The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Friday, April 27, 2012

KAMPOENG KIDZ- Julianto Eka Putra's Story

Capitalism with a conscience                                                    

How do you get corporate Indonesia to meet its civic responsibilities and help the disadvantaged?

It sounds like a variation on the old joke: How do you make a small fortune?  (By starting with a big one.)

But this question is serious, and a bother to many in business. One way is to invite executives to a training camp so they meet young battlers, many with a sad story to tell, but all demonstrating potential.

Showing the corporate world another universe was the idea of Julianto Eka Putra (pictured, right), head of the Binar Group.  He’s set up a curious enterprise based around self-help training that’s hemorrhaging money, yet hoping to heal some of society’s wounded.

For some the US-inspired motivational industry is snake oil, cherry-picking winners; others believe it inspires those needing a hand-up.  If you’re in the latter and larger group then Julianto’s your man.

Clearly he’s a hot salesman.  He can bang off a stirring speech without notes and lace it with homely anecdotes. Despite a pudgy frame and looking nothing like the archetypal executive he has enough energy to nudge the reluctant and disarm the skeptics.

He also has a powerful belief in himself, a quality vital for any entrepreneur.  Apparently it wasn’t always that way for the son of a Surabaya jeweler.  “At school I was the ugly duckling,” he said.  “I found it difficult to attract girls, I’ve got dark skin around my neck and some thought I was dirty.

“I got into fights but realized I was heading in the wrong direction.  Once I’d set myself goals and did better than others through hiking and study I found my self confidence.”   

Unlike many who have made serious money in a short time he tends not to be defensive, or dismiss the importance of tertiary education

“About 10 years ago I was ready to retire,” he said.  “I was earning up to Rp 20 million a month (US$ 2000). I thought it was time I relaxed and enjoyed life.” 

He was just turning 30 and scoring well selling honey through multi-level marketing.  As a franchise boss he could afford to slip down the gears. But on the way to checking the world’s top resorts he stalled on his conscience.

“I was praying and suddenly realized God had given me almost everything I asked for – yet I’d given nothing in return,” he said. “I felt I was a very bad person.

“While presenting a motivation session before 2,000 people in Surabaya I announced that within ten years I’d set up a free school.  I don’t know why I said that – it wasn’t in the script.
“My wife and staff were angry with me – but I had to keep my word.”

With a no-interest loan of Rp 5.3 billion (US $600,000) from a Singapore business friend Julianto bought almost eight hectares tumbling down to a turbulent river at Batu, the hill town above Malang in East Java.

 Another Rp 10 billion (US $1.1 million) had to be found to develop the land, building dormitories and a school.  Here high school students from across the country who have hit hurdles and can’t fund further schooling are given a chance to turn around their lives.

Some are orphans and have had a tough life.  About ten per cent pull out, but the rest seem to be shining and proud to show off their talents, including dance, theatre and high-level English.

Their chance comes on weekends when employees are sent to custom-designed training programs by companies with problems  These usually include low staff morale, lack of direction and communication breakdowns.

Motivational speeches, obstacle courses and physical challenges are supposed to build trust and get participants into a different mindset.  Meeting the students and hearing their stories opens doors to another world.

Karnaka, the managing director of Malang manpower agency PT Binamandiri sent 15 employees to the two-day course this month (March). He plans to expand his business interests and wants a change in workplace culture.

“Everyone seemed to enjoy it and at Rp500, 000 (US $55) a head I’m getting value for money,” he said after jumping around with his workers to brain-fracturing music.  “We’ll wait till later to see if it’s effective.”

The fees for the business training, programs for schools called Kampoeng Kidz, or just taking a break on the property (rates start at Rp 175,000 (US$20) a night, are used to subsidize the free school and its 100 students from across Indonesia.

“We’ve paid back all the loans but need to earn about Rp 350 million (US $4000) a month to meet costs,” said Julianto.  “However we’re only getting Rp 200 million (US $22,000).

“The subsidies have to come from my company PT  Menuju Insan Cemerlang (MIC), one of five in the Binar Group.  We have 160 offices – but we’re not like (prominent politician and rich-lister) Aburizal Bakrie.

“MIC handles financial planning and real estate.  We publish and have the rights to translate the works of John C Maxwell (an evangelical American author of around 60 motivational books). These have been best sellers. 

“I’ve also written Anda ingin Sukses? (Do you want Success?) and featured in another with (Muslim televangelist) AA Gym.”

Like the easy read self-help books there are plenty of quotes and slogans on the bamboo walls of the teaching areas at the Batu property.  Many are in English, like Miracle, Faith, Action and Pray, giving the place a heavy Christian revival theme.

Julianto and his two main colleagues are Catholic so inevitably rumors circulated that they were ‘Christianising’ Muslim students. Julianto said that last year an Education Department inquiry cleared the school.

 Then the allegation changed to communist indoctrination; the reality is that it’s pushing capitalism, albeit with a benign nature.

“I accept that some will never become entrepreneurs,” Julianto said.  “That’s not their talent.  The objective is to train people so they reflect on their lives and realize their potential. 

“I ask the students to talk to the business participants.  It’s not exploitation, it helps give them confidence and if they have that they can do anything.

“If they share their stories they will bless many people.”

((First published in the Weekender Magazine, Jakarta May 2012)


Wednesday, April 25, 2012


More to Indonesia than trade                                                       Duncan Graham

Indonesians would not have missed the irony.

While Prime Minister John Key was in Jakarta discussing human rights abuses in West Papua, the sufferings of Indonesian workers in our region were being scrutinised in the Wellington Coroner’s Court.

Five Indonesian deckhands and their Korean captain died when the Korean stern trawler Oyang 70 capsized in the Southern Ocean in August 2010.

Evidence garnered by police from the 31 Indonesian survivors and other crew created a picture of a dysfunctional and dangerous workplace run by an angry skipper.

Tragically that wasn’t the only problem.  Through the police statements (no Indonesians attended the inquest) the survivors alleged verbal  and physical abuse,  shifts of up to 20 hours and a culture dominated by catch, not care.

Four months after Oyang 70 vanished another Korean fishing boat, No 1 Insung, sank probably after hitting an iceberg.  Two of the 22 fatalities were Indonesian.

Spurred by these disasters and 32 Indonesians walking off the Oyang 75 last July, a team from the University of Auckland’s Business School investigated conditions aboard foreign charter vessels operating in NZ waters.

The researchers interviewed 144 people, including surviving crew in Indonesia and the widows of the men who perished.  The academics found “disturbing levels of inhumane conditions and practices (that) have become institutionalised.”

The University report published last year titled Not in NZ’s waters, surely? told of men being recruited by manning agents in Java and signing two contracts, one to be shown to NZ authorities and the other for a fraction of the proper wage. 

Indonesians who work overseas are known as National Heroes as though working overseas is dangerous.  It is. Not all the millions who venture abroad to clean, care and labor survive unscathed.

They remit US $6.6 billion a year according to the World Bank, but the cash is often bloodstained.

Some return with the scars of judicial whippings and employer torture from nations like Malaysia.  A few go home in coffins, killed in workplace accidents or executed in places like Saudi Arabia. 

But few would expect mistreatment in an advanced and well-regulated democracy like New Zealand, a nation concerned for minorities and serious about its international obligations.

This image took a heavy battering in the coronial inquest.  It highlights the crude and hypocritical relationship we have with our closest Asian neighbour.

Mr Key took 26 people with him to Jakarta for three days selling our education system, geo-thermal energy skills, dairy products and meat.  The team rightly trumpeted the quality goods and services we can supply to a nation with a population 60 times larger than ours.

Our schools and universities can offer world-class education that will help Indonesia advance while our engineering know-how and hard-won disaster responses can help save lives and property in a nation prone to natural disasters.

Not on the agenda of the Jakarta meetings was any analysis of labour conditions in the South Pacific.

International long-term relationships have to be based on more than selling cheddar and chicken wings.  We’ve offered a few post-grad scholarships and working holiday visas, but that’s about all - unless there’s a swag of secret goodies yet to be announced.

Much is said about developing people-to-people relationships, but little is done.  We’ve long focused on China and India, overflying the archipelago while heading for Beijing and Delhi.

We know next to nothing about the world’s largest Muslim country. We don’t teach Indonesian in our schools; most Indonesian experts are in Australian universities. 

If we don’t build our cultural knowledge and language abilities we’ll never be able to understand how Indonesians think and behave, whether we’re doing business or politics.

Through its values, history, religion and outlook the Republic is robustly independent, growing in importance and unlike any other nation.  It’s not an add-on to our other trading partners in the region. 

Not surprisingly there’s been some cynicism in Indonesia about Mr Key padding behind British PM David Cameron on another quickie sales trip.  The West is showing interest now because the Indonesian economy is racing ahead and a cashed-up middle class is developing a taste for our goods 

(Cartoon:  The NZ Herald) 

Like ‘old mates’ appearing after a Lotto win, we want to know Indonesians only when their wallets are full.  That’s no foundation for a lasting relationship.

Apart from our natural beauty and pure products we’re famous in Indonesia for being the world’s least corrupt nation and genuine about human rights.

That’s why Mr Key reportedly spoke about West Papua with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.  Although the military-dominated province is off-limits to foreign journalists there have been enough horror stories of extra-judicial killings and torture by the army to justify international concern.

Shouldn’t the same concerns be applied to the way we allow Indonesians – and other crews of foreign charter vessels – to be treated in the ships that work off our coast?

A letter from the widows read to the inquest spoke of “the heart-wrenching loss of our loved ones, yet we still do not know what happened to cause their demise.”

Should the two leaders ever meet again Mr Key can tell Mr Yudhoyono why the fishermen died and how human rights abuses in NZ’s seas are being handled.

Duncan Graham is a Wellington-based journalist writing on Indonesian issues.

(First published in The NZ Herald 25 April 2012)