The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a multilateral development bank that aims to improve economic and social outcomes in Asia. As a part of Impactpool's women empowerment campaign, we got a unique opportunity to catch up with Laurel Ostfield, the Director-General, Communications at AIIB.
Photo: Laurel Ostfield
"I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. I completed my B.A. in East Asian Studies at McGill University. Montreal is also where I started my career in communications and where I learned the power of networking. I volunteered at the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival for one week, and there I met someone who was going to start a new job working at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in corporate communications after the festival. She had an opening for a communications assistant and offered me the job. It’s what got my foot in the door and my first real experience in communications. I eventually moved back to Toronto where I worked in communications in government, healthcare, and then financial services, before moving to Beijing to take up my current post as the Director-General, Communications at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank."
Why and how did you end up working at a unique Development bank such as the AIIB?
I owe it to the power of networking. I had reached out to someone in my network I only knew casually through friends to go for coffee because I was exploring career options. In advance of the meeting, I had sent him my resume. Out of nowhere, he asked me if I had heard of this new development bank based in China. Although he did not have a lot of details about the bank, he knew the opportunity was once in a lifetime and he thought my background in financial services and an undergraduate degree in East Asian Studies could make me a good fit. The rest is history.
What is it that you do in your role? Can you describe a typical work week?
I lead the communications department, which is responsible for our brand, media relations, internal communications, digital channels, public disclosure and civil society engagement. I spend a lot of my time providing counsel to the President and Executive Committee on all matters related to promoting and protecting AIIB’s reputation all over the world. I also coach my team to deliver the programs and campaigns that increase awareness and understanding of the work AIIB does in Asia.
What do you believe is the most important skill(s) needed for a career in international development?
Awareness of your privilege to have this career. It will help keep you grounded and focused on the most important aspect of the work you will do – the positive impact it can have on people in developing countries.
What's different in working for AIIB/a development bank, as opposed to a Communications role in the private sector?
A key difference is you are spending public money when you work at AIIB. This is taxpayers’ money from all of our full members, and there is a responsibility and accountability that goes with that. Running any campaign should always have a strong business case and justification, but this dynamic adds an extra layer of consideration.
We know that many in our audience would like to hear some advice on how to get a job with the AIIB, Do you have any good tips to share?
I asked our President the same question during our Annual Meeting and he said on the ground experience can make you stand out. It shows you truly understand the intricacies of development work. Also, don’t be shy to reach out to people who are working in your field at the development institution you are interested in. Social media makes it very easy to identify them. Not everyone will respond, but some will. It’s a great way to understand the culture of the organization, and maybe get your CV noticed by the right people.
What according to you is the most effective way to address gender equality in the workplace?
Women and their allies need to have the courage to speak up when they see inequalities in action. This can be hard and intimidating, but the issue with gender inequality is it is too easy for it to slip by without being challenged by those who know. Speaking up does not mean being confrontational. It means not sitting by silently when you see policies or procedures put in place that will sideline women from having opportunities.
What can be done at the country-level to ensure access to skills training for young women and girls
Awareness building among young women and girls of the opportunities available to them is sorely needed. Depending on the country, it may be hard to reach these women and girls, but this is where you need to be creative, go the extra mile and find the culturally appropriate message and channel to reach them.
What is your piece of advice for women aiming for the top?
It sounds cliché but you need to put yourself out there. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, let the decision-makers know you are there, that you are hungry, and you are ready to be stretched. Women have a tendency to sit and wait for opportunities to come to us. We need to be more proactive and advocate stronger for ourselves and the contributions we can make.
Do you have a personal habit or trait that has been critical for your success?
I learned the hard way that just being good at your job is not enough. You have to take the initiative and make sure your potential allies and decision-makers know what you have to offer.
What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?
Be kind to everyone - regardless of their seniority, power, level of authority, or influence.
This is good advice in your career and in life.
This article was a part of Impactpool's 2020 Striving Towards Gender Parity month-long campaign, supported by AIIB - curated to shed light on gender parity in the International Public Sector and empower women with career resources, job opportunities, and employee spotlights.
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is an Impactpool partner, you will find all career opportunities listed on the Impactpool job board.