Cipta Setiawan’s passion for humanitarian leadership took shape as a teenager in his homeland of Indonesia.

Initially manifesting through church, charity and community projects, then later via pro bono work in child protection and poverty reduction, the qualified psychologist and Griffith University alumnus has forged a career bringing sound strategies and positive outcomes to people, and in places, where these qualities are most needed.

This includes Cipta’s participation in the relief and reconstruction effort in the wake of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, his stint as Senior Human Resources Manager for Save the Children in Indonesia, and his humanitarian and development work in international conflict zones such as Afghanistan.

In fact, it was in Afghanistan that Cipta decided to pursue a Master of Communications through Griffith University.

Living quarters for Afghans in historic Badakhshan region of Afghanistan

Living quarters for Afghans in historic Badakhshan region of Afghanistan

From 2007-11, Cipta was based in Kabul as Human Resources Director for the Aga Khan Foundation, contributing to the nation’s efforts in improving its infrastructure, education, health, energy, civil and social sectors, including in parts of the country that were highly remote and had limited accessibility.

If this wasn’t demanding enough, the issue that Cipta found most frustrating was also the most ironic.

“I felt I needed to bolster my qualifications, particularly in communications,” says Cipta. “The irony was that I was trying to doing so in a country where communications were unreliable at the best of times and shut down completely at others.

“Downloading material for my Griffith degree could take hours because the electricity only operated for around four hours every other day. I could have used a generator, but the costs were prohibitive.

“I’m happy to say that persistence paid off. I received my Master of Communications in 2011 and was able to put the qualification to work in Afghanistan and elsewhere since.”

Cipta Setiawan negotiates a cliff-side passage beside the Amu River which separates Afghanistan and Tajikistan

Cipta Setiawan negotiates a cliff-side passage beside the Amu River which separates Afghanistan and Tajikistan

For more than 20 years, Cipta has worked with government and non-government groups to foster civil, social, business and humanitarian development, often leading direct engagement with communities affected by conflict and poverty.

Education has also been an important factor during Cipta’s varied career, most notably in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan where he served as the Human Resources Director for the University of Central Asia, the world’s first internationally chartered institution of higher education.

“The university was founded in 2000 and I was there for a year between 2011-12,” says Cipta. “As well as forming coherent management strategies and systems, my role was to mitigate institutional and operational risks across the diverse environments where the university operates — the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.”

From February 2013 to December 2015, Cipta was Jakarta-based Head of Human Resources for the Australian Government’s DFAT-funded Poverty Reduction Support Facility, providing technical and administrative support for the National Team for the Acceleration of Poverty Reduction (TNP2K).

Under the direct supervision of the Indonesian Vice President, TNP2K’s mandate is to promote coordination across ministries/agencies to improve the implementation of poverty reduction programs, improve living standards and reduce inequality.

While currently on sabbatical, Cipta is considering options for the next phase of his career.

“The passion that took hold of me when I was younger is still with me,” he says. “No matter the challenges — and there are many, especially in conflict zones and places where the need for development is widespread — that’s where help is most needed”.

“It’s in those places that I want, and need, to be.”