when she saw the advertisement for the role of research assistant for one of IED’s thematic evaluation studies. When she landed the job in 2013, she left Maersk and worked with ADB since.
She said, “I have always wanted to do work for ADB, and it’s partly why I decided to pursue development economics as a course.”
In one year with IED, she learned a lot from her experience, getting an overview of the organization and portfolio of different regional departments due to the thematic study, she added. But, as the tasks waned and she could see her consultancy days coming to a close, she realized that she needed more stability than a six- or 12-month contract could provide. She was the breadwinner of the family after all.
She juggled interview upon interview with her work until, beyond the initial frustration that comes with any employment process, she was accepted as an operations assistant for the South Asia Urban Development and Water division (SAUW), working for project officers such as Tatiana Gallego-Lizón, Jingmin Huang, and Neeta Pokhrel. By 2016, she had transferred to SEUW, and now supports SEUW Director Vijay Padmanabhan.
Aimee studied political science for her bachelor’s degree, also in UP, and was a cum laude. Her initial plan was to become a lawyer. But because she “fancied economics” in university, her plan changed. “Sometimes,” she shared, “I think about what could have been… What if I pursued law or my initial plan to join ERD [the Economics and Research Department] as a consultant? But in the end, I feel like I’ve made the right choice.”
Her words may appear to have misgivings; however, her actions are all to the contrary. In the succeeding interview, her description of her daily schedule clearly shows how work is one of her top priorities. That’s a testament unlike any other.
“There are still a lot of things to do on building capacity, in terms of data collection and making this information public... I believe there’s power in information. Data, used the right way, can deliver powerful change.”
Senior Operations Assistant
Southeast Asia Urban Development and Water Division
Why did you make the switch from consultant to full-time staff?
Aimee: Before ADB I was employed full-time on a stable job. When I first joined ADB, I was engaged intermittently, although the project was heavy so I was reporting to the office almost everyday. However, during the later phase when there were not many inputs needed, I remember applying and interviewing for so many positions, both consultancy and regular staff that it became almost taxing.
Then I got accepted in South Asia, and all those other engagements I applied for started calling. I was offered a position at IED and ERD. At that time, I thought it was the most strategic decision to pursue a regular staff post.
Did it matter that the position was in urban development or it wasn’t part of the choice?
Aimee: Not really. I didn’t expect that the Bank would be so big. There are so many departments, and it just so happened that most of those that called me were in operations. Before I joined I already had several friends working here – classmates from my master’s mostly – and they said operations is challenging. It’s one of the busiest; but it’s where you grow. That’s really the core of the work in ADB and that’s what I’ve really wanted.
It took me some time to adjust with my new type of work, but I consider myself very lucky with both the teams I joined because I sense their confidence in the capacity of the assistants, mentoring and truly nurturing them towards the technical stream.
What’s a typical day like for you? What’s your work like?
Aimee: My day is usually planned the night before, every minute of it, to keep up with the demands of my work and so I can tick as many off my to-do list for the day. I’m usually in the office by 8:00 a.m. despite not being a morning person. I usually don’t have breakfast but coffee is mandatory. If time permits, I play badminton or I go to the gym. But during busy days, I am often glued to my computer with a few minutes spared for coffee!
Right now we have four projects for approval in SEUW: two in Cambodia and two in Lao PDR. Much of my work is focused on having those projects approved and also, since in the division they don’t want to limit the assistant to just doing processing work, they are also opening opportunities for assistants to administer projects. I am slowly learning from my project officers and hopefully can further contribute to my projects in Cambodia (Third Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project), Philippines, and Viet Nam (Wastewater Drainage for Ho Chi Minh City).
How do you feel now that you’ve accomplished what you set out to do, working for development?
Aimee: I’m very proud and all the more excited that I transferred to Southeast Asia. I know that South Asia is also a very challenging set of countries, but it’s still different when you get to do work for the Philippines. You feel more invested and involved. You can see the impact of what you do which makes work for ADB extra satisfying.
You’ve had four years with the urban sector. Is this something you’d like to continue or would you also be interested with other sectors and thematic areas?
Aimee: Urban is an interesting sector but it won’t hurt to try explore other sectors. For now, I’m still enjoying my stay with the urban team. I think there’s still a lot for me to learn in the sector. If ever I do try to move, I’m thinking more of a thematic area like gender, social safeguards, or climate change, but not alienated from urban since I’d like to weave the two, so it’s not an isolated focus. It would be a waste to disregard what I’ve started in urban. Although, the challenge with urban it’s very technical. Most of the people I work with are engineers. Sometimes when they discuss it’s completely abstract to me.
What has been a memorable moment for you in ADB?
Aimee: Top of my mind one of the most memorable was when I first went out of the country for a mission. I went to India for a two-week fact-finding mission for the Kolkata Environmental Improvement Investment Program.
A reason the mission was memorable was because we had a lively and active mission team… It wasn’t just work—I got to tour India and see different states, not just Delhi. The experience was immersive. It’s different when you see your work on paper versus when you see it in real life. You see how the project influences the life of the people that you’re supposed to assist. It’s always a nice feeling.
Given that your experience is largely on data collection and research, in your view how come data collection in developing Asia is a challenge? Is data not that valued? How can it be improved?
Aimee: I think that the information is there, but access to it can be challenging. There are still a lot of things to do on building capacity, in terms of data collection and making this information public, or probably also, maybe it’s not yet their focus since they’re still building infrastructure and they feel these are the more important things and data is secondary. But I think it’s one of the things that they should also focus on because I believe there’s power in information. Data, used the right way, can deliver powerful change.