New Year’s Note

I don’t really believe in coincidences, but I guess sometimes it happens. And it happens when you least expect it.
2014 was a good year for me, for my personal character growth and my professional development as well. Although I still want to maintain this blog as a policy blog, I’d like to share a bit of my personal story as well, particularly about a string of coincidences that has put me in a job where I am today.
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New York, September 2014. I was assigned to assist Pak Kuntoro, my boss in the Presidential Delivery Unit (UKP4) for a mission during the UN General Assembly. We had lunch in Le Pain Quotidien, the one in 2nd Avenue.
It was one of my most memorable chats with him, as he told me a valuable lesson about trust.
“Fika, there are a lot of smart and capable people in this world, but what makes you different is about trust. When you are chosen or trusted by someone to do a job, do your best to not break that trust and work as hard as you can”.
Pak Kuntoro was referring to his experience when he was assigned by President Yudhoyono as the Chief of Reconstruction and Rehabilitation for Aceh and Nias after the 2004 tsunami and earthquake. He didn’t have any experience about disaster management, he’s not Acehnese, and at the time he knew that there are more “experts” for the job. But he took the job anyway and by the time BRR was dissolved in 2009, they managed USD 7.2 billion for reconstruction in Aceh and Nias, a feat that cannot be done if the global community didn’t have trust to manage that amount of money.
With Pak Kuntoro in Le Pain Quotidien, 2nd Avenue, New York
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Jakarta, 10 October 2014. I was accompanying Pak Kuntoro for a book launch on the 10 year commemoration of the Aceh Tsunami. That day was actually the first time I met Ibu Susi of Susi Air.
Pak Kuntoro and Ibu Susi were long time friends during Aceh times, and when I was introduced to Ibu Susi, my first impression about her was someone who has heart in what she does and an unbelievable compassion for others.
She was also quick to tell me about numbers and data about the operation involved in extinguishing the forest fires and haze in Riau. And then I noticed that figures and numbers are something that Ibu Susi is also good at, in addition to observing that she will not hesitate to tell things as it is, even though I just met her.
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Ibu Susi and Pak Kuntoro in Aceh tsunami 10 year commemoration book launch event
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Cabinet announcement, October 2014. I remember the days before, I texted Pak Kuntoro saying that I had a dream about him not becoming minister in President Jokowi’s cabinet. I told him how I actually felt relieved, instead of feeling disappointed that he won’t have a ministerial position in the next government. He then called to say thank you.
So, when the ministers are announced, and Ibu Susi’s name was called by the President, I texted Pak Kuntoro a simple message, “Pak Kun, we should help Ibu Susi”. I meant we as a team and didn’t mean myself personally.
However, a week later on a Sunday night, I got an unexpected phone call from Ibu Susi. When I picked up my phone, a deep, raspy voice greeted me, “So Pak Kuntoro told me you want to help me? Are you sure? My speed is not like him so you better be prepared”.
And that’s how it all started.
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Landing in Simeulue, Aceh. December 2014. Photo by Didik Heriyanto.
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In the course of my early days assisting Ibu Susi, one of the most memorable conversations that I got from her is about courage. We had lunch one day in her residence, eating fish from Pangandaran which she insisted is not like the fish in Jakarta.
“Fika, do you know what’s lacking in this country? Courage. We can’t teach courage to people unless our leaders put themselves at risk”.
And so she did. The fishing license moratorium and anti transhipment policy, her strong stance against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, have definitely irked some people, but on the other side we have been getting support as well. You just can’t please everybody. Policymakers need to see things from a broader and strategic view for the long term, and sometimes it means taking actions that may seem unpopular for the short term.
***
So, 2015. I don’t know what kind of coincidences will happen in the days to come. I’m still young and I have a lot more to learn. I’m also a person who do not like to be in the spotlight, but I guess my job right now means this is inevitable.
I’m grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to learn a lot of things, not just about trust and courage, from people who have throughly experienced it. I hope once in a while I can share it through this blog and use this as another form of communication.
Happy new year!
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Intermezzo – Back in Indonesia

Late last year my friend and I gave a presentation to a bank in Singapore regarding the general conditions in Indonesia. The title was “Indonesia: the Sleeping Giant of Southeast Asia”. The premise was simple, Indonesia has a lot to offer but there are many factors hindering its true potentials. Two factors that we highlighted was lack of infrastructure development and corruption.

In the Q&A session, one of the bankers asked, “Why is it that despite being the 4th largest population in the world, we don’t see many Indonesians abroad? Even if there are Indonesian scholars out there, they always go back to Indonesia”

I answered with a joke, “because Indonesians are like trained doves – no matter how far we go we always come back to Indonesia”.

Jokes aside, I tend to believe that usually Indonesian scholars abroad are divided into two: (1) those who are on scholarship and thus are bonded to return to Indonesia and contribute to the country; and (2) those who are fortunate to be able to finance themselves abroad and since their families have everything for them back home, they will return inevitably. Of course, this is a generalized statement and there are exceptions, i.e. what about those who are already rich but they altruistically want to contribute to Indonesia?

I don’t think brain drain on a massive scale is a problem (yet) in Indonesia. Yes, Jakarta is a hell hole of a city to live in, but people still work there and have other places in Indonesia as a retirement plan (i.e. Bali, Jogjakarta). If you read the newspapers, it’s rather depressing because it seems that this country doesn’t seem to run out of problems to report. Yet, there are glimpses of hope and achievement here and there – it’s just that we need to be reminded of the things that happen in Indonesia is not just in Jakarta.

My story? I’ve graduated early this May and I’m back in the country that I was born in and in love with. I managed to travel in Halmahera, North Maluku for a week (and also managed to be stranded on an island, losing contact with the boat), but now back in Jakarta. My scholarship is not bonded and initially I wanted to gain experience abroad before ultimately coming back to Indonesia, but an opportunity came up and I decided that I don’t want to miss a chance working inside the inner circle of the Republic.

Singapore will always be a chapter in my life and how the lessons that I learned while I was living there has shaped my way of thinking, especially regarding public policy. But for now, I’m back home in Indonesia.