Cynthia follows her dream career to New York

Mon 9 January 2017

Cynthia Lokanata attends the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the UN headquarters in New York in June 2016.

Caption: Cynthia Lokanata attends the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the UN headquarters in New York in June 2016.

Originally from Perth, Cynthia Lokanata (née Sasongko) is following her dream career developing disability policy on a world scale. 

In June this year, she attended the Ninth session of the Conference of States Parties (COSP9) to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York.

Three years ago, she was studying a Bachelor of Social Science at Curtin University, Western Australia. She applied for the Australian Network on Disability (AND)’s Stepping Into™ internship program and was successful in securing a role with the Australian Government Department of Education and Training. You can read more on Cynthia’s internship experience on the AND website.

“I worked on a data project of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early education in WA,” said Cynthia. “It was my first real-life assignment out of university and it was going to have real impact,” she added.

The internship led to a job offer as an Executive Assistant. “As an EA, I was able to develop my knowledge and skills within the Australian Public Service (APS) environment. The role consists of a variety of tasks based around the department’s business needs. It was also a great stepping stone into other roles in the APS,” she said.

During that time Cynthia took part in AND’s Positive Action towards Career Engagement (PACE) mentoring program. She was paired with a mentor from Commonwealth Bank. “She helped me to focus on my future career and look for policy roles in Perth but also in other cities like Sydney and Canberra,” she said.

With most policy roles being based in Canberra, one of Cynthia’s biggest challenges was learning how to manage her disability away from her home town.

“Depending on the day and my physical condition, I either use a prosthetic leg, mobility scooter or crutches to get around. Being able to sort out my medical needs in a different place was a challenge,” said Cynthia. “My mentor took me step by step through the process and gave me the confidence I needed to leave home if any job opportunities arise in the East coast,” she added.

In mid-2014, Cynthia moved to Sydney to take up a role with AND as a program coordinator for the Stepping Into and PACE programs.

“Having been through the internship and the mentoring program myself, I was able to ease into the role quickly and develop a rapport with the students and with my colleagues,” she said.

After six months she found out she was successful in securing one of 50 graduate positions in the Department of Social Services in Canberra.

“My first graduate rotation was in a policy role, working with the National Disability Strategy team. Then I moved to another policy role with the Disability Employment Taskforce. Each rotation is 5 months and the program concluded in December 2015.”

Cynthia then started in full time employment with the Department of Social Services and has since moved to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), to work on Disability-Inclusive Development in the Australian Aid program. In June 2016, she was part of the Australian Government delegation at the COSP9 CRPD at the UN Headquarters, New York.

“It was an eye opening experience to see first-hand how the UN works and how Australia contributes. For me the highlight was to see the active participation of civil societies, people with disabilities and their representative organisations. It was such a privilege to be a part of it. It has helped shape my views on human rights and realise how lucky we are in Australia,” said Cynthia.

Back on home soil, Cynthia is getting up to speed with her role at DFAT, where she is a Policy and Program Officer. Supporting her team to run day to day through the implementation of the disability-inclusive development strategy in Australia’s aid program.

“My goal is to make a positive contribution to disability policy either on an international or a domestic level,” she said.

“The Australian Network on Disability has been a vital part of my career and I know that their work is life-changing for university graduates with disabilities. It is character building and empowering and has set me up for where I need to go,” she said.

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