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Indonesian leader carries powerful imprint

20 March 2021

The Australian Rural Leadership Foundation has benefitted from the generosity of in-country leaders guiding leadership cohorts through its cultural immersion sessions. Through an exchange of culture and knowledge, these leaders become an invaluable part of the Foundation’s global network. Ines Setiawan was there from the very beginning of the Australian Rural Leadership Program’s five year period of visits to Indonesia. Her success as a leader in her own country is steeped in the lessons and experiences exchanged through the Program.

Ines Setiawan had an instant affinity with the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) thanks to her upbringing in a village in rural Indonesia, opposite the tourist mecca of Bali.

“I saw a lot of people from my background who couldn’t reach their goals because they didn’t have the education to allow them to progress,” the economics graduate and science teacher says.

So she was drawn to the idea of a program for leaders who live or work outside cities, and often face unique challenges.

Ines had met the Foundation’s programming expert, Graham Smith, when they both worked in science fields. Graham reached out to Ines’ for help with the ARLP session delivery.

“At first I was completely clueless about the program,” Ines laughs. “Even though Graham tried to explain ‘experience-based’ learning, nobody taught or lectured that way in our universities. I was so interested to see a way of learning from diverse people and experiences.”

In fact, Ines was a little sceptical about bringing rural leaders to Indonesia at all.

“I said, there’s nothing you can learn here … I knew ‘leadership’ as only one thing,” she explains. “I grew up in a dictatorship, where we were not encouraged to learn freely, and to become useful in our own right. Seeing these people from Australia leading in so many different ways, from different positions, it changed me to my very core.” She says.

In her second year working with an ARLP cohort, one of the session presentations stood out to Ines.

“A speaker said that leadership is not about position, it’s about behaviour. It made me realise that absolutely anyone can have a positive impact.”

While Ines reflects most strongly on what she learned from each ARLP session, to those participants meeting her on each year’s program, Ines herself was an inspiration.

She had fought against the odds to fulfil her ambition to work in education, and founded SHINE, a social enterprise supporting small-scale Indonesian entrepreneurs to realise sustainable business ventures.

“I didn’t see myself as a leader,” she admits. “I just knew we had to do something, because the problems we’re facing in Indonesia are so huge,” she says.

“My social enterprise is the work of a small group of teachers and community leaders who care about the problems in Indonesia – namely: water, food, energy, waste, climate change, biodiversity, poverty, health, finance and peace.”

It’s a broad and ambitious remit, and reflects the value Ines places on giving back.

“I owe a little bit of my life to so many people who supported me along the way. It’s not so easy for someone who grew up in a village with limited resources to find ways to give back, and I’m lucky that I can.”

Over the five years spent interacting with leaders representing regional Australia’s diverse industries and communities, Ines was struck by a realisation.

“It’s interesting to me that we’re neighbours, but we don’t know a lot about each other,” she says.

“I learned so much from ARLP participants, and I could see that they were surprised by a lot of what they learned about Indonesia … on one visit, we got lost on a small road in a slum area, completely packed with people. I could sense the worry that this was a dangerous place to be, but all we saw were friendly people. It’s important to see the humans behind the impressions created by media, of poverty and terrorism.”

While we anticipate the ARLP’s cultural immersion session move to a new host country when travel resumes, Ines values the connections she keeps with program alumni.

“Aaron Irving (ARLP C25) with the Pearl Producers Association works on water issues and has helped me to run a ‘Zoominar’ and raise awareness about water and conservation. He’s been a big inspiration for me.” Ines says.

“Collaboration is so important. Water is not just Indonesia’s problem. If we’re in trouble here, Australia’s in trouble too.”

Ines found similar inspiration from a participant using local Australian ingredients in outback cooking.

“Biodiversity is so inspiring, so I worked with a colleague here who is a botanist, and we ran regular classes about knowing the land and using the ingredients we have. These classes have been replicated in other villages. This is so necessary, especially given many people struggle to make a living in Indonesia. Society here sees foraging as something degrading, but it should be understood differently.”

As Ines dedicates herself to educating families and young people to make a difference in Indonesia, she says there are promising signs.

“I think the next generation will have new ways of doing things. The majority of Indonesia’s population are in their 20s, and they are motivated to vote and be engaged. I see other people stepping up to meet challenges, and this is what you want to see as a leader.”

For Ines, the ARLP has made a permanent imprint on her leadership philosophy.

“It was the most eye-opening experience of my leadership journey,” she says.

“Now, I don’t just transfer knowledge or build science skills in young people. I introduce them to things that will inspire them to become future leaders – they become the change.”

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