Indonesia: The Pivot State of SouthEast Asia

I was interviewed by Marie, a student at the French university “Sciences Po” in Paris who’s been very interested in SouthEast Asia. She read an article about me in the French newspaper “Le Monde” and she decided to contact me and ask questions about my career, my perception of innovation in Indonesia, my ideas about Indonesia within the SouthEast Asia region, as an emerging power, the position of women in Indonesia, and my ideas about the democracy and the so-called economic awakening of the “Indonesian dragon”.

I have very limited knowledge of all questions that Marie asks, but I try to answer them. I thought I want to share it with you.

Please introduce yourself

I’m the Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of NulisBuku.com, the first online self publishing in Indonesia and co-founder of Kutukutubuku.com, one of top online bookstores in Indonesia.

I’m also a writer of 25 books, varied from novels to how-to books. My passion in books, writing, and technology make me selected as one of 10 women in Indonesia IT world 2011 by Infokomputer Magazine, and recently picked as one of 25 inspiring women by Tabloid Nova.

I’m actively organized #StartupLokal, the biggest startup community in Indonesia and Girls in Tech Indonesia, to encourage more women to use technology to improve lives.

Economy & entrepreneurship

You launched several businesses in Indonesia, such as StartupLokal or Project Eden. How was it for you, as a young Indonesian woman, to create your own business? Is it a common thing in Indonesia?

Actually Startuplokal is a non-profit organization. Project Eden is an incubator supported by StartupLokal. My business activities listed in my LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/in/salsabeela

Entrepreneurship is not a common thing at first but it’s more and more getting a positive promotion by the government and private sector. When I started my own business, when I was  23, I have to ask for my father’s permission to quit my job and focus to my business. Because basically when you’re single you still going to live with your family until you’re married. But now I’m living on my own and I do my own business. Not much Indonesian women are like me. But entrepreneurship soul started to grow, basically Indonesian women are very creative in creating opportunities.

Is StartupLokal an answer to a lack? How is entrepreneurship in your country?

With Startuplokal, we make monthly meetup with entrepreneurial topics to help young entrepreneurs solve their problems, meet people, meet investor and media. So we’re trying to promote entrepreneurship, more specifically in IT industry.

What do you think entrepreneurship and innovation can bring to Indonesia?

We’re a big country of 240 million people with a wide area that is similar to London – Istanbul, govern by 1 president. So we can’t hope our government to solve our problem. Entrepreneurship allow us to help ourselves and eventually help our community.

So, what are for you the main economic assets for Indonesia?

I must say human resources. We’re a young country with median age of 28 years old. More than 60% of our population are young people under 35 years old and they’re full of potential.

Diplomacy

Let’s talk about one other field: we know that Indonesia is a great player inside the ASEAN. How is its role perceived in Indonesia?

Personally I think we should have played the role better, but current government don’t seem to decide where we should stand

On a bigger scale: 15 years ago, Indonesia was described as a failed State, regarding its political instability and the crisis it went through. How are this current boom and this great integration within the international system seen in Indonesia? And how do you explain it?

After 1998, gradually everything’s getting better. Middle class and consumer market is expected to boost in Indonesia due to better economy, we’re now politically stable and freedom of speech is one of things we’re proud of, we’re now among the 1 trillion dollar economy so the world start seeing us as a valuable market and also partner. In IT sector more and more investors coming to check our potential. So, it’s a very favorable time for us now.

Democracy

It brings us to one other point, democracy. In occidental minds, it is often an important criterion. In your opinion, is Indonesia an achieved model of coexistence of Islam and democracy?

I think by far we’re a country with biggest Muslim population in the world and keep being very democratic in freedom of speech and many other things compared to any other Muslim countries. So I’m proud of my country on this

Do you feel democracy is well anchored in the minds of people? Or is there still work to do?

Yes, things are very different after 1998, and now democracy is a part of our life

Indonesia is made up of a multitude of islands. Some people say this diversity and characteristic geography is a factor of instability. Do you think it really is?

I disagree. There are thousands of languages, cultures and more than 5 religions in the country and we’ve been living side by side, using national Indonesian language and national clothes. Jakarta is a melting pot and a good example of this harmony.

Society
You are active on Twitter, Facebook, and blogging. There is a growing importance of social medias in Indonesia, because more and more people are connected and use them: do you think it helps to federate people or not? Which role do these networks play within the civil society?

Social media plays a very important role that is now already can ‘control’ the headlines of biggest newspapers in Indonesia. So what we voice in online can goes offline easily. We’ve been using our social media accounts to make social campaign and promote good stuff.

Moreover, you are involved in many fields, including for instance culture, with your online self-publishing, or fashion, with your SalsabeelaShop.com. Do you feel there is an Indonesian “soft power”?

There’s plenty of them in form of culture like our traditional dance, and fashion like traditional fabric (batik, songket, etc) and hijab/muslim fashion.

Conclusion

So, would you gamble on Indonesia as a “pivot-State”? If not, which country in South-East Asia do you feel is the most fitted?

Yes, we’re definitely one of the best pivot-states in SouthEast Asia (Well, at least after some little upgrades on infrastructures, services and supportive government regulations :D)

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Anything you might want to add for the interview you can put on comment box below so Marie can read. Have a nice weekend!

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