Denica Flesch: Founder of SukkhaCitta

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Denica, and I’m the founder of SukkhaCitta. We’re a social enterprise based in Jakarta that connects artisans in villages across Indonesia with the modern global market.

With a background in Economics, I worked for the World Bank when I first returned to Indonesia. There, I got quite frustrated as I didn’t feel like what I was doing made any direct impact. This led me to do my own research, I wanted to understand what poverty looks like so we can find what works.

When going from village to village, I found an interesting trend. That is, poverty tends to be clustered around economic activities, on what people do. I started to narrow down my focus, and it led me to the craft industry – the second largest employing industry in rural Indonesia, especially for women.

I found out that the current system, the craft industry itself, is kind of broken. The economics seem to be upside down. People earn more from simple jobs like working in Indomaret or as a waitress then being an artisan. Artisans are aging and none of the daughters want to continue. Why would they? And yet, without regeneration, how can the craft survive?

Now, this really intrigued me. I realized that the last thing the world needs is another fashion brand. We do not need more pretty things when the way it was made is ugly. Something needs to change. A bridge needs to be built – and that’s exactly why I started SukkhaCitta. To leverage craft as a viable mean of poverty alleviation – while at the same time sustaining our craft through our modern reinterpretation.

Besides the economic aspect, what drew you to crafts over everything else?

It was also a personal attraction. As an economist, you are trained to judge production based on scale and efficiency. Yet, there I was living with the women in these villages. They would tell me how their mothers, grandmothers, shared stories through the fabrics that they made by hand. Batik was their mean of saying a prayer to their families, of meditation.

There, I realized how much stories and values get transferred like this in our culture – and how much is lost today with the rise of mass-produced clothes. With the pursuit of fast, everything becomes homogeneous. In craft, you find the story of our culture, of our humanity. And I believe it has its place in today’s time, not only in museums. We just have to make it relevant again.

Fashion has the reputation of being environmentally destructive. How can fashion be ethical while also being sustainable at the same time?

You’re right. Through my research, I was shocked to see just how dirty the craft industry is – both on the people and on the environment. In fact, it’s the 2nd most polluting SME sector in Indonesia! I feel that part of the problem is that currently, there is simply no transparency whatsoever. There is no traceability, no way to see how a fabric was made for customers like you and me.

Now, we do things quite differently. Our impact model is based on our own transparency standard: #MadeRight. It is a promise that this fabric provided a living wage, is environmentally sustainable, and at the same time sustains culture. Working with Villages, not factories, means that we are even more careful when it comes to our environmental impact because otherwise, production causes a lot of negative externalities for the community.

The price of fabric is very unique because fabric uses a lot of water and dye. Villagers will use synthetic dyes because it’s very cheap, and then they will dump it in their waterways. The problem is the community lives with the water from the rivers. That’s why in our work we use a lot of natural dyes; we actually spent almost IDR 50 million just doing capacity building so that all of our villages understand how to do natural dyeing.

At the same time, the production of clothes itself produces waste. So even if your fabrics were made ethically and sustainably, the production of fabrics into clothes produces waste. That’s why we have a lot of upcycling and zero waste programs as well — we’re turning our waste scraps into paper now, so all our tags are made from our waste as well. Our aim is not to cause unnecessary damage.

Ultimately, we believe that the way forward is not only about production, but also about consumption. So in our marketing, we focus a lot on storytelling, because we believe if you have a connection with your clothes, you’re not just going to wear a piece for two weeks and throw it away but you’re actually going to take care of it. If it’s broken you’re going to repair it, so it’s a complete and holistic cycle. If you produce ethically sustainable clothes, but you promote fast consumption — it doesn’t work as well.

In the craft industry, do you see a greater movement towards that holistic sustainable model, or are you guys going against the current?

The current for fast fashion is definitely very strong. Really. What I see in Indonesia is that of course you have this positive trend of brands trying to bring light to this issue, but the problem lies in how they go about doing it. Because you have to make sure that your solution is 10 times better than conventional practice, so you can actually contribute to solving the issues.

One of the things I saw is definitely the hype towards natural dyes. For us, it’s a natural choice. Again, because we work with Villages, not factories, we need to be very mindful to ensure our production causes no externality to the community. From this, I learnt that there is actually a difference between natural dyeing with natural process – or natural dyeing with chemical process. Unfortunately, most brands that I see in Indonesia don’t really take this into account. We need to be careful that we do not actually add to the problem.

Why is it important to empower these rural women in the first place? Why do we need to care about this demographic?

Because there’s a lot of potential for impact. What I’ve found is that nobody has ever taken the time to believe in these women. In the beginning, when I started this journey, I noticed a very strong sense of inferiority that people living in rural areas feel compared to someone from the city. The women wouldn’t look me in the eye; the prevalent mindset is that they can’t. They’ve worked as artisans for 20 to 30 years and have always been exploited, so they don’t believe that they can actually change their lives. But now, every time I go to the village, they keep harassing me about what they’re going to do next. “What new products are we going to try?”, “What new techniques are we going to learn?” There’s this new sense of optimism and hope.

And I noticed that once you empower women you empower her community as well. Especially in villages, women typically spend 80 percent of their expenditure on their family. You start noticing things, like one woman would tell me about the healthy, nutritious food that she can now provide to her kids. She started asking me about how she can best provide an education to her kids, what kind of books she can buy — so there’s this new sense of empowerment that we didn’t expect.

And most importantly is this desire to pay it forward — we didn’t start off with that in mind, but the women in the villages, they started to come to me and ask to be involved in the capacity building of other villages. When I asked why, they said it’s because they’ve been helped and now they want to help. So you start seeing that when you do this kind of work, there is also a ripple effect in the community that you’re initiating in. So that’s why I find that it’s very important to be able to empower these women, and also for them to be role models in their communities. Before we started our initiatives, typically the artisans were typically above 40 years old. Now we’re actually really happy because there are these two women under 30 that came up to me asking if they could be trained as well. And I couldn’t imagine doing all this without doing it for the crafts sector. Because suddenly they feel so proud — they feel like they’re visible to the market again, they feel like there’s actually value in what they do, and the pride is just unbelievable.

In your work, you’ve gone into the villages, and you’ve interacted with these women. What would you say are the main challenges these rural women face in their everyday lives?

It’s the general mindset, this social conditioning that after getting married they should be moms and that’s it. It was actually very startling for me during the last field trip; we were sitting in a circle and I was asking them about why there were no women entrepreneurs in the village. They said, “What would we sell, who would buy anything? That’s what men do, right? They work and we just take care of the kids.” I asked them about whether they thought about something beyond just being a mother, because obviously being a mother is not enough for them, right? And they just look at me, puzzled, “No, we haven’t.” Because their mothers were like that, their grandmothers were like that, so they have never left the village. They don’t know a world beyond this.

I was doing a survey about living wage and I wanted to know what was the living wage for that village, so we broke down their expenditure and found that the bulk of it was from their kids’ snack money. Everyday, kids would take IDR 8,000 to 10,000 just to buy snacks. And I asked them what snacks they would buy and they said, “Oh you know, just chiki (a type of snack) that they buy from the warung (small local eateries).” So I asked them one question: “You farm a lot of moringa. Why don’t you just create snacks which are actually healthier than chiki? Make them cute, colorful. Your kids can just buy that instead.” And they look at me and it’s as if they think of it for the first time.

And that’s when I found out that the biggest problem in rural Java is this social norm. These women were not educated, and so they don’t have the courage to dream beyond things as is. But once you start introducing entrepreneurship into their minds, it’s really quite amazing. I just went back to the village last week, and they showed me samples of different snacks that they made and they asked me how to brand it and everything. They can clearly do business; it’s just about whether anybody would take the time to sit with them and guide them through this process. I feel like when you empower women to be entrepreneurs, the impact is a lot larger than men.

Speaking of women in entrepreneurship – you yourself are a woman entrepreneur, but the percentage of women entrepreneurs is quite small in comparison to how many male entrepreneurs there are in Indonesia and around the world. How is it being a women entrepreneur, but being a minority in that sector?

I actually try to use that as an advantage. Because there’s so few of us, it’s very easy for us to be noticed. I personally never noticed that there was any difference between women versus men. What I noticed is that men tend to be impressed to hear that you as a woman dare to go to these villages, stay with them for a few days and do this kind of work. I do feel that especially in our field it’s very advantageous because the community trusts women more. And I think as a man it would be a lot more difficult to do what I do. Because you work with women, and how comfortable would they be with some man living in their house and telling them different concepts of sustainability and design and everything? So you have a different kind of credibility, socially, as a woman. I think that’s a plus point.

Do notice any differences between the mindset of women entrepreneurs and male entrepreneurs?

Yes, in terms of the way that we think about scaling businesses. There’s definitely not much aggression in terms of scaling when you meet a lot of women founders, especially in the field of sustainable fashion. They seem to be very content with where they are. Let’s say they impacted five, ten people, and they seem to be very happy. But they don’t understand that it’s not enough just to do that, because the problem is so big that you need to think big as well. What the industry needs is not five women you’ve impacted, but a sector change. That’s why it’s very important that startups like ours need to grow, to show that it’s possible to grow in a way that does not exploit the environment or the people in it.

On the other hand, male entrepreneurs seem to really think about this. Maybe they typically go more into the tech sector which is easier to scale, so you find them constantly talking about acquisitions, about percentages, about growth — whereas women entrepreneurs, we’re playing nice. We don’t want to compete, we feel like we should form a community, and how do you balance these two? Because you find a lot of startups that remain small, but then how do you create sector change?

What direction do you see your impact model growing: breadth or depth?

Both. Our impact model is grounded in our Jawara Desa program (village champion). In the beginning when I first started, we worked directly with artisans. So literally, if I worked with 50 women, it would be 50 houses I directly had to visit and train. We changed our impact model because that was not scalable. In each of our village, we have a Jawara Desa who we select, train and provide access to microcredit to so they can start their social enterprise on the ground level. In a way, we transfer our DNA, our values to build mini SukkhaCittas on the village level.

In general, we see each of our Jawara Desa leading up to 20 artisans. In that sense, by scaling our breadth, we directly intensify the depth of our impact. We’re already seeing it happen; it’s really interesting when you introduce the concept of entrepreneurship into a village. They start being entrepreneurial in the ways they solve village issues as well. Last field trip I went to visit this village, and on their walls, I saw that they put up A4 papers. Apparently they were brainstorming how to improve the education of their village. It really gave me a sense of validation to continue with this impact model.

Do you have any advice for young girls who might also want to build their own social enterprise? To face all the things that might have to go with handling a social enterprise?

Be patient and persevere, because nobody will prepare you for the job. It is very hard. Not only do you have to take care of the whole business side — because if you just want to keep asking for donors you should be an NGO, you have to understand that you need to be as cutthroat as conventional enterprises — but at the same time, you must maintain your mission. It is seriously very difficult. You will experience higher highs than your typical job, but also very much lower lows. My biggest advice is really to stop giving your power away, because as women sometimes we’re scared to think big. We don’t think that we’re capable or that we don’t have the experience or we don’t have whatever is required to do it, but I find that if this is truly your mission then you’ll find a way. You’ll learn, you’ll find people, you’ll make alliances to achieve your mission.

Pandu Sastrowardoyo: Spokesperson & Co-Founder of Blockchain Zoo

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi, I’m Pandu Sastrowardoyo and I’m one of the co-founders as well as spokesperson for the Board of Directors of Blockchain Zoo. Blockchain Zoo is a consulting company based on the blockchain. We try to find out what companies want to do with the blockchain and we try to matchmake their business models, the business values they seek, and the kinds of blockchain technologies that fit them. We focus on being really agnostic; we don’t just focus on one technology, but multiple technologies, which is actually very rare in the blockchain consulting industry right now.

We’ve been here for about a year. But the people that founded Blockchain Zoo have been in the blockchain ecosystem for many years. A lot of us actually started nine years ago; blockchain is nine years old, so we have a combined experience in blockchain that is very unique. That’s how we are able to execute in such an agnostic fashion. Our experience is in a lot of our  technologies that for others have just appeared; we’ve been in those technologies since the very beginning.

How did you get to where you are today?

I started as an engineer — no, rewind. I actually started as a programmer when I was six years old. I learned to program when I was six. My dad really loved programming. He taught me to program. When it came time to choose a career, I chose to become an environmental engineer. This is very geeky, but what I did was I created expert systems, which are basically simple artificial intelligence programs back when I was in college. These expert systems are basically being used to create environmental impact assessment reports, which are usually created by humans.

Funnily enough, when I graduated I wasn’t actually accepted to be a programmer. I did try to apply, but somehow the only companies that hired me were marketing companies and consulting companies. I was accepted into Procter and Gamble for marketing rather than being a programmer. In my spare time, though, I did a ton of work just playing with games that I created on my own, while being an assistant brand manager. I went on to work in several other companies, but always at night I programmed, because I liked computers so much.

One day, I decided that I needed to utilize my computing capabilities and my developer capabilities, just to break into something that is closer to what I want and what I have skills for. So I decided to try out for IBM. I got into IBM, and I can say without exaggeration that the best years of my life were actually spent within IBM. I rose through the ranks very quickly. I started as a sales specialist, then I became country leader for product. IBM basically always allocated me for new products, the products they’ve never sold before or never opened to market before. I found my calling, basically. I was in enterprise IT. How to find the proper way for systems to be able to help people in their daily lives, and how corporations can utilize systems to make it easy for them to get value. I was in charge of about six divisions when I was in IBM, and I’ve lead multiple countries for most of them.

At the end of the six years in IBM, I found out that most Enterprise IT companies’ strategy for addressing blockchain was not agnostic when focusing on blockchain itself – something I did not agree with. Most consulting companies focus on one technology, and pushes that technology everywhere. It’s like they have a hammer and everything is a nail. They have exactly one type of hammer that is being pushed to solve everything.

So, I contacted my old friends – a lot of other people on our website basically, and after discussions we basically decided to create Blockchain Zoo. The idea is that blockchain is a jungle, so let’s create a zoo. That’s basically how I helped co-found Blockchain Zoo. The funny thing about my background is, if I had gone the regular route and just became a developer, I probably wouldn’t have the marketing skill sets, the sales skill sets, probably not even the enterprise IT skill sets, so I’m actually quite grateful for the journey that I’ve been through.

What are the challenges you face first in the technology space, and second as a woman entrepreneur?

The challenge as a blockchain entrepreneur in general is that a lot of people just equate blockchain with cryptocurrencies. Everyday I receive messages asking me for trading advice. Which is not something that I do! I mean, I’m a terrible trader. If I tried to trade, I’d lose all of your money. (laughs) Now, that sounds funny, but there’s a less funny part of it. Cryptocurrencies in Indonesia is a gray area for the government. The government doesn’t like it too much, so if I get associated with cryptocurrencies, especially in Indonesia, that dilutes my brand. It actually dilutes my capability as well.

Second — this is what’s funny about blockchain as a technology compared to other technologies — the killer app already exists, and that’s cryptocurrency. But actually the killer app is not the best app. Let’s talk about artificial intelligence for a moment. What’s the killer app for AI? I think it’s personal assistants, and I think in a few years, everyone is going to agree with me that the personal assistant is what the AI killer app will be. Well, blockchain started as bitcoin. It started as an app, so now people cannot forget the killer app. It’s really hard to get out of your mind. Because that’s actually the top of your mind, of what can be done. However, we at Blockchain Zoo focus on something that is not the killer app, but other solutions on the blockchain which actually have a lot of business value. For instance, blockchain for the supply chain, blockchain for trade finance, all of these things which are not cryptocurrencies. All of these things are not threats to the banks; they’re actually tools for the banks. It does sound like an awareness thing, but it becomes very complicated because the media insists on focusing on the sexy part, which is people getting money from almost absolute zero from trading cryptocurrencies.

In terms of being a female in the technology space…you know what, let me tell you several stories. One of the stories actually has to do with a friend of mine who is a very, very good programmer and developer. Yet she’s had a lot of issues in the past. The Whatsapp groups where the developers hang out are all boys and she is not welcome inside the groups. She works for a company that is actually on the same level of IBM, and she experiences discrimination. The reason why she’s not in the group is that a guy said, “Oh, if you’re in the group you wouldn’t like it because there’s a lot of dirty jokes.” Which is dumb, right? These are groups filled with developers. It’s not a joke group. For the people who are in technical fields, this often happens. There are sort of like boys clubs that sprout up. And it is a bit difficult for women to come in. Not because of the skills, no, but because of the resistance of the existing technical workers, who are mostly men.

Now, for an entrepreneur, it depends on the level. Right now I don’t experience these discriminatory practices. At the beginning, of course, being a female leader in the tech space, not just in the blockchain space, there are things that are expected differently of you. If you’re a guy in the IT space, you’re basically there because you have technical knowledge and you have business acumen. If you are a woman, there are two scenarios (and this is true in Indonesia, I am not sure for other countries): business acumen, maybe, or you are good at relationships, with the bapak-bapak (older men), with the guys who basically make the decision. We’ve seen that a lot. I’ve seen a lot of female managers who are literally flirting to get deals. And that actually happens a lot in the IT world.

I actually hired someone from my partner back in IBM, and well, we were going to bulk up this new partner company. And I’ve asked them, “Okay, so what would you like to have in your sales team, your sales manager?” And they wanted to have a pretty girl. Literally, their wishlist, number one, is pretty girl. So that still happens, especially for the IT industry. That still happens a lot. When you’re at the director level, the chairman level, or Board of Directors level, that doesn’t get associated with you. But when you’re still a young sales manager and you’re a girl, the first question would be this. Like you could see the calculations in their minds, and they are calculating whether you’re here because you can talk with people, or you’re here because you can flirt with people. The calculus is still there.

Do you have any recommendations for how leadership or even everyday employees can start fixing that mindset?

This has to come from both genders, of course. Men especially, the technical guys, should try to make women feel more welcome. Women have a lot to add to the conversation. I’ve worked with both male and female developers, and they all have different thoughts to add. It’s not something cliche, like “women are better at user interface.” With the addition of women into the workforce, you get additional thoughts that you as a male might not have thought of. Simply more variety in terms of your thinking. When I see the construction of boys clubs within developer organizations, those are usually because of dirty jokes, because of people trying to have fun. But in terms of professionalism and basically to make people welcome, it may be best to discourage these so that you can have a very safe environment for everyone in the end.

I think there are two suggestions for women ourselves: if you’re a woman, you’re a technical person, and you really want to be a programmer, don’t be afraid of venturing inside the boys clubs — it doesn’t mean you have to be a boy or a tomboy even. Just be yourself, but show that from a merit perspective you have the capability. In the end, I think it’s all about capability. If you want to be more of a business manager or developer, I think it’s the same. There will be people looking at you sideways, especially in this industry, and that’s going to be true at least for the next few years. But just focus on the merit of the discussion, your business acumen, your ideas. Don’t let the guys push you to do just relationship-selling. Focus on the content. The content will set you free.

Can you speak more on blockchain’s unique positioning with women?

Other technologies are not inherently community focused. For example, AI has a community, but without a community the technology itself still works. Big data, yes of course there are communities sprouting around big data, but that is less about the technology itself than the gathering of the data. Now, blockchain – and especially the more public blockchain like ICO activities – even the development of new technologies are all created by communities. It is a way to make multiple people from competing interests work together as a group, as a whole. That requires a lot of community acumen. Which means the successful ICOs, the successful technologies of the blockchain, have both active technologies and active communities.

I’ve been saying this for awhile. Women are actually very good at the social aspects of technology, which until now was just social media. We are better social media users, we post more on social media, and we have an innate understanding of what creates a good community, whether its online or offline. Social media itself, have you ever heard of CAMS? Cloud analytics mobile social? About three or four years ago, it was decided that the next trends of IT was to be CAMS. Everyone was about to be working with social media; if you were in an office you’d be using something a lot like Facebook, within an enterprise. That never came to pass in enterprises, but it did come to pass in blockchain work. The way people work in blockchain — we don’t use emails. We use our own internal social media, like Telegram. It grew out of the importance of communities.

I think women in blockchain actually have a lot of potential that can be pushed. And Indonesia itself needs to be more open to this possibility. The women of Indonesia need to understand that this is a wonderful niche where women can make or break a new blockchain project. Whether the project succeeds or not could be determined by whether there’s women or not.

What’s something that you’re excited about in terms of Indonesia in the blockchain space?

I’m excited by the number of islands that we have: 17,000 islands. The number of people that we have: 260 million. And I’m also excited by the fact that we can’t get along. There’s a lot of autonomy because of democracy. Which is good, you know. Regional autonomy is good for countries such as ours. But it also means that it’s really hard to merge data, because everyone wants to own their own data. That also means that our identities might not fit. For example, I could have an identity card in Jakarta, but I could also have one in Kalimantan. And no one’s the wiser because there are different databases for each of them. The capability to merge multiple databases into one single stream of data into the blockchain without forcing people to centralise would be a boon for the entire country. And I think it’s something coming soon in multiple aspects of our daily lives in the next couple of years.

Finally, do you have any advice for young women who want to follow your path and go into programming?

It’s all about following your passions. I’ve never let go, in the many years where I was selling shampoos, when I was working in Sampoerna, I’ve never let go of my passion for computing, and that has always been my passion. That sounds geeky, it sounds weird. It’s just, you know, coding is my passion, computers are my passion, and I’ve never let go. So, I think, don’t follow me, but follow your heart. Follow what your passions are.


Suri: CEO & Founder of Diffago

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Suri. My complete name is Ni Komang Ayu Suriani and I’m founder and CEO of, an online platform helping to organize corporate social responsibility (CSR) for impacting disability issues.

I started my career in disability issues five years ago as founding team and project coordinator of – a pioneering jobs network connecting people with disabilities to employment in Indonesia. During my journey as project coordinator in Indonesia, I realized that there are so many factors impacting the disabled community’s chances of gaining employment. Some of those factors are education, mobility, accessibility – among others. That’s why since January 2018 I started, to address some of the issues that cannot be tackled by my previous organizations.

Diffago has four services. First, we are creating a platform – it is similar to a crowdfunding model, but we will approach companies and organization to give their CSR for disability issues. Second, we will provide trainings that prepare those in the disabled community to be work-ready. Third, we will connect them to companies to get employment. Fourth , we will provide a platform that will connect buyers with disabilities in the middle-up level who need mobility aids (prosthetic leg. Prosthetic hand, etc) to mobility aids provider. So it is helping people with disabilities on a very economically diverse level. Because one of the issues that people with disabilities face here in Indonesia is that not many of them know where to get appropriate mobility aids. Especially for people from middle-low also middle-upper economic class.

Why is disability an issue we should care about?

There is a huge population of people with disabilities in Indonesia. Based on the International Labour Organization data in 2012, there are approximately 24 million people with disabilities in Indonesia. Of that 24 million, 13 million are unemployed – over 50%. Unemployment affects other sectors as well; largely the root causes are lack of mobility, accessibility, and education. They cannot attain a good education because they cannot go out easily; there is no infrastructure to help them do so independently. Many of them are not as mobile as able-bodied people; they can’t just go anywhere at anytime. It’s very hard for them. That’s why it’s so hard for them to get employment, to get better education, to get better health. That’s really what made me go, “Wow, this is a very complex issue.” It’s much harder to address than it seems.

And besides, anybody can become a person with disability at any time. If you don’t care about these issues, if you don’t care about creating inclusive communities, then what will happen? If you become a person with disability from, say, a car accident, what will happen next? This is a societal issue. We have to care, we need to create more inclusive communities for people with disability – if not for others, then for ourselves and future generations.

What are some unique challenges that women might face in the disabled community?

The majority of women with disabilities find major difficulty in gaining employment and education. This is also the case for able-bodied women without disabilities. You could imagine how much harder it is for women have disabilities. It’s also related to the culture in Indonesia. Again, even for women without disabilities it’s a very difficult to get involved in the community, to gain meaningful employment, or achieve a high level in the workplace. Even in attaining education. Because some people in Indonesia believe that if women get married, they will end up in the kitchen. So why bother attaining higher education? Can you imagine if those women also had a disability? It’s an even worse case for them.

Are there specific ways we can help women with disability? In which areas can we help them?

We need to ask ourselves how we can build their confidence, how we can help them to feel that they also have value and a good future. And we must help them realize that value first. If they realize it, then we can help them to increase their confidence. If they have the confidence, we can help them to gain employment and education, to integrate and involve them in the community more. We need them to realize that, “Hey I’m a woman, I’m smart, I’m beautiful, I’m a human being just like you who deserves employment and a good livelihood” – instead of just staying at home and waiting for help form their family. At the present, they feel as if they can’t do anything, even though they’re adults. As if they have to wait for their families, or that they can’t make decisions for themselves. I think we can really help them realize otherwise through family approach to change their family mindset firstly that their daughter/ aunty/ whoever women with disability in their family; they also have a “holly” future that we can help to create together tobe a better one. Then we can involve them into trainings and workshops related to the problem they face..

What’s it like to be a (female) entrepreneur in Bali?

It’s like you’re entering the real jungle, you know? (laughs) It’s so hard, especially in Bali. The resources here aren’t like those available in Jakarta. It’s hard to access opportunities. Events, network, et cetera. Even my own team – none of them are based in Bail. All of them are in Jakarta or Bandung. I’m actually the only one here in Bali.

Being an entrepreneur is challenging for me. I have no background in business; I studied law and have experience in the nonprofit sector. But I’m the kind of person who loves to learn new things, and most of my team members have a business background so I learn from them. And I got motivation from my advisor, Faye Alund . She’s someone who had experience in the nonprofit world for 10 years but still found success in business. So I am sure I can learn; it may take time, but through my team’s and advisor’s help, I will learn how to build a social enterprise. Because social enterprise is not exactly the same as a commercial business right? So we have to think on two sides: how to be sustainable and generate revenue, and but also the social aspect as well. It’s very hard. Maybe harder than just running a 100% commercial business.

Have you faced any specific challenges being a female entrepreneur?

Yes. For instance, when we’re trying to approach investors or when we need to pitch, sometimes I don’t feel very confident. I feel intimidated because all of the founders are men and constantly think like, “Oh okay! Am I doing good?” So confidence. And how to approach investors — most of the investors are men. How do I approach them? Making deals with impact investors and investors in general is quite challenging. That’s the most difficult thing I think.

What are some other challenges you’ve faced in the startup space?

I find so many challenges. One of those challenges is how to build a solid and strong team. I am the only female in my team, by the way. My whole team is male. As a startup, we are quite small as well. We don’t have a huge amount of money to work with, so most of us work pro-bono.

Another thing is that it’s very hard to explain some of my decisions to the team because none of them has a background in disability issues. Disabilities in Indonesia, it’s a very complex thing. It’s not what you think. It’s not like, “Let’s just do a coding training” and that’s it. No. After that, then what? It’s not like that. If you think, “OK, we just train them in IT and then they can start their own business and work from home” — actually, you have to build up their confidence, their professional mindset, their mentality. So that if they work from home they will not only finish their job, but finish it well. It’s a complex thing. I have to explain this to my team. They’re from a purely business background, no social background. That’s one of the challenges.

Resources is a huge challenge. That is, access to networks, funding, angel investors. Disability isn’t a sexy issue, it’s not trendy. So how can we convince potential stakeholders that this is an urgent issue as well as a pressing social issue? That if they help us then they can create significant impact. It’s challenging to convince impact investors and angel investors of this.

What is the startup and social enterprise scene like in Bali?

I think there are not as many as in Jakarta. Maybe it’s due to the culture. the Balinese mostly prefer to have careers in hospitality, or civil servants, or in travel and tourism. Being a social enterprise or having a startup…maybe it’s still rare or not very familiar for us. This is what I heard. I heard Balinese don’t really like to take risks. And social enterprises and startups are full of risk, right?

So what got you to take those risks and start your own enterprise?

I have a vision. I really want to make a bigger impact for people with disability. I see this is as an opportunity. And if I’m not the founder, it’s hard to make an impact. If I work for others I need to wait for their instructions. If I’m the founder, I can set the agenda. I can make the policy. I can decide quickly. So I thought, well, this is the time to be 100% involved in entrepreneurship. And I think social enterprise is the best choice for me rather than starting a non-profit, because nonprofits are very hard to sustain.

Do you see Bali as becoming a startup hub?

Like I mentioned before, it isn’t popular with young Balinese to build a startup. We will mostly choose the safer way, the safer career. But I think Bali has a huge potential to become like Bandung or Jakarta. Maybe in 10 years. Through 1000 Startups Program…I think that’s the gate for young people in Bali to see more opportunities in entrepreneurship. Because maybe we’ve never seen success stories from Jakarta or Bandung, we don’t know so much about what’s out there. But if we are exposed to those success stories, if successful entrepreneurs come here and share their stories, then maybe slowly but surely our mindset will change.

Do you have any tips on overcoming that initial feeling of doubt and finding that confidence?

Just do it. Sometimes we have so much doubt in ourselves. We’re afraid to start, we forget that the first step is to just do it. How? First, set your goals. Like, why do you want to create this company or social enterprise? What is the impact you want to create? You have to make it clear. So that when you ask someone to join your team, they can also share your vision with you. So you will have one vision together.

After that, once you follow your heart or your passion…somehow, it can take a long time or a short time, but you will find a way. No matter how hard it is, as long as you believe in it and start it you will find a way. When it comes about, it depends on the network, the opportunities. That’s why I also mentioned the importance of location, like Bali versus Jakarta for instance. But nevertheless, just start it. Very often I feel I doubt myself, like, “Oh my God, disability is not a sexy issue.” But every time I feel that, I remember, “Wait, well, I created this for a reason and this is a good reason. I believe there will be a way.” Maybe it won’t happen right away. But I keep doing it. Because if I stop even for a bit, it will take longer to achieve my goals. So just do it, keep moving.


Claristy: Operations & Growth Lead at Luno

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Claristy and I am the Operations and Growth Lead for Luno. Luno is a global digital currency platform that operates in 40 countries across Asia, Africa, and Europe. We aim to help people to buy, store, and learn Bitcoin and digital assets easily and securely. In Indonesia, I manage the day-to-day activities and operations to ensure that the business is growing smoothly. I joined Luno around two years ago. Initially I never thought I’d be in this industry – digital assets, digital currency, cryptocurrency, and blockchain – they are all really new to me. You wouldn’t see a lot of people in these industries yet, but I’m really happy to be one of them.

How did you get to where you are today?

So when I was in college, I was learning about public relations, communications – working in that field was my absolute goal. I wanted to work as PR at big, global companies: representing them, speaking for them, talking to media, et cetera. But when I interned at a PR agency, I learned that a lot of things that I thought what PR was about is not what they were. Maybe I was just being really innocent, but I thought PR was something really pure – like you’re representing the company, connecting with the community & the people so they will understand your vision. That is, until I heard of this motto in the PR industry: “We are not lying, we are just telling the truth that we want to tell.”  Yes, You’re not actually lying, but I feel like that means you’re not actually being honest with what you’re doing either. I believe not every PR or company works like that, but after seeing more cases around me realize that this is not what I wanted anymore.

So I decided to look for the other industry or division that I might have interest in. It was close my graduation so I had that pressure of ‘finding the right job that pays well’ ASAP. I was really ambitious before so I felt like it was a race with my fellow colleagues. Typical fresh grad. I found out that startups were beginning to build momentum so I tried searching for a job in one. I was actually offered a role in a local fintech company as a Digital Communication Specialist until a senior of mine, who worked with me together when I interned at GEPI, introduced me to Luno. He was trying to find somebody to work as a country analyst. I was like, “I have no idea what Bitcoin or digital currency is, much less what being a country analyst actually means.” But he told me that I can do a lot of things in Luno. I can work on operations, marketing, advertising, community engagement, and I can also speak to customers, interact with media – a lot of things. I’d be basically assisting the country head to make sure things run smoothly in Indonesia.

But I was still unsure. At the time, everyone thought Bitcoin was all about buying narcotics on the black market, funding terrorism, and money laundering. And I had nobody to ask about these things because not a lot of people were knowledgeable about the topic. So I spoke to the CEO of Luno, Marcus, who explained what Bitcoin was to me. He made me confident that I would grow a lot in Luno, and I love how humble he was (and still is). I was a fresh grad after all, but there was never a moment he underestimated me and that to know that somebody believed in my ability to give value to the company – I decided to go with this offer. So that’s how I jumped into this industry and got the chance. And now I’m really glad that I’m one of the people who knew about it before others did.

Can you explain a bit more about what Bitcoin is exactly? What’s so special about it?

Basically, Bitcoin is a technology that allows a cheaper, more efficient, and more effective money transfer between two parties. People call it a currency because it works like money, but it’s actually a new technology that facilitates the exchange of money. And it affects money just like the Internet affected information back in the 90s. But the difference is that back in the 90s when you knew that the Internet was going to change information systems, you could not actually invest in that technology – even if you believed that it would revolutionize something big. But for Bitcoin – you can actually invest in the technology. That’s why people are buying Bitcoin and other tokens. Currently, we see people using Bitcoin as investment vehicle rather than a currency. People don’t use it to pay things yet, but that will happen in the future.

What’s are some challenges currently faced in the Bitcoin industry?

I think the huge challenge is that you have to educate a lot of people about what exactly Bitcoin is. Of course there will be people who will misuse the technology, but there will be a lot of positive things that will happen because of Bitcoin as well.

And it’s not just about educating current Bitcoin users, but also people who want to do something with the industry – people who want to work on Blockchain or in the Bitcoin industry but haven’t yet. I really appreciate the people who educate themselves on Bitcoin and dive into the industry. But a lot of people will choose the safer route rather than this new industry.

What are some interesting use cases that you’re excited about in the Bitcoin and Blockchain industries?

An interesting use case of Blockchain is for elections, or say, voting – storing data or information of voters before they vote, and storing the vote that they give. This will diminish the possibility of a third party intervention making the data unreliable. It’s something that people are trying to encourage governments or even companies to implement.

The other intriguing use case is that I can create a contract between you and me without having a notary or third party helping us. We can store all information in the Blockchain and the contract will run automatically. It will read whether you give me the payment when I give you the service, and whether I really give you the service or not. This will make it more efficient and effective for two people to do something without a third party. Less cost, more efficiency.

For Bitcoin, it would be international money transfer. For example, if I need South African Rand I would have to buy US dollars first here, because Rand isn’t available in any money changer in Indonesia. I will then need to bring this USD to South Africa to exchange it. Hence, there will be double rates differences and fees I need to pay – not to mention the hassle of going through this whole process.  If I do it by bank or internet banking, the bank will charge me fees.But with Bitcoin, I can send money instantly after exchanging it to Bitcoin, so it will be cheaper and faster. So Bitcoin actually allows for a cheaper and more efficient cross-border money transfer.

How is the Bitcoin industry like for women?

Actually, I only know three or four Indonesian women in this industry outside of my company, as there are not many companies in Bitcoin. At Luno, 40% of our company members are women. Everyone is equal here.

Sometimes I feel like I’m even a bit better because naturally women are better at details, right? For example when we have event, women will be looking at the details to ensure nothing is missed and that things will run smoothly. And as our industry involves people’s money, we need to build trust and relationships with customers. So if a Bitcoin company has women working on this, I believe it may work better. Women have a way with communicating with empathy and feeling more, that the social skills will help us in speaking to customers.So I think all companies should have women, especially those in the fintech space.

Yet I think a lot of women in general are not in the industry yet because first, it’s a very new industry and people – they tend to lean to something safer like fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) or multinational corporations, etc. – something that everybody knows about. Digital assets aren’t something that everyone knows about, right? I hope that women can be brave in this industry because I think it’s just as welcoming as any other industry.

Have you faced any challenges yourself as a woman in this industry?

There’s this funny thing that happened to me when I met a bank manager for work. I think it’s because I’m young and a woman, and he didn’t expect an operations lead at Luno to be this young and to be female. When he first saw me, his facial expression translated how shocked he was. Like he looked so — I really think he was looking down on me. I was laughing in my head because his facial expression really showed it all!

So this is one tip for people who think they are too young or feel inferior in given situations. For me, I just wait until I have the chance to blurt out everything that I have prepared in my head. In this case, I just started explaining after he finished his questions, “Oh yes we do know risk scoring, API, sanction list, and this is what we do…”. And that is when I saw his facial expression started to change. He began to smile and became more welcoming. He stopped investigating me and started promoting his own product. So that’s one funny situation where I was looked down upon as a young woman in this industry.

Do you see any notable Bitcoin trends in Indonesia?

I think for Indonesians, it’s hard for us to take risk compared to other companies. We need someone to take us along the process to try new things. I think that’s how Bitcoin users in Indonesia are different from those in other countries. For example, Luno’s app is built to be intuitive and it is the same for all users around the world, but for Indonesia we have to add a special segment that actually explains the process of depositing money or sending Bitcoin or something like that. A lot of users will send us tickets or questions via social media to reach us asking us to explain step by step. That’s why in Indonesia we do community meetups to explain how we do things. We also do webinars, events, Youtube videos, step-by-step responses, and others. We don’t really do this in any other country — even if we do, it’s less than what we do here. We need to be more passionate, careful, and detailed in the Indonesian market. But to be honest, the whole process is actually more rewarding. Indonesians tend to be more thankful when they know you are there, together with them, and you have helped them going through this process of upgrading themselves to a better financial world.


Melina Subastian: Investment Manager at Alpha JWC Ventures

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Melina. I am an investment manager at Alpha JWC Ventures. We are a venture capital firm with a focus on Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia for early and mid-stage tech startups. We do investments with the founder-first principles, where we like to back great mindset and potential entrepreneurs.

Describe your journey. How did you get to where you are today?

My journey. My first job was in management consulting with McKinsey & Co. in the Jakarta office. I spent about three years there, and I did most of my projects in digital transformation and community development (in McKinsey, they refer to “tech” as “digital”). Some of the projects I did were things like digital banking development for conventional banking, e-commerce platform development for modern retailers, and ‘digital village’ creation where we empower offline-to-online technology transformation in rural areas in Indonesia.

Working on those projects made me very excited about tech industry. After couple of years advising corporations, I got interested in seeing the wider scope of tech in the startup landscape. I interviewed with both tech start-ups and VCs. I ended up in a VC because I felt very passionate in making a wider impact, and VC role would allow me to do it. By doing assessments and leveraging a network and wide community of companies, we can provide a wider impact and also help in community development and ecosystem building, like what ANGIN and Connector.ID do. I really think that based on my character and personal preferences, this is something that really suits me. I can also apply what I learned during my time at management consulting, especially in the assessment of companies, compatibility with founders, and portfolio management. So far, I feel very happy here.

As a VC, you’re able to see a wide variety of start-ups. From what you see, how are women entrepreneurs doing? How are the numbers? Do you see a lot in certain sectors?

This is a very interesting question. I’ve spoken at some panels and events on gender-lens investing and women’s entrepreneurship, and this question often popped up. I see that – and everybody knows this – women entrepreneurs are still very much a minority in Indonesia and in Southeast Asia. I would say that the visible ones are around 10-20% of all start-ups. If you look at our 20 portfolio companies, four companies have female founders. Four out of 20 is actually quite a good number for female VC-backed startups. We are actively trying to promote and encourage more women entrepreneurs in our investments going forward.

How does the investment landscape actually view these women entrepreneurs?

So when I said around 10-20% of all start-ups have female founders, those are the visible ones. But the VC-backed ones are even less than 10%. Yeah. And there are a few reasons for that. Which are actually due to how the landscape views women as entrepreneurs.

This goes without saying, but there’s a nonverbal stereotype within the VC community that I have actually observed and is also something backed by data. Recently, Alpha JWC had a female-led event called Alpha Female on women’s entrepreneurship and gender-lens investing. We featured some female leaders and practitioners that we see have great impact in female entrepreneurship. Some of them included: Sonia Barquin, a partner in digital banking, Dayu Dara, Head of GO-LIFE at GO-JEK, Alyssa Maharani of Google Accelerator and Grace Natalia, one of our female co-founders. We were talking about one very interesting data point from a Google research project indicating that there is a big discrepancy in terms of the proportion of males that got investments after pitching compared to females who got investment after pitching. Females are less likely to get investment, even though the content of the pitching was the same. The research was conducted across VCs, accelerator programs, and pitching competitions. To me, that is quite ironic. This is a data-backed research.

Even without data, I can see this in practice. For example, I was once in a chat with some other VCs and they were saying something like, “Oh the business idea is great, the market is big, but she’s the only founder and she’s female.” That to me is sad. Why? One, the community still holds females to unrealistically high social expectations. They ask, “What if she gives birth? What if she gets married? What about our investment?” That’s very sad, right? Second, they also don’t believe that females can scale themselves up or push themselves to be great tech leaders. Third, these people take it as a casual chat. They chat about it in front of me – who is also female – and they think of it as something that is very normal. To me, this is something that is deeply rooted in gender bias stereotypes. It is something that we – starting from us – really need to take action about, and a sign that we must encourage entrepreneurship from females. Create more chances for them, give more opportunities.

What are some tangible ways we can move forwards as a start-up ecosystem? Is it having more gender-focused events? Showcasing more stories? Or targeting a quota for women in portfolios?

Stories like these are definitely important. But what is equally, if not most important is actually how we take action. I like action-oriented initiatives such as gender-lens investing – really targeting female entrepreneurs and backing them to give them support. Second, we should not forget other female communities in the ecosystem who are non-founders. These are people like female tech enthusiasts, professionals, and leaders like C-levels, Head levels. They also need support. We should create support groups. Even small things like WhatsApp groups or small mini-networking events once a month, those are very helpful. I’m personally involved in some communities like this. One is SheVC, a community driven by female VC leaders and associates in Jakarta. Another is Fintech Female, a community driven by female fintech leaders in Singapore, including fintech founders, enthusiasts, and active investors like us in Southeast Asia.

How do we drive more female talents to the VC scene?

Similar to tech companies, tech VCs are also a male-dominated industry. Many times I found myself at a table or room full of men. In fact, in many pitchings I’m the only female. That is a fact. And so one solution is definitely role-modeling. Role-modeling is about two things. One is in terms of communication, the second is in terms of number. In terms of communication, initiatives like this – ANGIN Women’s Spotlight – is very helpful. Because you spotlight women in the ecosystem and that triggers other women to join and contribute in the VC landscape. In term of numbers, we should look into eliminating gender bias in recruiting. By hiring more women, we increase the number of role models.

I found very few female VC role models in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia. When I started my career as a consultant, one piece of advice that the HR told me was to look up to female role models at the firm in order to boost my development quickly. The firm at that time consisted of 30-40% female, with few of them in partner level. The female proportion is considered minority, but that is more doable compared to this industry. As a female VC – especially ones starting out in the first 1-2 years – it’s important to see how to succeed as a female. Even simple tips like how to self-brand, how to build presence, how to bring yourself in a meeting by asking right and targeted questions – those are the things we should get with more role models in the tech industry.

Men also carry responsibility for getting more females in the room and encouraging female role models. What are some tangible steps we can take to hold our male counterparts accountable?

I like this question! We’re talking about what men can do, right? One is eliminating gender bias in recruiting. If the quality of the candidate is the same, think about how to also balance gender in recruiting. Another is definitely during meetings, in pitching, or in discussions with other VCs, to try to really involve female counterparts by giving them a chance to speak or asking them questions, or even as simple as introducing them in the beginning. That helps in terms of confidence. Of course, we would expect a proactive approach from female VCs as well, but sometimes in a room dominated by men, that might be a challenge that is not really visible.

How do you go forward in your day-to-day being the only female in the room? Where do you get your confidence from?

The most important thing is definitely the mindset. If you think that because we’re female that we’re victimized, then we would act or behave as if we are the minority. Like we’re being discriminated, that we’re victims. I never felt like because I was female I had different capabilities than men. That has never been my mindset. But I see many females think that way.

A second tip is to try in every meeting, in every pitching, to give a good if not great impression. Show your credibility and capability, ask the right questions, and then give some good advice, some good feedback.

The third is to leverage our natural advantage as female. Being female, we do have one advantage in terms of character. We’re seen as more caring creatures. We are perceived as being able to understand and sympathize more with others than a man can. So leverage that. Because during pitching, entrepreneurs like to be listened to. Not just about whether they can be invested in or not, but also if we can give feedback to their challenges.

Have you yourself faced personal challenges? Any incidents of facing gender bias?

One is perhaps in terms of the jokes. I feel like some jokes are improper and can lead to sexual harrasment. Not extreme, but it’s still a form of harassment. For example, I once spoke at a tech event dominated by male audiences and they said, “Oh you should be his girlfriend, oh you might want to know me further.” It’s just improper. Building presence is very important. It can be done by not responding to those things while keeping ourselves polite.

Another challenge would be the one I mentioned before, where I saw some VC investors talking about a female founder, where they actually doubt her just because she is a female. The business is good, the market is big, but just because she’s a female – because she might get married or give birth next year, they chose not to invest. Those are the two incidents I see.

Do you have any advice for other girls who want to get into the VC industry?

One is to think about yourself as a pioneer. Because if you join now, you’ll be one of the first female VCs in Indonesia and in Southeast Asia. You’ll probably be one of the first 10% of the female VCs in Indonesia actually. While venture capital itself is a growing industry – we’re getting more mature, compared to a few years ago. Think about it as ‘we’re writing history and you’re being a part of it’.

Second, if you’re facing any challenges or any difficulties in building confidence, that is a very normal thing. But with time and through mentorship, by sharing with support groups or anyone you can trust, you can overcome it.


Dian Wulandari: COO & Co-Founder of Instellar

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Dian Wulandari, co-founder and COO of Instellar. How I got to where I am, it’s a long story. Basically I come from a PR & Marketing background. The last job I had was COO of Marketeers, a media and communications company focusing on youth. We did projects on oil, coal mining, DDI, and an NGO as well. I’m also a big believer in technology; I’m the woman lead of Google Business Group Jakarta – a community supported by Google.

Because I’m a believer in technology, I’m also an early adopter of tech. I used Google while it was still in beta testing. I even used GO-JEK when it didn’t have an app yet – you had to dial a call center to ask for a bike to pick you up. That’s how I got into this startup business. Even though I’ve worked at different companies, I always do two to three months of sabbatical each year to work for non-profit organizations and to do volunteer work. I’ve found that my passion is to help people. But I still have to pay the bills, right? So I go back to work.

I always wanted to have this balance – you want to do good but you want to make money also. And then I heard about the term “social enterprise” – a way to balance social and business. I co-founded Instellar with four partners. It is basically an ecosystem builder, trying to build an ecosystem where everyone can be a social enterprise. Well, I don’t really like the term social enterprise actually. My vision is that in the future there is no such thing as social enterprise. Every company should be responsible to the environment, to society. You don’t have to categorize.

We’re thinking that as an ecosystem builder we can’t just focus on one stage of entrepreneurs. We have to tap into different stages of businesses to make an ecosystem. If your goal is to achieve a vision where everyone is a social enterprise, when everyone is taking care of the planet and its people – it’s not going to work if you’re only focusing on the prototyping stage. We have to do it all as an ecosystem builder. That’s why we created Instellar.

In terms of creating a more socially-minded ecosystem, what work remains to be done?

I do think the first barrier we need to tackle is to stop looking at money as evil. If you have that mindset, you will think that having a profit is not the same as having an impact. Actually, that’s not the case – we can do both. I think that’s the first barrier we need to tackle. You know what they say about money being the root of all evil? Well I think that it’s actually the lack of money that is a root of evil. You can have profit and do good – the two are not mutually exclusive.

Instellar doesn’t only focus on early social enterprises. We do have to give consideration to big corporations as well. Take Ben and Jerry’s, for instance. They’re making good impact. They don’t use GMO products, they have a good business process, good business model, they make profit. I think these big companies also have to be shown in our publications, conversations, and awareness. Stop thinking about these big corporations as these evil, profit-creating entities. That’s the first barrier we have to tackle. Yes, there have to be better regulations and incentives – but it’s the mindset that we have to break down first. Having money and profit means you can do more.

On one hand, we have to shift profit-makers to making impact. On the other hand, we must also work with impact-makers to sustain themselves through business. It’s a balance between profit and purpose. From my experience, it’s harder for the impact entities to go to the middle than for the profit side. So we did have an experience incubating this NGO. Very good, very impactful, the team was also good. They wanted to change, they wanted to have a business model. Their operations of just asking for grants wasn’t sustainable. They really wanted to, but their mindset was very hard to change. For instance, when we asked them to increase the price they were reluctant.They felt it was hard for people to buy at a higher price. But actually for the same price it was very hard for them to grow. That’s the mindset.

In general, there are fewer women entrepreneurs in relation to other entrepreneurs, but there seems to be a lot of women entrepreneurs in social entrepreneurship. Why do you think that is?

Yeah, it’s true. There’s a growing trend in social entrepreneurs led by women. For example, we currently incubate 78 social entrepreneurs. Last year the proportion was 60% male-led, 40% female-led. This year it is 55% female-led and 45% male-led. So that’s a growing trend. Why? One, because again the global movement is different now. There is a lot of momentum in giving more chances for women to become entrepreneurs. And we do find that when women create something, they do it not just for themselves but also for their families. And women tend to be the decision-makers of the family. They’re thinking about others. It’s a common research topic – McKinsey and a few other consultancies have findings on it. I don’t know if it’s a stereotype or not, but I do think that women tend to think more about impact – not just about profit. That’s why a lot of social entrepreneurs are being led by women, and it’s coming from their hearts and solving problems in their societies.

One example: there’s Kostoom, an app for tailors to find customers. The founder, who is female, created it because her mother was a tailor. She found it was getting harder for traditional tailors to find customers. Since she knows tech, she created an app for it.

Do you think there is a greater focus on women in the startup space?

I think we are creating more opportunities for women. People are recognizing that there are more and more women-focused programs in accelerators that are being held in Jakarta, in Indonesia, and globally. I do think there’s a thin line between women’s empowerment and discrimination against men. A lot of people are asking, “Why only women? How about men?” Well, men already have all these facilities and everything, you can join it if you want to. The bottom line is that there are several things that women need to learn specifically. That are different. Problems that are different from what men are facing.

For example?

For example, being judged by your appearance. And then also this is a personal experience, but sometimes if your counterpart is male, they will sometimes hit on you. For other people it’s hard to draw a line between personal and professional.

But I think the bigger barrier for women is coming from within. One is the confidence level. I don’t know why – being in society, being in the patriarchy, it makes women more timid. For some of us, it doesn’t come naturally to speak their opinions – unlike men – because we are afraid of being judged. So that confidence level and fear of being judged…you don’t know what you think of yourself and you care about what others think. We’re born to this kind of society where we have this perception of what women should do.

Do you have any specific challenges you’ve faced as a woman in your industry?

I had problems while I was still new in Marketeers. I had joined the company for one year. I was in charge of everything. People talked about me, saying I’m a new kid, I’m female. People also judge their bosses differently when it comes to gender. When a male boss is meticulous, they call it “detail-oriented.” When it’s a woman, they call it “ribet (complicated/fussy) ”. Some women think about that and take it into consideration. They spend their time working on relationships instead of working on their professional goals. That’s one of the challenges of being a female.

When I talk to a lot of investors, some investors prefer to invest in women. They say that women are more reliable. They set realistic goals compared to their male counterparts. But the problem is that these females don’t want to be invested in. They don’t want to grow a bigger company. Why? Because one, confidence level. They don’t know if they can manage it, they don’t know if they can fulfill investor demands. Meanwhile, their male counterparts are more confident.

That’s why we have our workshops and trainings that focus on women. It’s not about business, it’s about soft skills. We teach them about unconscious bias, because it’s not just about men that harbor them. We as women have unconscious biases as well. Sometimes, women are also more judgmental to other women than to men. So before we change the world, we have to change ourselves first.

Do you have any advice for other girls who are facing those same confidence issues? How can we begin to overcome gender biases?

The short answer will be that when people say I’m bossy, I say, “OK, I’m the boss. So what?” I’m not bossy, I’m the boss. So just embrace it. It’s actually from my own experience. Once, I heard some of my subordinates calling me bossy behind my back. It hurt me from the very beginning. I thought to myself, what should I do? Should I be nice to them? It was important for me to get their approval. What I didn’t realize was that it was important for me to get the approval from them professionally. What they think about me, it’s not something I can change. What I can change is myself, how I interact with them.

You should recognize your own talent. Recognize your own talents and skills. Be humble, but be proud of yourself. For a lot of females it’s hard to take compliments. When you say, “You’re doing a good job,” their immediate answer is “The team is working on it, it’s not me, we’re working on it together.” Learn to say thank you. Embrace it. Be mindful but be proud of yourself. And learn how to say no. These tips sound simple, but try to practice it in your life. You’re good. You just have to believe in yourself.

How do we get to the point of creating a world where all businesses have social aspects when we live in a world where the system rewards revenue and not impact?

Well, I’d like to disagree with that. Because I think the world trend is going towards our direction. Yes, on the investment side they want to make bigger and faster profits. But I do think there is a shift in the global consensus as well when it comes to being socially conscious. Like the movement in San Francisco – all of those tech companies have high profit, but they do think about the welfare of the company, their employees, and the need to live a balanced life. To be a social enterprise, you not only need to be socially conscious about the world, but also about your employees as well. That has to be one of your considerations. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving a lot to society if you have modern slaves in your company. So I do think that the trend is going there.

The trend is going there in other ways. For example, governments around the world are now recognizing social enterprises. They give incentives – tax incentives. In Indonesia, we haven’t gotten those incentives. The latest case I know is Vietnam, where they have very good tax incentives for social entrepreneurs. We also see the B Corporation movement, which is going big and going global. I see a lot of big corporations are joining that movement and want to do good for the world.


Nina Moran: Co-Founder of GoGirl!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Nina Moran and I am the co-founder of Aprilis Co. Within Aprilis Co,, we have GOGIRL! Media, a retail company called Picnic, and a B2B garment manufacturing business as well.

How do I begin? Well, I started in 2004. About a year before, my sister was a design student. For one of her projects, she was supposed to create a magazine. Although it was just a school project, we kind of got over-excited about it and it became a full business plan. Everything was done – every page, every article. Her aim was just to get an A and we kind of forgot about the project until our dad found our proposal and said, “Well actually, this is really really good.”

At the time, the scene wasn’t anything like now. Now we have angel investors, VCs, crowdfunding – all these ways to find money. Investors now are actually much more visible than when we got started. There was no way that young girls like us – I was 25 and my sisters were 22 and 17 respectively – were going to create a media company. It was insane. Nobody was ever going to believe us or fund us. I said that to my dad – because of those reasons, there is no way to start this business. At the time we needed US $150,000. We didn’t come from a wealthy family. It didn’t make any sense.

So I went to banks. The banks told us we were simply too young. There was only one type of loan we could actually apply for, called multiguna. But the interest rate was very high – 18%. Our dad said, “You’re gonna lose money before you make money, but 18% is insane. So I have some money and just use it, but if you mess up then there’s no way your sisters are going to go to college. This is it, this is what I’ve been working for for 20 years.” And we were like “There’s no way our dad has that kind of money.” Like he lives outside the city and he lives in a kost. Every time it rained it would flood up to his waist, and whenever I’m there I would help him move his furniture and whatever. “You have $100k and you don’t rent a house? WHY?” And my dad turned to me and said because I can take it, and this is my savings for you guys.

So the next 6 months we studied the market and distribution channels, got to know people. A few months after that, we launched in January 2005. After that there was a whirlwind of all kinds of things. We got cheated on for US $60,000 and all kinds of things like that, you know? But the thing is we made it through.

In the publishing market, how many others are giving young girls a voice?

Not many, I’m afraid. There used to be a lot – over 14 players. A lot of them have closed already. Now, there are only two: me and one other. We don’t really like that, actually. Lots of people say that’s good, the cake will be yours, the advertisement budget will be yours. But when the industry isn’t sexy, it isn’t fun. We compete in certain things, but we also collaborate on others. And when we don’t have people to collaborate with, it’s not cost efficient in certain ways. So I don’t like it when my competitors are closing down.

What do you think is GOGIRL!’s recipe to success?

Stories are what makes GOGIRL! alive. It’s how we talk to our audience; we evolved and most people don’t. I really hate when people say media is dying. I don’t think so. I think it’s because [media] hasn’t evolved in a long time. If you don’t evolve or innovate, it’s natural that you become irrelevant. For us, print is still giving us a lot of income. But someday if print isn’t there anymore, the stories behind it will still be there. So the question is, how do we make these stories heard and go to the right audience?

We have different strategies for different platforms. Print is something for you to play with – to write on, to cut, to paste, to share. That’s why we call it a “playzine.” We shifted October 2016. Since we did, we started to see more growth. So that’s the strategy for the print. It’s like a hobbyist thing. For our website, we craft short stories, but in the feminist point of view. It’s deep but short. Those are the kinds of things that get lots of pageviews. And the content on our YouTube channel is super fun, super light. Like how to create the perfect winged eyeliner, what’s inside your bag. Every channel has its own strategy. That’s our growth strategy.

What’s the Indonesian market’s appetite for feminism? And what’s GOGIRL!’s own take?

I think that Indonesia is very diverse. And because we are very diverse, there’s a market for everyone. There’s a market for both liberal feminism and conservative feminism. That’s the way it is in Indonesia. You just have to market it right. You can’t be everything. You can’t be accepted by every group and you have to be okay with that.

For us, feminism is respecting every female’s choice, whatever that is. But we want you to make that choice a conscious choice, whatever it is. So you’ve thought about it, this is my decision, this is what I want to do. We believe that’s power. And we might disagree with you. For example, we don’t believe in getting married at such a young age. There are those who disagree with us on our site. And that’s okay, if that’s what you think. But that’s our point of view. Why are you thinking about marriage now? Shouldn’t you be thinking about what you want, what you dream of, what you aspire to be? It’ll come to you when it comes. But why do you have to think about it now? But if that’s your choice, if you’ve thought it through – then it’s power. It’s your choice. And we like that you have a choice. So that’s what we believe in and that’s how we write the angles on our publications.

How empowered are Indonesian women today in terms of pursuing their own businesses, their own goals, their own choices?

There are still lots of challenges for women all over the world. But I think Indonesia has a slight advantage. We have Kartini. And we have a proverb: “Heaven is underneath your mother’s feet.” Meaning that women are quite respected, quite looked up to in a way. Because we have female heroes as well, we are more progressive in ways versus places like the United States. But having said that, there are so many ways we can improve – for instance, the disparities between women in rural areas or even outside of Java versus those in Jakarta. These women still have lots of challenges compared to us here in Jakarta or in other big cities in Java. There are a lot of cultural barriers, as well as barriers to opportunity due to geographical access. We don’t really see many startups in Kalimantan for instance. Then again, the population there is also not as high as that of Java’s. But I think it’s more due to cultural and geographical access. How many venture capital firms are there actually in Sulawesi or Kalimantan? Technically, entrepreneurs could always access via call because it’s the internet era. But if you don’t live in Jakarta, it’s like going back and forth, back and forth for potential investors. It’s very costly.

Can you elaborate on the term, “cultural barriers?” What exactly does that mean for our non-Indonesian readers?

Well, it’s very similar across many cultures. The expectation that females still belong in the kitchen kind of thing, or that in some cultures, having a son is more desirable than having a daughter. Things like that. Oh, and the belief that if we [females] are too smart, too dominant, too ambitious – most women think that it’ll be much harder to find a spouse, things like that. There are even some subcultures in Indonesia where the father is very dominant and doesn’t allow their daughters to pursue higher education. In a way, it’s almost like we’re second-class citizens.

How can we start combatting those stereotypes and barriers to improve access to opportunities for women?

Fintech helps a lot. I really think so. I’m so happy that there are so many fintech companies that are running now. With fintech, you can help a lot of people in rural areas or people outside of Java. It’s super easy, people can simply apply online [to gain access to funds]. I think that’s super awesome.

I also see that women themselves are the biggest barriers to themselves. A lot of self doubt, over thinking. Lots of things. Yes, there are cultural barriers, religious barriers. But I see mostly it’s ourselves that are barricading ourselves to our futures. We forgot that we have to invest in our own self-growth. Go to seminars. Read books. Meet new people. Ask questions. Indonesian people hate asking questions. Those kinds of things, we have to unlearn from the past.

Have you faced any challenges unique to being a woman in an industry where you’re positioning yourself in a feminist light?

Although the media industry seems to be female-centric, the number of female owners is very small. In the entire media scene right now there are only two female founders. Femina Group and us. Everything else is founded by men. The owners, the founders are all men. We are still very much a minority in this industry. I think the female founders are minorities in most industries, actually.

I do have one memorable anecdote. When I was putting together Resonation (a women’s empowerment conference), I was trying to find sponsors. One prospective sponsor saw our proposal and invited us to their office to have a meeting. At the office, the CEO said to me, “Oh I know about this, this is that women’s empowerment dumb s***.” I was like, “Did I hear that out loud? Was that in my head?” And I was just looking left and right to my staff, and even the staff was horrified. It means that I didn’t actually hear that in my head. “I beg your pardon?” I said. He replied, “No, no, I mean why would I want to sponsor this?”

I was just opening my laptop and beginning my presentation. So I just closed it again and said, “Because of men like you, sir. That’s why I care about this women empowerment dumb s***,” and then I just walked out. Like, what just happened, this is 2016!

And how do you get past all that negativity? How do you brush that off despite the doubt, negativity, and resistance you face?

I guess I kind of recruited my support group in a way. Before I started creating Resonation, most of my network was male. I didn’t actually know a lot of female entrepreneurs or anyone like that. I was like, “Ugh, this is too much testosterone, I need females.” So I followed a lot of people on Instagram and invited them to go on a trip with me. And I mean we all knew each other by reputation but I had this idea of taking a trip together and we actually did. It was 14 of us, all alpha females. All of us had the exact same fear; we knew we are alpha so we were scared we’d all bite each others’ heads off. But because of the commonality and similar struggles we face, we actually got along really, really well. We actually became each others support system. We ask each other for advice, we would go to each other’s events. I think before I met these women, it was hard. All my male friends are awesome but they don’t understand the struggle of being female. I’m really grateful to have these 14 females that will just tell you if you’re doing a bad job or a project and they’ll tell you in your face. Like, “Hey I don’t think that’s gonna work,” and that’s so refreshing. You know there are people on your side.

What advice do you have for people with similar aspirations?

Do your due diligence, but stop overthinking. I think it’s a plague among the 20 year olds. Seriously. What is scaring you so much? Yes, there are risks, but be prepared and then jump. Don’t jump just to jump. Of course you’ll drown. But do your research. And then start. Because once you start, there will be so many lessons you will have to go through. And you’ll learn from that and you’ll get better from that. Stop overthinking already. Enough. It’s plaguing all the youth. Even if you are prepared, there will be so many things you’ll never anticipate. You’ll know what to do when you are in the situation. And if you don’t know what to do, then you’ll find out. Learn. Ask. Do whatever. Because once you’re there, you’ll have no choice but to get better or find solutions. That’s it.


Samantha Gunawan & Josephine Bahari of Blueboots Farm

Tell us a bit about yourself.

S: My name is Samantha Gunawan and I’m the founder of Blueboots Farm. I’m 28 this year and I graduated 2013. Upon graduation I worked in Singapore for one year at an industrial engineering firm, and that’s when I realized that I didn’t suit the office life. I’m more of a outdoor person, so I tend to look for something where I can move around more. One weekend, I came back to Jakarta and I was casually talking to my sister like, “Hey, I’m really interested in organic food,” and she’s like, “Oh I know Ibu Helianti Hilman from Javara, maybe you can contact her and just talk.” So I emailed her and she was just like, “Hey Sam, why don’t we just meet the next day at 3 pm at the Javara Kemang office?”

Ibu Helianti ended up offering me an internship at Javara. At first, I thought no, I should be getting a full time job rather than an internship. But maybe because I felt I was still young, I felt that I could still explore. And actually my parents also supported me in the sense that they told me, “You should make all the mistakes now and explore since you’re not married yet.” So I thought, okay maybe a three-month internship would be a good start to see whether I like the industry. Those three months turned into one year.

Ibu Hellianti wanted to open a new side business; she’s doing food processing right but she wants to do fresh produce, too. She has a lot of connections with the hotels in Jakarta and she has farmers in Bogor, but she doesn’t know how to connect the two because she’s too busy. She sees this girl (me) who wants to know more about organic farms, so she’s like, “Sam, you be the middle person and see how you can convey what they want to the farmers.” That’s where I think the trigger was for me to get into agriculture.

J: My name is Josephine Bahari. I graduated in 2016 with a graphic design degree. I was working at a graphic design firm for a year. I actually always had this passion for eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle and I’ve always been interested in Blueboots and but never got the chance to ask Samantha about it. I became tired of my job. Samantha happened to want to meet up (she’s my cousin), and she proposed that I help her. I said yes straight away and the rest is history.

I’ve been helping Samantha with the creative side of Blueboots and a little bit on the marketing side learning more about actual farming and where food comes from. I don’t think people are actually exposed to the agriculture side of organic food. I’m actually pretty blessed because I know where my food is coming from and how it is being nurtured and harvested into our dishes. And I think it made me more passionate and mindful of what I consume.

What is the health food scene like in Indonesia?

S: I feel like the health-conscious market is growing, but people still don’t really understand what “healthy” is about. For instance, gluten-free is assumed to be good but actually it depends on your body type. A lot of people are being eaten by marketing. Indonesians follow trends. So if Americans or Europeans are eating kale, we’re eating kale. But actually there’s a lot of other local plants that can replace that. We’re missing our own health culture.

J: i think it’s definitely super niche. The health scene is growing but there’s no personality to it. We’re really following Americans or Australians. It feels like everyone is copying each other. There’s no creativity or actual thought put into it. I think Salad Stop is actually a good model to follow. They have fresh produce as well, and there’s a story behind their business. I think their business is more conscious.

There’s a real psychology in the food business. It’s not just the taste, but also the story behind the food, where it comes from. The health market here is more about marketing than actual health consciousness. In short, it’s growing, but its growing very slowly.

Why is it important to know where your food comes from — why is that narrative important?

S: I think growing up as a city girl, I realized that I felt so disconnected with where my food came from and that I just took things for granted. So if you don’t finish the food, you don’t tend to have any guilt. But once you go to nature and you realize how seeds grow into plants and that it takes about 3-4 months… then you realize that you should not waste your food, and how you should treat the food. You need to minimize your cooking process because certain ways of cooking has more nutrition. I think when you know where your food comes from, you just become more appreciative and you tend to appreciate the ingredients themselves.

How was the transition between working for someone to becoming your own entrepreneur?

S:  Well, working for someone is really good. You don’t have to think about future steps, you don’t have to come up with a business plan, you don’t have to be accountable to your employees. Your mindset is just to do your job, but you’re not thinking about the whole business aspect of that firm. But when you’re doing your own thing, you have to put everything together, put the ideas into action. It takes more motivation, it takes more effort. You need to have passion. If not, I don’t think you can do it at all. I really love agriculture, so I think I jumped into the business with an excitement; it’s something I look forward to. Agriculture is not an easy task, so there were definitely a lot of worries. But you don’t know until you try.

The food industry in general is it male dominated or female dominated, how do you feel as a woman in that space?

S: I think I’m stepping into two industries; one is agriculture and one is food processing. The agriculture industry is definitely male-dominated. You rarely see a woman working on a farm. In terms of how I feel…I actually feel accomplished. At first, I felt intimidated but after awhile, when you know what you’re doing you feel good about it. I don’t feel any different from the men. Sometimes I feel like I’m even a little better.

As young women, do you actually find it hard to get people to see you as capable?

J: I feel that way in a lot of situations. Even sometimes when I go out with Sam. The people that she meets are experienced. They know more about agriculture. I do feel super intimidated, but I think the key is that I want to learn. That’s why I’m always in the back, listening and learning. I do hope that one day I can speak about Blueboots Farm like Sam. I’m actually in the process of learning right now.

S: I feel confidence is built up with experience. If I’m not experienced and I talk to people about things that are more advanced or technical, I tend to be honest with them and tell them, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m new, can you teach me?” People are actually open to that. If you are humble to them and tell them you don’t know, they will open up to you. So I’m never scared to go to a space where I meet people at a higher level than me because I think it’s a learning process. I’m sure one day I’ll be at that point where I can understand. One thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t understand, it’s because you don’t know yet. It’s not because you can’t.

Where do you see yourselves in five to ten years?

S: My perfect five year plan is for me to have good family time while at the same time a career. Not a career that will take my whole life and time away from family. So what I’m doing right now is i’m finding new partners and collaborations so that one day I can still run this while also spending time with family. Work-life balance is very important to me.

J: I definitely want to be involved in the food industry. Not necessarily towards the tertiary side. More to the primary side where Sam is at right now. I really want to learn about food and where it comes from, as well as helping get the word out that eating healthy is not hard. It’s actually so simple, but people just don’t understand it. I think that is actually my passion, and I’m learning little by little. Slowly. Learning about farming and maybe learning to talk to people about it and finding a business that can convey it to people.

M: How do you see women coming into the food industry? How are they changing the food sector?

S: I’m very impressed by all these women. Nowadays I see that women are more business-minded. They get things done quicker and more efficient than men. Even my mom. I feel like women are more meticulous. You need someone like that in the company. Every company needs a woman. They’re the drive behind it.

J: I think males – at least in Jakarta – are not as interested in the holistic and organic lifestyles as females are. So I think it’s actually a good thing. As women, we have this mother-like instinct, taking care of people and ourselves. Not saying that men don’t possess that, but I think women are more expressive about it. I think that’s why we see a lot of women in this sector. We want to take care of people. That’s why social entrepreneurship is more female-dominated. They don’t just want to earn profit, but they want to create impact.

Any advice for other girls looking to jump into the industry?

S: If you want something, just do it. Explore more. If you keep exploring, you can definitely find how you can connect your passion with work. I also feel like you cannot be lazy. Keep on finding your purpose in life, what you want to do. Don’t wait until you’re 50 because then it may be too late. Start as early as possible.

J: I relate to the laziness part. I procrastinate a lot. Recently I’ve learned to have that go-getter attitude if I really want to succeed. The key is to just not be lazy. To always have that drive. Find that drive and what you like. Just excite yourself.


Farina Situmorang: Managing Partner at Catalyst Strategy

Tell me a bit about yourself.

My name is Farina Situmorang. Five years ago I moved back to Indonesia and started a services company called Catalyst Strategy. We focus a lot on marketing and digital strategy, helping companies and even political clients in creating campaigns. In the last five years of my journey, I dabbled in a lot of other companies; by dabble, I mean starting three other companies. Right now, I’m only focusing on Catalyst and am on the board of a beauty company. Catalyst provides consulting services for marketing, communications, and crisis strategy. We take on a lot of interesting projects, including those involving Blockchain technology.

How did I get here? Well, I started my career in Indonesia, and I’ve always been working for technology companies, in marketing and sales roles. I started in IBM, Microsoft. Then I went to the United States for business school. After that, I moved to a company that you might still know, Blackberry in Canada, doing their strategy at corporate headquarters in Waterloo, Canada. Then I moved to San Francisco, where I worked for a small marketing automation startup. Following that, I worked for WhatsApp (acquired by Facebook). Now I’m here.

Such a diverse journey! What made you want to get into the tech entrepreneurship scene in the first place?

Part of it is wanting to prove yourself and show that you can succeed in front of others. You kind of also believe in an idea. When I was in San Francisco, I was fired (this is before WhatsApp) and I thought to myself, “What am I going to do next?” I’ve always wanted to do entrepreneurship for some reason; I think it runs in my family, so it was kind of like, “Oh maybe it’s time to do it.” Because at that point, what’s there to lose? I was sleeping on a couch already.

The only idea I had at the time was to take a lot of the strategies, techniques, and tools that I’ve learned through my technology marketing experiences and use them in a more socially impactful project. At the time, I thought this would be the presidential election. So that was it, actually. I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna come back home and I’m gonna run the digital campaign for a presidential candidate.” I came back to do just that and convinced my two partners to leave their full-time jobs to do it, too. They’re still my partners today. We basically all came together for that particular idea, which in the end we managed to do a year later, but not without blood, sweat, and tears. We got rejected so many times and we thought we failed so many times. But fortunately for us we were rejected by the right people and we got OK’d by the right ones, too.

How do you motivate yourself to keep going in the face of rejection? What’s your strategy to cope with it?

I’m not gonna lie, it always sucks. I think most entrepreneurs, or even investors or founders, we try to kid ourselves and think that “Oh, failures are so important and being rejected is part of success, and you will only learn when you make mistakes.” But at the end of the day, it doesn’t feel good. We have this idea of romanticizing failure, but in the end we still don’t like it. And I don’t like it. But it’s reality. You get rejected all the time. I still do.

To add to that, it’s actually quite easy to be rejected by others that you don’t necessarily care so much about. But when it comes to receiving feedback from people you are closest to – say your partner or your spouse or your parents – that’s a different level of hearing your mistakes or listening to your failures, so to speak, as they’re being put in front of you by people you care so much about. And you want their approval so much.

How I deal with it is not taking it too personally and realizing that a lot of things are not under my control, understanding how I can do better next time, and asking myself, “is this for me, is this not?” Just having that self awareness, that’s how I deal with it. And how I cultivate self awareness is through meditation and self reflection. I actually do it religiously every morning – it’s how I start my day. It’s something you kind of have to build.

As a side note, my husband keeps on telling me I’m really bad at receiving feedback. But it is what it is. I said, “Well, there’s content and then there’s delivery. And your delivery sucked!” (laughs)

Have you faced any challenges as a female entrepreneur and CEO?

I get invited a lot to panels on women in technology or girls in tech or whatnot. You know, sometimes I question it. Like, this is 2018 and we’re still calling female CEOs, “female CEOs” instead of just CEOs. The term is not a “boss”, it’s a “boss lady”. Things like that.

In terms of gender-specific challenges…I realize that we tend to be very permissive. I was asked this question a while back and I was like, “Honestly I don’t feel any differences being a woman in the tech space or running my own company. I don’t think I’ve ever felt discriminated.” Until you know, there was a time last year when all these women founders came out and they named a few VCs that were treating them inappropriately. And all these stories came out. I actually had an interaction with one of those VCs. He lingered in my hotel during a business trip out of town. Yet, at the time, I didn’t think there was anything wrong about it.

You know, how permissive women can be…it’s mind-boggling. I tend to let it go, let it slide. It’s almost expected of them to do that to me or other women. As if it is okay for some men to allude to you being pretty or beautiful or whatever in a business setting. And when they do these things and you’re kind of just like, “Ugh whatever, it happens all the time, right?” So that was like a realization moment for me, to be honest. I didn’t know what to do in that situation, and I still don’t know.

Another example: I was in a restaurant for a meeting only a few days ago, actually. And the ratio of males to females…I was the only female. There were 14 other CEOs and investors, and they were all male. I was the only woman there. And the only question they asked me was, “Are you married?”

That was probably one of the very first times that I had to command a presence in a room, versus people already gravitating towards me or asking me questions. If I didn’t ask enough questions, I don’t think they would’ve seen me there. The environment was aggressive. This is just another anecdotal example.

But the truth of the matter is that 80% of the time, I don’t feel any differences. But there’s always that 20%. I don’t really like to play the victim or the woman card because I don’t feel victimized and I don’t feel like I’m not given the same chance. But maybe I should be speaking out more.

It’s a known fact that an all-female founder team doesn’t get as much investment in the VC game. There are VCs out there that blatantly would just say no to female founders. And they say it very openly. These cases are not ok. I think I probably also need to educate myself on how best to deal with that.

How do we get more girls to be CEOs, managers, partners of firms?

For one, when it comes to choices and options, anyone – regardless of gender, sexual orientation – should have options and choices. And once you have the option, the choice, people should be free to do whatever they want to do.

I dont think it’s a question of should or should they not want to be leaders? Is being a CEO a good thing? I don’t think it’s good or bad. I think it’s just a choice. If those women want to take this choice or exercise this option, then yes I think the ecosystem and industry should be nurturing anyone – not just these girls – who wants to achieve these positions. I could say the same about people coming from outside elite universities, or people coming outside of Java island. These people also don’t have enough opportunities, for example. I think that the conversation should be a lot more broader.

Do you have any advice for first-time entrepreneurs who want to embark on their entrepreneurship journey?

I think first and foremost, you really have to understand why – why do you want to do this? Because you know, if your excuse or your reason to start a company is to make money, there are easier ways to make money. Starting your own company might be one of the riskiest ways you could possibly take. Ask yourself over and over, “Why am I doing this?”

Then, there’s what kind of entrepreneur you want to become. Our company did really well in the beginning doing services. It’s when we decided to stray from our path – what we’re supposed to do – and tried to dabble here and there… that’s when we didn’t do so well. There are going to be investors and other entrepreneurs and other founders that will ask you why you’re doing the things that you’re doing. They’ll ask, “Don’t you want to achieve bigger and better things?” and you’ll want to believe that it’s true. People will come to you if they see you as somewhat capable and they’ll want you to push your boundaries. You have to decide whether you want to be that kind of entrepreneur or not.

Nowadays, people think the only way you can do a startup is to look up to these big companies and aspire to be like them – the Grabs of the world, or Uber, GO-JEK, Facebook. You have to realize how many people actually become that, what it takes to get there, and whether or not that’s for you. I think that was a very painful learning for me over the last five years. Because your ego says you want it and you can do it, and probably you can if you persevere and go through that, but is that actually something you want? And are you willing to give up the things you need to give up to get there?

How about advice for current entrepreneurs?

Asking these really hard, truthful questions is very important. Why? For me, the elegance of the consulting process is something I love. Not everybody is so passionate about that. If that is what I love to do, then why do I want to do all these other things that comes with being the CEO of something like GO-JEK or Traveloka? There’s a lot of operations and routine, which is not what I do best. So knowing yourself is very important for entrepreneurs. Self awareness is so key, and the ability to question that all the time, to ask if that’s something that you want.

Also important is knowing that you probably won’t be great at everything. Knowing that will help you decide who to partner with, who to found the company with. If you don’t know that, you should know that. As I said, I’m much more strategic. I actually don’t really like looking into details. I would make a really terrible CFO. That’s just not me. So you need to partner with people like that and surround yourself with people who are better than you are at doing all these things that you can’t do.

When is the right moment to pivot? To scale? And when do you decide to stick your ground?

The notion of growth and scale and expansion can be tricky. Like why? Are you not happy with being very premier and boutique and just good at what you do? Or do you really need to scale up? You need to ask yourself how much money you need to make at the end of each month. And then your business decision, your business model should reflect that.

It really all comes back to business fundamentals. Will there be a market for what you’re building? Will people pay for it? How hard is it to sell to other people? If it’s so hard, you have to question whether or not you’re doing the right thing. It’s like a test. When things are moving in the right direction, it will still be hard. None of this is easy, but it’s not going to feel like you’re swimming against a current. When it comes to building something that doesn’t have a market and the business fundamentals aren’t there, you’re going to get questioned so much more. 10x, 100x more the usual amount. Swimming against the current is not fun. You’re not going to be moving anywhere. So I would question that.

What is one tangible step to achieving success?

On a lot more practical level, my advice is to seek mentorship. I think what a lot of younger people tend to take for granted are the opportunities to be mentored and coached. They tend to want to go through things on their own. They don’t seek enough advice.

I didn’t get here on my own. I have a lot of mentors and advisors and coaches that have helped me get to where I am. It’d be impossible without them. Nobody can open your perspective more than those who’ve done it before. If you want to be a CEO, then you need to start talking to CEOs. Because they’ve been there, they’ve done it. It’s very important to surround yourself with people who you aspire to become.

In my company, there’s a lot of younger employees. They tend to stick to their own classmates from university or high school. You need your peers of course, but at the same time you need to be talking to people who are older. People who have been out there in the world doing many other things. If you’re not doing that, then your perspective isn’t really open. If you’re aspiring to be a CMO or COO or founder, then you need to be talking to them. I don’t think that’s being taught enough at local universities. In business school, I was told to reach out to as many alumni as possible. That mindset is not being talked about enough here.

Do you have any mentors or role models that you constantly look up to?

Yes. And they come in different forms. You kind of realize that people are not perfect, and you take what you can from different folks. For example I look up to this one CEO and he always gives me very pragmatic feedback on my business decisions, for example. But that’s the only advice I would get from him. I wouldn’t ask him for any personal stuff.

I very much look up to a group of my girl friends. I seek advice from my friends who are investors, other CEOs, and my own husband. He’s my constant coach and mentor. I look up to my grandmother very much. She is probably one of the most successful entrepreneurs I know but has also failed multiple times. She was a widow at 28 with five children; my mom grew up without ever seeing her father. One day she started a textile factory on her own and ended up becoming worth tens of millions of dollars. Her story is fascinating and means a lot to me.


Namira Puspandari of Foundation for International Human Rights Reporting Standards (FIHRRST)

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Namira Puspandari. I am a program coordinator at an international NGO called Foundation for International Human Rights Reporting Standards (FIHRRST), founded by some human rights celebrities in Indonesia: Marzuki Darusman, Makarim Wibisono, H.S. Dillon and James Kallman. As program coordinator, I handle human rights issues such as religious tolerance, minority rights, and the death penalty in Indonesia. I’m also in charge of the development of our work in our Brussels office.

The story of how I got this job is actually pretty funny. In Jakarta, I attended a business and human rights conference. One of the speakers was my would-be boss. I was very interested in his speech; after he was done, I went up to him and asked him some questions. I was like, “Oh yeah, your speech was amazing, I had no knowledge about business and human rights. I learned about it in school but not as in-depth as in your speech. And by the way, are you recruiting?” The next thing I knew he was like, “Oh you should come to our office!” And then a few weeks after that, I started working at FIHRRST.

So that’s how you do networking!

Yes (laughs). I’ve actually never gotten a job from a website or something. It’s never worked out for me. I always have to do it some other way. Even my previous job I got from LinkedIn. I was still in the Netherlands back then, desperately unemployed (again) after finishing my contract with an NGO in The Hague. And my would-be boss sent an InMail and told me he read my research and was interested in the possibility of working together.

What projects or initiatives have you spearheaded within your NGO?

The ones that are under my supervision right now are the prison reform project funded by the Tifa Foundation, an Open Society network and the one that I recently finished is a human rights short course for senior students at a pesantren (traditional Islamic boarding school) in Jombang, East Java, which is funded by the Canadian government through the Canadian Embassy in Jakarta.

How do you empower women through your projects?

The prison reform project implementation is in a women’s prison in Tangerang. We want to improve the psychological wellbeing of the prisoners and help reintegrate them into society. Basically, women that have just been released from prison usually face discrimination; they feel that they cannot engage even with their own families or feel like they cannot be good role models to their children. Those kinds of feelings can lead them to commit the same mistake. So we want to help them out, but at the same time we want to reduce the rate of recidivism. Women in prison fall into the category of vulnerable group. This is a way to empower them so that they will be ready when they have to reintegrate back into their communities.

And then regarding the short course – the focus is more on introducing or trying to advance the concept of freedom of religion to traditional Islamic school students. The idea is also about introducing equality and challenging them in thought. At first the women participants were a bit shy, but we always encourage them to participate in discussion and engage. At some point, they were as enthusiastic as the male participants. In the end they even showed more interest. When I was delivering my presentation, they asked me a lot of stuff: “Hey, can we do this, what do you think about women’s rights, can we voice our opinions?” It was a very remarkable experience, I would say.

What’s the situation when it comes to women in indonesia and employment opportunities?

I wouldn’t like to say that it is all equal. Because we know that it’s not yet there. Compared to our parents’ generation, though, it is so much better now. The concept of women working in Indonesia, I think it’s quite accepted and normalized. We can find more and more opportunities to develop ourselves and to work. Even if you travel to remote areas in Indonesia, women who have skills are running businesses. They run shops by themselves. When you go to a warteg (small local restaurant), you see those women, they cook by themselves and manage the store by themselves.

But there’s still a lot of homework to do.

Maybe we don’t really feel the discrimination because to us it’s slight. But it affects women from lower household incomes the most. I think the main reason why these women cannot find a proper job is due to lack of information They don’t know where to find a job or how: for instance, if I want to land a good job, where do I start?

Maybe it is also about education – it’s so important, the level of education. I think for people like us, we are quite privileged, right? If we wanted to get the same benefit or same salary as a man, we can always fight for it. But it’s not the same for women of lower household income. They don’t know how to do it, that’s the thing. And in most cases they don’t have the same access to information of how to find a good, proper job. There’s also women in the informal sector; a lot of women feel like they’re not workers. Because they’re not registered. Probably your housemaid at home doesn’t have an official labor contract. I’m pretty sure because mine doesn’t have one either. And as a result, they are prone to have their rights violated because they aren’t legally protected. It’s simply because they don’t know how to voice their rights, and that what they do is still regarded as part of the informal sector.

So how do we empower women from going beyond opening a small warteg to opening a chain of them? How do we unlock the leadership potential of women?

We need a greater number of facilities to develop potential so that more women can hold those strategic positions. Employers should also acknowledge that we have the same capabilities as our male counterparts, that’s the most important thing. But we should also acknowledge that we have different needs.

In most cases that I’ve seen, when you are married and you have a kid, you feel like you have to choose between your family and your career. Currently, the perception is that if I hire this woman and she is recently married, then she will leave this office soon because she is on maternity leave. That will probably reduce the chance of that woman getting hired. A possible solution is applying the approach of Scandinavian countries and other European countries by giving paternity leave. This would be more fair. Employers would realize that not only women take leave upon having children, but also men. And it would also give women the chance to get back to work faster because the male partner would share in child-rearing responsibilities. This would also break the belief that only women who should have the main responsibility to take care of their children – it’s clearly a shared responsibility.

In the case of empowering former women convicts: How did they fall into that position in the first place? What made them resort to crime? What challenges do they face integrating back into society?

The biggest reason is financial. These women want to provide for their families. And that’s the the amazing thing about women: they would do anything, anything at all – even risking their lives – for their families. And that’s how they end up in prison. It’s not because they want to be a drug trafficker or something in the first place. It’s just the only way they know how to provide for their family. Again, it’s the lack of information on how to find proper job opportunities. They don’t know where to find the proper job and how.

And once these women try to get back to society, it is difficult for them to find a job due to the stigma against them. If you know this person is a former prisoner, there’s probably something in your mind, like a stigma that you cannot help. Of course you don’t want to discriminate against that person, but there’s something in your mind that says, “Oh she committed a crime against the law.”

So that’s difficult for them, even if they want to find a proper job. Even before they start working, if their prospective employee finds out they’re ex-prisoners, it’s over for them.

It’s a whole cycle.

Have you yourself faced any challenges being a working woman?

At work, I don’t really find any significant challenges based on my gender. I mean, it’s a human rights NGO, so we should all respect each other or there’s something wrong there (laughs). But from society, I do find challenges…some resistance, like from relatives who don’t understand the nature of my work. They think what I do is trying to implement a western agenda, trying to alter our culture while it’s not the case at all. When you talk about morality or religion, those two concepts already recognize human rights – they acknowledge other people’s’ rights. It’s basically respecting each other and not hurting each other and being a good citizen.

The challenge I’ve found the most is trying to explain the nature of my work. Whenever I mention I work at an NGO, people ask, “What are you doing?” Even some say that women’s rights is part of a western agenda trying to destroy Indonesian women. That it is trying to alter the morals of women in our culture.

Do you have any advice for girls who want to assume leadership roles?

If you’re sure this is what you want to do, just do it. For me, I’m still exploring my approach, too. I don’t know the best formula of how to succeed. But I’m pretty sure this is what I want to do, so I keep on going. If you asked me for the magic formula on how to be the best in this field, I don’t really have the answer. But because this is what I want to do and I want to deliver the best – I’m doing it.

In terms of taking leadership – don’t you want to prove to yourself that you’re capable of taking bigger responsibility? I always want to challenge myself. I don’t want to prove something to everyone; I just want to prove to myself that I can always push my limit. If, in the end, it leads you to a leadership position, that’s a plus from you being fearless.