Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORYMarch 7, 2023

Arianne Kassman, Papua New Guinea: Passionate, Contemplative, Observant

Arianne Kassman

World Bank, 2023

Each year for International Women’s Day, the World Bank meets women across East Asia Pacific who are challenging, creating, and leading the way in their fields. 

Arianne Kassman was appointed CEO of Transparency International PNG in 2017. No stranger to anti-corruption work, Arianne has been involved in advocacy for fighting corruption since her teens. As one of a cohort of PNG women leading civil society organizations, she is working with allies, building momentum towards a transparent future for her country. 

What inspired you to work in civil society and the field of anti-corruption?

It started for me back in high school. I was a member of a group called the Youth Against Corruption Association. Our patron was Father John Glynn, an old Irish priest. What drew me to it was a speech he gave at one of our assemblies, speaking about every day in the classroom; you put a pen on your table, turn around for a few seconds, and your pen is gone. When you ask everyone around you, no one says anything. 

When we allow corruption to occur, it starts as small as that. If we are a society that does not say anything when something terrible happens, it becomes part of who we are. That story stuck with me, even though it was almost 20 years ago. I realized that if I didn't make a personal commitment, I wouldn't practice corruption and that if I tolerate attitudes or behaviors that allow corruption to occur, I'm part of the problem.

This year’s UN theme for International Women’s Day is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.’ How can digital technology and innovation deliver greater gender equality?

Nowadays, technology has advanced so much; there's unlimited access to information. Young people have information coming from all directions, and you need help to tell what's true. Things have advanced at a much faster rate than ever before. For youth, it's about ensuring these spaces are safe and free from abuse. It's also about ensuring that these spaces are accessible to everyone, no matter what. 

We all have a responsibility to ensure that we're sharing, as much as possible, with young women, especially about what they can do if they're faced with any of these issues. We must make it clear that unacceptable behavior should not be tolerated. I know that, personally, that's hard to do in Papua New Guinea, where many women get shut down on social media. It will be a very long time before we can advance. Still, if you're in a position where you can influence these things, you must use your voice to speak; you use the platforms you've been given to ensure that everyone, especially women, is treated safely and respectfully online. 

Throughout your career, how have you seen equality evolve in your field?

Over the years, it's become evident that many more women are in PNG leading civil society or non-government organizations. And not just women but Papua New Guinean women. That's something that I'm proud of. If I face a challenge, it might be a simple issue like staffing, funding, or interacting with this particular minister or organization. Reaching out to other women in similar positions has helped my journey. Women like Jacqui Joseph, who leads Equal Playing Field, Serena Sasingian, who’s the head of Digicel Foundation, we have Maliwai Sasingian, who's the head of The Voice Inc, a youth organization. There's Ruth Kissam Tindiwi, who all of us absolutely adore because of all the work she's done in the space of sorcery accusations and accusation-related violence, and she's the president of the Advancing PNG Women Leaders Network. It’s something that I want to see grow - a lot of spaces where women can thrive and lead.

What were some of the challenges you faced as a leader, and what did you learn from them?

One of the most important lessons I've learned from the 24 years of lobbying for an anti-corruption commission in PNG is that anything good for the country and will improve people's lives takes time. It requires very consistent conversations. If I know that something is important, I have a responsibility to ensure that the conversation is kept relevant, that it is kept alive and kept going.

Criticism for the fact that just because I'm young and in this role has been a challenge. It’s not easy to be young and in an organization that has to interact with other people that have been there for longer. I’ve really I've learned that you have to decide where you want your energy. Do you get frustrated over these things, or do you use them as opportunities to learn and grow? 

To build a team to where we want the organization to go, we have to look at like-minded people who share those same aspirations, are driven by the same mission, and stay focused on why we're here. We want what's best for our country. Despite everything, we are proud to be Papua New Guinean, and we have to do everything we can to protect our country and our people. 

What are some memorable projects or mentors you've encountered in your career?

In terms of strong mentors, the founder of Transparency International as a chapter in PNG, Sir Anthony Siaguru passed away a long time ago, but his writings are what I rely on. When I feel overwhelmed by what's happening and the status of things in the country, his writings help me to think things through, and serve as a guide for me. 

What do you think needs to be done to ensure more women are in leadership roles?

Reflecting on the National general elections last year, the question is how to improve electoral outcomes for women in Papua New Guinea. In the previous parliament, we had no women, and for this term, we have two women in parliament. You need more than this when you look at the total being 118. To improve the electoral outcomes for women in PNG, we have to make sure that there's a level playing field, not just saying that they're free, fair, and safe, but making a conscious effort to put in all the guidelines, practices, procedures to ensure that elections are free, fair and safe. 

What we saw in this election is that we've gone beyond buying votes. We are now looking at, ‘Who do we need to pay off to get the results we want?’ That's an even bigger challenge. We are committed as an organization to looking at the electoral reforms and pushing for many changes to ensure this does not happen again. It was an absolute failure for people not to be able to exercise their right their democratic right to be able to stand and get the votes that they could have gotten, and for people - especially women - to not be able even to cast their votes during the elections. 

A lot of times, we talk about the word empowerment. An empowered woman: what does that mean? For me, it has always been simple; you're giving an individual the power to act. Power, for me, is strength. Giving my strength to others empowers them to be their person and leader in their own right. Everyone brings something different to the table. Women are different as well. Together, we all contribute in various ways to build a stronger PNG. 

What advice would you give Pacific women still studying or early in their careers?

I attribute many of my achievements to this Japanese philosophy called Kaizen, which is about continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is not just trying to be perfect at everything but just small changes that will help improve what I'm currently doing. This requires an honest conversation about where you are and where you'd like to be — then thinking about minimal steps you can take to get there. The pace at which you accept change is important because it helps you identify when you should make that next step or whether to hold off on it. An important feature of this practice has been the ability to self-reflect. 

You have to surround yourself with people supporting your growth. And most of all, learning to love yourself by protecting your energy. Protecting my energy has always been about safeguarding myself mentally and emotionally so that I can do things at my own pace and remain motivated with what I'm doing. If you're in the best place, it's where you love yourself, and you're comfortable with who you are and where you are in the moment. It's so important that you look after yourself first. And then you can do what you love and what you're passionate about because you know who you are and stay true to your authentic self.

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


    loader image


    loader image