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Irfan Surya Asgani, M.S. ’24

M.S. Degree a Conduit for Making Positive Change for Workers

Irfan Surya Asgani's journey toward an ILR Master of Science degree started in his teen years when he discovered a strength for bringing people together across cultural divides.

It would eventually help lead him to Cornell, but in 2008-2009, it bloomed in Winter Haven, Florida, where he was a YES Program exchange student.

 Irfan Asgani, MS ILR’24 at Winter Haven High School
Asgani visiting Winter Haven High School, where he spent a year as an exchange student through the YES Program in 2008-2009.

As one of only a few Muslims in the city of about 49,000 people, the 17-year-old from Indonesia entered a community where many saw his religion in the context of 9/11. Coming from Indonesia, the biggest Muslim country in the world, Asgani tried to bridge the understanding between the U.S. community and people who, like him, are from majority Muslim countries. He made and maintained friends, and has returned to Winter Haven for visits during his time in the ILR M.S. program

After studying international relations in Indonesia, Asgani worked in sales and marketing at Philip Morris International for two years and in human resources at Procter & Gamble for five years. HR is where he felt at home. “I knew that sales and marketing was more lucrative, but I believe my strength is understanding people and the important things they believe in.”

During Indonesia’s labor law reform, known as Omnibus Law Cipta Kerja, he helped his company safeguard workers by maintaining corporate policies that protect workers while minimizing changes that could reduce their severance pay. He spent more and more time working directly with workers. He became a bridge between management and labor and was promoted to a senior management position in labor relations.

Parallel to his career trajectory, Asgani noticed the shifting political landscape of labor relations. He saw that law reforms could negatively impact workers. Asgani said his conscience led him to a turning point in his career. He wanted to deepen his understanding of labor relations and explore how employees can work without being exploited. He turned toward research and started looking for labor relations programs to help him build on his industry experience.

"ILR's degrees came up at the top of my searches,” Asgani said “And the research from ILR's faculty showed me that there are not only experts in labor relations here, but also specialists in the global labor movement. Also, reputation is important, and Cornell's name and presence in the field would be helpful to my career."

Annika Bruno, MILR’24; Della Walters, MILR’24; Irfan Asgani, MS ILR’24; and Nelson Dragsbaek, MS ILR’24
Left to right: Annika Bruno, MILR ’24; Della Walters, MILR ’24; Irfan Asgani, MS ’24; and Nelson Dragsbaek, MS ’24.

ILR School faculty and research opportunities provided a high-level platform for studying the global labor movement, and Cornell's resources offered access to specialized interests. For example, the university's Southeast Asia Program has been helpful. It focuses on the region Asgani studied and provided funding opportunities, including travel grants that enabled him to conduct research in Indonesia. Additionally, summer internships facilitated by the M.S. program augmented his research.

"I saw this degree as a way to make a positive change," said Asgani, who graduated in May and plans to research union identities and how to build coalitions within the labor movement in Southeast Asia. “I would like to build bridges between labor, unions and government, create common ground. My strength is to connect people.” 

While in the M.S. program, he worked with the Climate Jobs Institute as a graduate research assistant to deepen his understanding of how climate change affects workers' lives. “The experience has been an eye-opener for me. I never thought that the transition to clean energy would affect the lives of workers, and there are a lot of things to do to ensure the workers are able to live through this transition.”

Irfan Asgani, MS ILR’24 with the President of KSBSI
Asgani with KSBSI President Elly Rosita Silaban. 

Later, Asgani also worked a summer internship with one of Indonesia’s union confederations, KSBSI, to help prepare its strategy for achieving a just climate transition in Indonesia.

"If you're thinking about having an impact on workers, you won't find a better program, especially if you're interested in creating a research-based foundation for making positive change,” he said. “It doesn't matter where you're from because ILR has expertise in global labor, so you can find support for researching wherever you are. If you want the best education, this is the best place you can study."


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