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Communications: Fembiarta Binar Putra

When Fembiarta Binar Putra first agreed to join APRIL in 2013, he had little idea where the journey would take him. Working in two different cities, attending conferences around the region, and speaking in front of audiences of thousands – it’s all in a day’s work at one of Indonesia’s largest pulp and paper companies.

Fembiarta studied international relations at the Gadjah Mada University of Yogyakarta, helped by a scholarship from Tanoto Foundation. “But my passion was always for corporate communications,” he says.

Fembi is part of the corporate communications team at APRIL Group

In 2013 he attended a recruitment fair held by Tanoto Foundation at his university. There were no corporate communications positions available but, undeterred, he asked HR if something might be possible. He was put in touch with the head of corporate communications at APRIL subsidiary RAPP and, less than a month later, he had a job offer.

But there was just one catch: the role was based in Pangkalan Kerinci in Sumatra, several hours by plane from his hometown of Semarang. “I asked if there were any other positions in Jakarta but I was told there weren’t, so I googled Kerinci. It seemed small but I wanted to challenge myself and knew it would be a good learning experience.

“When I first got there I realized it had a different culture, different food, different attitudes – everything was different. I thought if I could survive the first three months then I would make it, but I actually spent more than three years there.”

“The team really made me feel welcome. They knew I was from Java and that I was a fresh graduate so they really made an effort to help me settle in.” He also took advantage of the many sports facilities at the RAPP complex, regularly swimming and socializing with colleagues.

For the first three months Fembiarta was placed at the APRIL Learning Institute, an in-house training centre where he learned all about the pulp and paper industry. “It was a great experience and really taught me a lot. I studied politics, so I needed to learn a lot about industry.”

Finally getting to work in corporate communications was a professional dream come true, but it was in Kerinci that Fembiarta also got the opportunity to develop his other passion. “My hobby is talking,” he laughs.

“I’ve always enjoyed public speaking and Kerinci has a branch of Toastmasters, so I joined. Whenever I could I volunteered to MC at events.”

Although he started out small he was gradually invited to speak at bigger and bigger events before the highlight of his public speaking career: acting as MC for an event in both English and Indonesian in front of a large proportion of the entire staff of the Kerinci complex. That’s more than 1,000 people, with the company’s senior management looking on.

“I was so nervous my hands were shaking, but I thought ‘the show must go on’,” he says. “Looking back I’m so proud that they trusted me to do that at the age of 25.”

Another challenge soon beckoned when Fembiarta decided he wanted to further his education by studying a Master of Communication at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. The company was happy to support him, and arranged for him to transfer to the Jakarta office in 2017. In September 2018 he embarked on a two-year Master’s degree, attending evening classes after work, four days a week.

Fembiarta points to one main reason for spending the first five years of his working life with the company: the support he has received to further his skills and knowledge.

“In my first year I saw conferences I wanted to attend in Thailand, and then in Vietnam. I had only just joined the company so wasn’t yet entitled to annual leave, but I thought there were real benefits to attending. I asked my supervisor and he agreed to send me right away.

“I’m really lucky to have that level of support and flexibility.”

Further support was extended when Fembiarta won the regional finals of Duta Bahasa (literally Language Ambassador), a national competition that sends young adults into schools to encourage pupils to speak better Indonesian and English. Fembiarta was through to the national finals, but problems in Kerinci meant his flight to Jakarta was cancelled and he faced missing the competition.

The company arranged transport to Padang, several hours’ drive away, so that he could catch a different flight and still make the tournament. “Sadly I didn’t win,” he says. “But that level of support really meant a lot to me. I want to develop myself and my skills, and the company really supports me in doing so.”