Sustainable Solutions for Indonesia’s Rural Farmers
Head of Portfolio,
PRISMA(Promoting Rural Income through Support for Market in Agriculture)
Suandi Darmawan is one of the earliest participants of the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program, having been part of the graduating class of Spring 2013. Determined to empower Indonesia’s farmers and help lift them out of poverty, Darmawan envisioned a social business based in agriculture benefitting local farmers for his Capstone Project. After pursuing a masters’ degree, he has spent the past six years working for PRISMA (Promoting Rural Incomes through Support for Markets in Agriculture), a program under a partnership between the Governments of Australia and Indonesia. PRISMA aims to address the most significant constraints to agriculture sector growth and boost rural farmers’ income in six provinces in Eastern Indonesia. Though his specific plans have not been precisely materialized, Darmawan is pleased that as a Head of Portfolio at PRISMA, he can support market players in providing sustainable solutions for farmers and broader farming communities.
―What led to your interest in helping Indonesia’s farmers?
My first encounter with the agriculture sector was through my previous work upon joining the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program. Back then, I worked on development programs in the education sector targeting rural areas. The livelihood of people living in Indonesia’s rural areas is predominantly influenced by agriculture since most of them are farmers, with agriculture or aquaculture as their primary source of income. In those programs, we sought to understand their agricultural practices and how they invest their income, as this would impact their children’s education.
That experience impressed upon me that to make significant changes and impacts to low-income individuals living in Indonesia’s rural areas, initiatives in development will need to address agriculture issues. In terms of creating both social and economic impacts, agriculture is an excellent place to start.
―What are your major takeaways from the program and how are they helping you now in your day-to-day life?
The first takeaway concerns a concept which I had never thought of before, the idea of “ba.” This Japanese term refers to the space in human interaction where knowledge is shared, or communication takes place.
In my current work, this concept is a way to understand where the farmers obtain or share information. Is it from regular meetings led by the head of the village? Or is it mainly from their peers in mutual interactions or engagement in farming activities? Finding that “ba” will help us understand the influencing factors in knowledge transfer and more effective and efficient information sharing methods. Knowing “ba” will ultimately result in a higher adoption rate for any innovation endorsed to the farmers.
Secondly, I gained exposure to many different organizations during the program, both in the private and the public sectors. This opportunity helped me understand how those businesses and organizations could have societal impact in the course of their businesses or mandates. It’s clear to me that in any business, even more so in the agricultural sector, caring only about profit will not be sustainable.
During the program, we studied the example of Japan’s Sugamo Shinkin Bank, which offers services explicitly for elderly customers. I found this case study very interesting given that banks in Indonesia would not do such a thing at that time. However, this Japanese bank gained trust and loyalty from its elderly customers. This fact impressed upon me that you can ensure their loyalty when you really know your customer.
This concept does hold in the agricultural sector. Farmers have their decision-making processes within their households or the community. They are also segmented based on preferences, interests, religions, gender, and other social or cultural factors. Knowing about them makes it easier for private companies or the government to provide better products, technology and services.
―How did your stance on being a leader change after completing the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program?
Dealing with people is the hardest part of being a leader. During the program, we not only deal with ourselves because of the assignments and the tasks we need to accomplish. We also have to deal with our colleagues within the program, who come from different backgrounds and have diverse expertise and expectations. Conflicts here and there were natural because we are human. Yet from that process, you can learn about yourself and other people and the way they see things differently.
This experience demonstrated to me that humans are complicated. We all have our ways of doing things, making decisions, communicating and interacting with others. This reality means we cannot expect everybody to be at the same standard that we want. Naturally, not everyone will share the same thoughts or be at the same capacity as we expect. Therefore, it’s crucial to manage expectations and be capable of adjusting or adapting those expectations. As a manager of nine team members, I still struggle with managing expectation, but I’m getting better.
―What are your future goals?
I have several plans in mind. The first is to have a small social business, possibly in agriculture or aquaculture. It will most likely involve agriculture, given that I have a better grasp of that sector and networks of people with whom I can collaborate.
My second idea is to serve as an agriculture consultant while also striving to develop businesses or projects related to agriculture. Working as an independent consultant means that I could handle both of those plans at the same time.
The third plan, which I’m still contemplating, is working for the private sector. Now I have more of a network with people in large companies and even multinational companies in agriculture. If I join a multinational agriculture company, then there is a possibility that I can expand my contribution and benefit farmers across the country, and possibly beyond Indonesia.
Regardless of whichever plan I pursue, I can still target my dream of benefitting farmers since all three will lead to the same purpose.
―How would you describe the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program in a single word?
“Philosophical.” All of the elements of the program have philosophical aspects to them. That was the first time I realized that all aspects of our lives are based on philosophy: business, politics, engineering, science, etc. This program provides practical knowledge and analysis of current issues and the thinking behind those issues.
―Do you have any message to others interested in applying to the program?
The Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program is an eye-opening opportunity in several ways. Not only does it help you understand and even improve yourself, you’ll also learn a great deal about other people.
Interacting with people from various backgrounds is a meaningful experience and essential for those who desire a global mindset. You can’t say that you have a global perspective unless you have been living with people from many different countries, meeting them from morning until afternoon, and even socializing during the weekends!
The program also encompasses different layers of knowledge from start to finish, spanning different topics like politics, economics, culture, and sociological aspects. It’s precious for someone who wants to expand their education and their career opportunities in the future.
① Summary of what was learned, changes in leadership
Identifying how and where knowledge sharing occurs will help you convey information more efficiently and effectively. A business that only cares about profit will not be sustainable. Finally, it’s essential to manage your expectations as a leader and acknowledge that people have different backgrounds and abilities.
② Scenes or situations to apply what was learned on the program
Knowing how and where Indonesian farmers get their information from or exchange ideas makes it easier for private companies or the government to provide farmers with technology, services, and agriculture products.
③ One-sentence summary of the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge
This program provides practical knowledge and analysis of current issues and the philosophical thinking behind tackling those issues.