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FEATURE STORY March 5, 2021

Leading the Way in Marshall Islands: Malie Tarbwilin


For International Women’s Day 2021, we’re sitting down with women leaders across East Asia and the Pacific who are working towards a more equal future in a COVID-19 world. Meet them all. At age 25, Malie Tarbwilin is already the Assistant Secretary for the Division of International Development Assistance at the Republic of Marshall Islands’ Ministry of Finance. Malie’s love of family and desire to help her people gives her strength to work hard in the hope that she can one day be an inspiration to other young Marshallese girls. 

How did you end up working for the government in the Republic of the Marshall Islands ?

I was born and raised in the Marshall Islands until I was in third grade when we moved to the United States (US). I moved to Hilo, Hawaii – the Big Island – to further my education. It bothered me that I had to leave my home to get a better education, but it also really inspired to work hard and move back to give back to my community and people. I always had this dream to have a clear role that would contribute to the betterment of my country.

Under the Republic of Marshall Islands Scholarship program, I went on to Grand Canyon University in Arizona and obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Entrepreneurship, with a minor in Finance and Economics. Under the scholarship, for every two years that you study you have to work a year back in the Marshall Islands, and so I came home and very quickly got a job in the government as an Aid Coordinator with the Division of International Development Assistance at the Ministry of Finance.

Our division is the focal point for all our multi-lateral partners, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and we coordinate the meetings and ensure that our donor partners have met with all the relevant stakeholders, including local communities. The different line ministries ensure that projects are progressing, but any issues that we have within the portfolio, we're able to resolve it so that the projects can continue to implement.

How did you end up in your current role of Assistant Secretary at such a young age?

I was 22 and working as the Aid Coordinator when my boss stepped down from the role of Assistant Secretary. When she left, there really wasn't anybody else to pick up the work and I was first offered her role. I initially hesitated to accept it - it was one of the scariest things I had to face because I knew that the portfolio that sits within our office is millions of dollars. 

But I told myself, the worst that could happen is that I would fail; and even if I fail, I was going to learn something along the way. Fortunately, I had really great support from my colleagues. But, at a young age, my life became very different than that of my friends. I couldn't go out and have fun because I had work and it requires me to be on time and on task. But, sometimes, you have to make the sacrifice and take a look at the bigger picture. I’m doing what I'm doing because I want to be able to give back to my country and I want to be able to help my people.  

This year's IWD theme is 'Women in Leadership'. Is there a female leader that inspires you? 

The Chief Secretary of the National Disaster Management Office, Kino Kabua, inspires me a lot because she's so dedicated to her job. She knows the importance of her role as a public servant. Her commitment to serving her country inspires me. She's a woman, she's young and she holds a position that's really respected by our community and the government. Having someone like that to look up to, it gives me something to work towards. I want to grow as a person and develop as a leader so I too can be an inspiration to other young Marshallese girls.

A true leader really understands that they need to make decisions that benefits everybody, and helps your team grow. I think as long as you have that perspective, you are someone that people can trust, rely on, and be really effective. And of course, a true leader leads by example.

What advice would you give Pacific women in 2021? 

To always believe in yourself, work hard and be positive. Don't think that just because you're a woman, you can't do what you aspire to do. 

Finally, what do you miss most about Marshall Islands when you are away from home?

At home in the Marshall Islands, you're surrounded – your neighbors and your family are all around you. You wake up every day and everybody that you love you're surrounded by; they’re just right next door. When I was in the US, my nearest cousin was miles away. Of course, I also miss the good food, especially the fish. I personally think there's no better fish the ones here in the Marshall Islands.

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**The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.