March 09, 2020

A Woman’s Success is Everybody’s Success

What image comes to mind when you think about successful women entrepreneurs in Indonesia?

by Debora Aritonang
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In Cirebon, West Java, you can meet Kurnia hustling each day around her factory, overseeing twelve workers who are producing rattan furniture. The rattan furniture industry in Cirebon has long been a male-dominated business, but Kurnia has broken barriers to become one of the most successful business-owners in the area. In part, her success has been made possible due to the support of her husband, who assists in creating the frame for the production of the rattan furniture.

In this digital era, Kurnia’s millennial daughter also plays a big role in supporting her business. Kurnia recently started to explore  online marketplaces with the assistance of MAMPU and Kopernik in order to reach new markets for the  products. Her tech-savvy daughter is critical when it comes to handling online orders. The online sales have already generated two and a half times more profit for Kurnia as compared to her usual sales channels of bulk factory orders, as she is now able to reach customers directly, cutting out multiple intermediaries. 

Running a growing business in a male-dominated industry, managing a dozen employees, and navigating a digital transformation, all while being a mother and a wife would be challenging for anyone, but with the support of Kurnia’s husband and her daughter, she has been able to maximize her potential as an entrepreneur and has even expanded her market internationally, as far as Mexico.

Further east, in Bojonegoro, East Java, Ngaisah, is a creative entrepreneur who has been using the trunk of the banana tree (a material not typically utilized) into premium snacks that can now be bought in many stores in the area. Her innovative idea and persistence have inspired her whole family to contribute to the business. Her husband often cooks the chips, her daughter helps with packaging, and her son assists with deliveries to retail outlets.

Ngaisah used to sell her chips around her neighborhood using very plain packaging. Through her participation in Kopernik’s Wonder Women program since 2016, she was able to gain a competitive advantage because she learned a range of skills including financial planning, development of a business development plan, marketing, and designing attractive packaging. Ngaisah, and other entrepreneurs who participated in the program increased their income by an average of 46% in 2019. With her new skills, Ngaisah was able to take her business to another level, making her whole family better off financially.

Ngaisah and her chips.

In Yogyakarta, Ida Rahayu is usually busy making bakso (meatballs) for her husband to sell from their new meatball cart. Ida came up with the bakso cart idea with the hope to earn some extra money beyond her main job as a porter at Giwangan traditional market in Yogyakarta. She has worked as a porter at the market for 15 years, typically earning IDR 20,000-50,000 each day by carrying up to 70 kgs of fruits and vegetables at a time for buyers and sellers at the market.  Despite the fact that she was literally breaking her back through this work every day to provide for her family, the income was not sufficient.

Ida is one of the women porters supported by Yayasan Annisa Swasti (Yasanti), one of the first non-government organizations in Indonesia focusing on women’s rights and empowerment. Most women porters struggle with deep and persistent poverty. Yasanti, with the support of MAMPU and Kopernik, has been supporting women porters like Ida to have access to basic needs such as a toilet in the market. An improved working environment, a good idea, and her spouse’s support have enabled Ida to start a side business and set up their bakso stand. The business is already bringing in additional income of up to IDR 100,000 daily enabling them to provide a brighter future for their family.

The stories of these three inspiring women show just how crucial family support is for women entrepreneurs to thrive. In Indonesia, women own approximately 25 percent of all micro-enterprises (14.7 million) - a micro-enterprise is defined as one when it has less than IDR 300 million in annual turnover. Overall, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Indonesia contribute to 47% of GDP and 57% of employment, according to the Government of Indonesia’s Mid-Term Development Plan (2014-2019).

Despite the significant contribution, running a business as a woman in Indonesia is not an easy task. Gender imparity is still a major issue in Indonesia as the country ranks 85th out of 153 countries on the 2020 Global Gender Gap Index. The index assesses gender gaps and finds that the largest gaps are found in political participation, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and health and survival. The lack of economic participation and limited access to education result in further hurdles for Indonesian women trying to build their business.

Women face additional disadvantages that hinder them in achieving their fullest potential as entrepreneurs, as reported in a 2017 UN study on women entrepreneurship in ASEAN. The study revealed that these challenges include social and cultural norms, gender stereotypes, lack of access to decision-making and unequal access to resources. Despite all of the challenges, economic constraints have forced women in the last mile to be more creative in seeking additional income for their families. A 2013 collaborative study about gender by The International Finance Corporation (IFC) found  that when women earn money and have control over how  they spend it, they are most likely to spend much of the  income on their family needs such as education and health as compared to men.

In a survey of 66 women micro-entrepreneurs about spousal involvement in their businesses, Kopernik found that the businesses where the husbands are often involved  are much more likely to succeed. The 2017 survey assessed the level of involvement of spouses supporting their wives’ technology distribution businesses and concluded that when husbands are significantly (though not fully) involved the businesses thrive.

The experiences of Ida Rahayu, Ngaisah, and Kurnia show that spousal and family support can be a promising factor contributing to the success of a business. The three cases show that this could be a promising way to reduce the gender gap in Indonesia and enable women to have more active participation in the economy. Imagine, if these experiences were replicated for the 14.7 million women micro-entrepreneurs in Indonesia.

We are reflecting on these stories for this year’s International Women’s Day as the 2020 theme of #EachforEqual encourages each individual to collectively take action in creating a more  equal world. A world that empowers women to be successful and be active participants in all aspects of society, including the economy. As Gadis Arivia, an Indonesian feminist philosopher, lecturer, scholar, and activist said that men can be feminists too and have an important role to play in supporting women’s rights. Equality is not just a woman’s issue. It is about all individuals supporting each other.

Let’s do our part in supporting each other - at home, at the workplace and in the community.

Debora Aritonang, Associate Communications Manager at Kopernik Combining her expertise in communications, marketing, and public relations and her passion for development and sustainability, Debora currently manages Kopernik's digital marketing and communications strategies supporting the organization’s mission to find what works to address current social and environmental challenges. She holds a Master of Global Media Communications degree from the University of Melbourne, and had previously worked as the Communications Manager at Green School Bali and a translator in a global consulting firm, McKinsey & Company in Jakarta. She enjoys spending times outdoor in nature, connecting with friends and family, or simply reading a book with a cup of latte for her work and life balance.