Risa Bhinekawati

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am

THE MAKING OF AN INDEPENDENT I was born in Pontianak, West Borneo, in 1966. When I was seven, my family moved to Jakarta and I have lived there ever since. I'm very much a no-frills person. My 250 square metre [2,700 sq ft] house is on 850 square metres of land in a kampong [suburb]. I don't use air-conditioning; we have four very big trees around the house that provide shade. We don't pay much for electricity. Every morning I pick up two of my assistants on the way to the office; we carpool. I don't wear much make-up - maybe powder once in a while.

I always say, 'We have to be independent to become interdependent.' I have my own career. My husband [a civil engineer] has projects all over Indonesia, building dams, irrigation [systems] and factories.

I live near my parents and when my son was small, he was taken care of by them and neighbours. He is now 14 years old and in boarding school, which is good training for him. During the week I travel a lot, [but] we make sure we meet and catch up on weekends. This is how we manage our lives - and so far so good.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME One of the problems with Indonesia is that there are so many people but not enough jobs. Other countries are poaching our best high-school graduates and giving them scholarships and employment opportunities. At the management level of the country, there's still [the tendency] to blame the situation [on others] instead of doing something about it. We cannot rely solely on the government. I hope younger Indonesians are thinking about giving opportunities to the best graduates and providing them with the experience of real achievement. I have 12 of them working with me now, all below 25. I have a real drive for developing future leaders for Indonesia.

LIFE BEGINS AT 40 My 17-year career has been varied in experience. I used to work in the corporate sector - with Unilever and Ericsson. I was executive director of the Indonesian Telecommunications Society. I was with the United Nations. The more I travelled to developed countries, the stronger I felt about going back to Indonesia and improving the livelihood of the people. The country is so well-endowed in natural resources, [yet] the people are so poor.

When I reached 40, I decided that I had to dedicate myself to the public sector and community development. With my current job [with Danamon Peduli Foundation, established by a bank and a finance company, which supports sustainable development based on community needs] I can connect the interests of the private sector, the government and the people of Indonesia.

GO GREEN, GO Danamon Go Green is my project to convert traditional market waste into high-quality organic compost. We worked with the biotech department of a university, hiring seven agricultural engineers and training them to become trainers in the field. We have a very dedicated architect who designed the composting house.

One composting unit can convert up to four tonnes of organic waste into up to 1.2 tonnes of high-quality compost per day. Each system requires four full-time keepers. Where in the past, garbage would be collected and sent to the dump, market vendors are now separating their organic and non-organic waste. A collector transports the organic matter to the composting unit. The initial setup, which costs us about US$10,000 to US$12,000, includes the composting house, the machinery and one month of training. The operating costs of the composting unit can be covered by the sale of the fertiliser; it ideally becomes a self-sustaining activity.

At the end of 2007, I met with two mayors who were keen to improve the lives of their citizens. The Bantul and Sragen regencies [in Central Java] became our partners in the pilot project. At the Bantul inauguration, the mayor invited [representatives of] 70 other regencies and municipalities from all over the country to see how the project worked. They became our ambassadors. I've so far signed agreements with 30 heads of local government.

CHANGING MINDS The initial challenge is that our farmers, like those in other developing countries, are used to using chemical fertilisers. Chemical fertilisers become less effective the more you use them. If you use them one season, the next season you have to use a higher dose, and so on. The land has become degraded by them. At the same time, the raw materials for producing these fertilisers - such as oil - are being depleted.

What is very important in changing the behaviour and mindset of our farmers is the commitment from local government. In Bantul, [the project] has been successful because once the compost is produced, the department of agriculture buys it and distributes it to farmers, especially where the lands have been critically degraded. The compost has increased the shallot harvest by 30 per cent in a sandy coastal area and reduced the use of chemical fertiliser by 70 per cent.

THEM AND US Looking around Asia for inspiration, I adore the way the Thai government is managing their farming and small industry. I think Thailand is better off than Indonesia because they are optimising their talent, culture and heritage.

I've been to Hong Kong a few times, mostly when I was with Ericsson. I have experienced both airports - the scary one and the new one. What amazes me is, you have such a high population and number of skyscrapers, but you can still maintain the greenery, the harbour and the peak. I have tried all the modes of transportation - the MTR, ferry, buses. It's a very well-managed city.

Danamon Go Green is a finalist in World Challenge 09 (www.theworldchallenge.co.uk), a global competition rewarding projects and businesses that bring economic, social and environmental benefits to communities. BBC World News will profile the 12 finalists starting on October 3, at 10.30pm.