10 Inspirational Women: Supporting Creative Social Enterprise with Think.Web in Indonesia

(left) Anan co-founder of Think.Web in Jakarta; (centre) Karen, founder of BOM; (right) Rama, technical lead at Think.Web

On a 10 day journey around Indonesia to meet 10 incredible women.

Written by Karen Newman.

For the last 10 days I’ve been travelling across Indonesia to meet the 10 social entrepreneurs who made it through to the final stage of our programme with Think.Web in Jakarta. It’s been a hugely energising (and unexpectedly reflective) experience.

The Perempuan Maju Digital project (Women Advance in Digital) has engaged 500 women across 6 different cities in Indonesia (Bogor, Padang, Malang, Semarang, Ambon and Pontianak) in creative workshops over the last 6 months. It is funded by the British Council’s Developing Inclusive and Creative Economies (DICE) fund.

100 of the women who completed the workshop were invited through to an online course that we’d built especially, giving them a deep-dive into non-profit vs for profit business models, defining mission and purpose, using digital, and comparing creative social enterprises in Indonesia and the UK.

At the end of the online course, the women pitched to receive support in this third phase of the programme, which includes mentoring, business planning guidance and digital support.

Here are the 10 inspirational women who made it through, who we’re so excited to be working with.

Winarni Saftarya Gultom, Jakarta
Winarni is from Jakarta but joined the workshop in Bogor. Currently working for the Government, she was inspired by John Sear’s Museum open source educational guides, and wants to set up an open source platform for farmers across Indonesia that will provide education on how to cultivate the land without causing de-forestation.


(left) Asyifa; (right) Ayang

Asyifa Asyifa, Bogor 
Asyifa is a trained midwife who recently re-located from Bandung. She wants to deliver a creative programme of events and online classes to promote wellbeing for new and expectant mothers. She has an even more epic idea, but she’s not quite ready to go there (yet)…

Ayang Deswary, Bogor 
Ayang wants to develop an educational app for English after-school clubs to encourage creative writing and counterbalance the current ‘technical’ focus on spelling, punctuation and grammar in Indonesian schools.

Arum Sukma Kinasih, Semarang

Arum is the founder of Beautiful Soul, a mental health support programme for survivors of domestic violence. Arum is looking to scale-up as a mixed income business, deriving new income streams from classes such as yoga, meditation and creative writing to offset the costs of their social impact work.

Ratih Perdhani, Semarang

Raith is the founder of Nala tea, a range of single origin, premium teas with health benefits. She aims to improve on the standards ‘fair trade’ tea businesses currently impose on workers (predominantly women aged 40-80), and plans to share this work through digital platforms.

Laura Octavia, Ambon

Laura managed to make our Ambon workshop which was delivered in a shelter in the mountains after a huge earthquake. Her and husband Johnny work with unemployed young people to give them opportunities to learn, make and sell crafts from recycled rubber. She wants to widen her programme and impact by working with ex-offenders, and drive sales through digital.

Marlia Firmantry, Padang

Marlia is developing a co-operative bakery with mothers in her local area of Padang, focussing on organic healthy food. She wants to connect online sales with local GoJek delivery drivers (GoJek is Indonesia’s equivalent to Uber/Uber Eats).

Eka Ning, Malang

Eka’s PusFlorist initiative will support the traditional dying art of orchid farming, using an open online platform (also inspired by John Sear!) to share knowledge and promote local business. PusFlorist profits and educational activities will support local schools.

Fitri Hantrini, West Kalimantan

As well as being mum to 3 year old twins and a trained midwife, Fitri wants to develop sustainable eco-tourism in the forest of West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo where she lives. She’s working with local villagers to offer authentic homestay and experiences of forest life that will leave a positive impact on West Kalimantan’s rich biodiversity. She will be developing her (and her community’s) skills to create digital storytelling around the excursions she’s developing.

Esterlina Se, Pontianak

Esterlina runs a sewing workshop with women in her local community that recycles fabric scraps into fashion and homewares. She wants to develop the business online to respond to demand for bespoke custom-made commissions, and develop her brand.

To give some context (because Indonesia is so unbelievably huge, and is split across no less than 17,508 islands), there’s a 3,100 km distance between our two furthest participants, Marlia in Pedang and Laura in Ambon. That’s about the same distance as Birmingham and Istanbul. Needless to say, I didn’t quite make it to meet Marlia and Laura in person, so we zoomed from hotels in-between planes, trains and automobiles which took me between Jakarta, Bogor, Semarang, Malang, Surabaya, Pontianak and West Kalamantin (with an unplanned de-tour to Batam). What this did mean is I got to (virtually) meet Laura’s husband John, her collaborator and biggest support. And I met Marlia’s beautiful children, which gave me a little relief from missing my own two back home.

It’s quite incredible to hear first-hand just how much the workshop and online course has influenced these women. Most of the participants had never even heard of social enterprise, or had any idea you could make a business that had social value. Those that had heard of social enterprise had no idea how it worked. The participants have shared over again how they feel the process has “opened their minds” and turned a theory into reality, something they can understand. And something that fits strongly with their vision.

We were able to profile some fantastic creative social enterprises during the online course, which we used as case studies for tasks and lengthy discussions on discussion boards. These included Craftspace’s Shelanu jewellery-making project with migrant workers; Du’Anyam’s wicker craft enterprise with local women in East Nusa Tenggara; Miss Macaroon’s premium quality macaroon business working with unemployed young people and ex-service users in Birmingham; the Swandiri Institute who make low-cost drones to capture illegal logging in the forest of Borneo and the KOFFIN Company, Liverpool producing customisable biodegradable coffins. We also explored empowerment programmes such as Girl Dreamer and MAIA Creatives, and John Sear’s open source Museum Games tutorials (all Birmingham). You can see references to each of these in many of the women’s ideas – from craft-making to environmental activism, open source platforms to catering and hospitality.

The 10 women who made it through to this final phase are incredible forces to be reckoned with. All with a sharp vision, and a deep understanding of the needs of their community. All struggling with confidence, and some of them already holding back on what we know they could achieve if they put their minds to it, with the full support around them. But it’s hard, setting out, and you’re generally surrounded by people who say you can’t do it. “It’s too big” we hear. Stuart Griffiths, the previous Chief Exec of Birmingham Hippodrome and Chair of both Southside Business Improvement District (BID) and Ikon Gallery at the time I was setting out, withdrew Southside’s pledge of 20K funding to BOM, stating exactly that to Southside’s Director. “She’ll never do it”, he added.

That negativity is palpable. It’s destructive, if you listen to it. Being here with these women, listening to their stories, the support they do and don’t have, the messages they’re given, it has brought it all home again. I feel so privileged that I have the chance to support them, and feel such a connection with them already. Listening to the positive voices of strong women from the beginning got me through – Lara Ratnaraja, Shannon Banks and Liz Rushton. I hope I can offer these women some of the encouragement and strength that was given to me.

I also feel such an affinity with Anan, founder of our partner orgnaisation in Jakarta who has been on her own journey developing Think.Web over the last 20 years. She’s such an inspiration. Always pulled between one place or another, leading a team of 50, taking care of her family, balancing women’s empowerment programmes alongside corporate gigs. I just discovered that her and Rama (Think.Web’s technical lead) prototyped a facial recognition app on the side, to tell blind people whether they were being approached by men or women. And that Anan watches ‘Extreme Fishing’ documentaries in her spare time, which means she can rattle off impressive (and freaky) facts about catfish.

Bidding our 10 participants and Anan and Rama a fond farewell for now IRL (though we’re never apart through WhatsApp), it’s been a reflective 24 hour journey back from Jakarta. I feel energised by what we’re doing in Indonesia, and the potential for some of these projects to impact even wider.

How can we help real change like this happen in Birmingham? I’ve recently joined two boards, to try and make sure that when bold and ambitious proposals come to the table for our region, that they aren’t blocked by headfigures with no vision, or a different agenda. Having joined Southside BID’s board this summer (with a new Chair of board in situ), I’m happy to be joining the new West Midlands Combined Authority Cultural Leadership Board, as we take steps towards Coventry’s City of Culture year and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. We need fresh, bold visions for this region (and everywhere), and we need to ensure that those with the energy and guts to make things happen are given the space to rise.