Why Indonesia really is a new power

David Aikman
Chairman, Philanthrosport
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Indonesia is facing a number of tough challenges: slow growth in mature economies and thus important trading partners; pollution and ecological damage through the fire-clearing of forests; resurgent geopolitical tensions threatening stability in the South China Sea; the need to defend the country’s peaceful Muslim tradition against radicalization; and the demand for further developing its infrastructure to cope with a growing economy. These are structural challenges that will stay with the country for some time.

As obvious as the challenges are, the solutions are less clear. In the past you would have looked in the parliaments, political parties or boardrooms for solutions. But despite a newly elected president who is setting a positive contrast to Indonesia’s political past, it will not be up to the government alone to address these challenges. Instead, the critical resource to find solutions is a new generation of leaders who have realized that the nature of leadership and power is changing. This is good news for Indonesia and its booming youth.

Diverse voices

The new power is more diverse, more female, more southern and more eastern. It has shifted from the centre to the edges. Social media has strengthened the ability for diverse voices to be heard and to have impact. The number of Facebook users in Indonesia is expected to rise above 70 million in 2015, making it the fourth largest community worldwide on that platform alone.

And the speed with which change moves from the edge to the centre, wherever that may be, is ever-increasing. According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review: “New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory and peer-driven. It uploads and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.”

The blindness to the changing character of leadership and power should not be surprising. Periods of seismic change are always characterized by volatility and uncertainty: the future has not yet emerged but the past is clearly losing relevance, strength and power.

In my work with the Forum’s New Champions Communities, I see the next generation rising to the global challenges that clearly recognizes this shift in power and, with passionate intensity, they are disrupting their organizations before the tide of change washes them away.

A wonderful example of this hands-on approach is the work of Social Entrepreneur Tri Mumpuni in rural Indonesia. She recognized that energy access is critical for community development. Her organization is partnering with rural communities that have abundant water resources to construct micro-hydro plants to produce electricity.

Local impact, global reach

Veronica Colondam, an active alumnus of our Young Global Leader community (YGL), works with young people by promoting a healthy lifestyle, education, and economic empowerment. What she started with her Foundation YCAB (“Yayasan Cinta Anak Bangsa”) in Indonesia has since been applied to young people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Myanmar and is a great example how our young communities are combining local impact with global reach.

According to our recent survey of Global Shapers (our community of leaders under 30 that is now stretching across 400 cities worldwide), the issue of social and economic inequality is seen as the most important challenge for their generation to solve. While current leaders may think about reforming education or government initiatives, the more than 4,500 members of the Global Shapers Community use new-power entrepreneurial collaboration to achieve momentum quickly and make an impact.

As leaders gather in Jakarta from 19-21 April for the World Economic Forum on East Asia, I am most anxious to see the new generation of leaders making themselves heard loud and clear. In bringing them to Jakarta, we hope to start a conversation that gives the new-power voices the influence on the national, regional and global challenges they deserve.

Author: David Aikman is Managing Director at the World Economic Forum and Head of its New Champions Communities.

Image: Students wave Indonesian flags as they sing during a ceremony to mark independence day in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta August 17, 2009. REUTERS/Crack Palinggi 

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