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International Relations

From Wall Street to Dili

UNDP director finds her work in Timor-Leste rewarding

Mikiko Tanaka Mikiko Tanaka

DILI – Sixteen years after joining the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Timor-Leste Country Director Mikiko Tanaka calls her latest assignment her most “gratifying” one yet.

From her office in Dili, Tanaka is the point person for all things UNDP-related in Timor-Leste. She oversees the many programs taking place to help further develop Timor-Leste.

“It is very satisfying to work in Timor-Leste because you can see the progress,” Tanaka said. “There are some countries where it can be frustrating to work in development, but that is not the case in Timor-Leste. This is one of the countries where you can actually see the changes.”

The UNDP in Timor-Leste

The UNDP has been involved in Timor-Leste since December 1999, working primarily on rehabilitation and reconstruction. After Timor-Leste became an independent nation in 2002, the UNDP expanded its programs to focus on post-conflict recovery and sustainable development. The UNDP has also worked hard to partner with state institutions on action plans and coordinating efforts.

“There are some countries where it can be frustrating to work in development, but that is not the case in Timor-Leste. This is one of the countries where you can actually see the changes.” Mikiko Tanaka Timor-Leste Country Director, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

In the time that Tanaka has lived in Dili, she has seen positive changes: People are finding work, and economic activity is picking up. She used the example of judicial development to demonstrate the progress made. The UNDP has worked to develop the legal sector and has trained dozens of judges since it was launched in 2003. President José Ramos-Horta praised Tanaka and the UNDP for its work.

The success of the UNDP in Timor-Leste is a testimony to Tanaka&srquo;s unique skills. Prior to joining the United Nations, she worked as an investment banker. She pivoted from the private sector to the UNDP in 1995 to serve the public and did stints in Pakistan, Benin, Laos and China.

Tanaka said Timor-Leste is different from other countries where she has worked because the country has a fresh perspective, and is, “still in the trajectory of really being in the first cycle of development.”

Forging Partnerships With Other Nations

Other countries are also excited about the progress of Timor-Leste. Since Tanaka joined the mission in Timor-Leste, she has coordinated with different country governments, including Norway, Singapore and Japan. For example, the Norwegian government pledged monetary support to help support Timor-Leste&srquo;s legislative processes. Japan recently signed an agreement with the UNDP to help support the upcoming elections in 2012.

“Japan is delighted to support Timor-Leste&srquo;s democratic processes in Asia&srquo;s youngest nation,” Ambassador Iwao Kitahara said in a statement. “Our contribution will help to ensure free and fair elections.”

Tanaka said that challenges remain, especially regarding the development of the rural areas of Timor-Leste, but she remains optimistic.

“There is a real lesson of humanity that moves you as well,” Tanaka said. “It&srquo;s a really special experience.”

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