The co-founder of Mixi, Japan’s largest social networking site with 80% market share and 30 million users, is an Indonesian. So is the global head of IT network design at Disney. So is the director of supply chain at Panda Express, the largest Chinese food chain in the US with 1,500 stores and $1.5 billion in revenue. The South African ambassador to the US is of Indonesian descent – an ancestor, from Sulawesi, was sent as a slave to Cape Town 300 years ago and refused to change her Indonesian name.
The overseas diaspora – Indonesians citizens living and working abroad, those who have become foreign citizens or those people of Indonesian descent – are a talented group of Indonesians who have been an unrecognized and unconnected community. Until now.
Connecting the dots
The Congress of Indonesian Diaspora held in Los Angeles July 6-8, convened by the Indonesian Ambassador to the US, Dino Patti Djalal, was the first major international forum to empower the international Indonesian diaspora. It succeeded by bringing together 2,000 members of the diaspora and delegations representing 20 countries.
From Indonesia the government was represented by Minister of Tourism and the Creative Economy Mari Pangestu, Minister of National Education Muhammad Nuh, and Priyo Santoso, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. Private sector representatives included tycoon Chairul Tanjung and Raja Okta, the head of the Indigenous Business Association (HIPMI).
Sessions at the congress discussed how members of the diaspora can contribute to Indonesia, such as through investment and knowledge sharing; how Indonesia can support the diaspora, perhaps by means of long-stay visas and consideration of dual citizenship; and how those members of the diaspora can be successful in their home country – including tips on doing business in the US and how to open an Indonesian restaurant.
Throughout the event a collective passion for promoting and developing Indonesia was evident. Examples included the Indonesian lady married to an American who for the last 10 years has run the Indonesia booth at the Kansas International Festival, which is attended by 40,000 mid-western Americans. Then there was the sub-set of the 6,000 Indonesian professionals working in Qatar who meet regularly to discuss the development of the Indonesian oil and gas sector.
As the diaspora declaration at the end of the forum stated: “We are determined to build a community of viable Indonesian diasporas globally. For this purpose, we have established the Indonesian Diaspora Network…. a hub for ideas, solutions, resources, and networks; for shared prosperity and a force for peace and progress.”
The value of engagement
Now, with the diaspora activated as a community, how can engaging with the diaspora contribute to business development? Some of the ideas emerging from the discussions were as follows:
Recruitment – While the diaspora represents a strong talent pool, the difficulty to date has been how to engage with and recruit its members in an efficient way, given the fragmented nature of the communities. An initiative is now underway at www.indonesiandiaspora.org to create an information platform for the diaspora, where at the same time Indonesian companies can advertise job positions. The New Zealand diaspora has a similar site at www.keanewzealand.com.
To facilitate recruitment, Indonesian student associations in the US (Permias) are looking at ways to create a common database of members and alumni. In the US, there are 50 different Indonesian student associations at the state level, but no national organization. At the summit Permias convened to discuss how to create a common platform and principles.
Members of the diaspora who are recruited do not necessarily need to return to Indonesia to contribute – given their experience and international networks, they can also help in building overseas branches for sales, sourcing and expansion for Indonesian companies and to eventually bring these skills back.
Standard Chartered Bank currently has 120 Indonesians working overseas across its branches who can eventually return to Indonesia to take on critical roles. They include the current chief risk officer for the bank, who previously spent eight years working abroad in the UK, Singapore and Korea.
Ideas to invest in – As the Indonesian economy evolves from a per capita GDP of $3,000 to $10,000 by the end of the decade, and consumer habits evolve, members of the diaspora “come from the future” – they have lived in and experienced the tastes and buying habits of developed economies, and can bring ideas and business models back to serve these needs.
The success of 7-11 in Indonesia is a good example. This was launched unsuccessfully in Indonesia in the 1990s, and 7-11 realized that a GDP per capita above $2,000 is needed for the business model to catch on.
What other models from the developed markets can be adopted and tailored to Indonesian needs, and which parts of the diaspora can help accelerate this? The Indonesian founder of an IT systems integration business in Seattle, who serves Google, Apple and others is looking to return to build his business in Indonesia as he sees the increasing adoption of enterprise software and tailored applications.
Creating Institutional linkages and JVs – diaspora members occupy positions in institutions which could be of value for partnerships or JVs.
Dr. Tik Tan is a plastic surgeon who works at the University of Rotterdam. Working with the head of the faculty, he has helped to establish a partnership between his university and the University of North Sumatra, which involves training, doctor exchanges and knowledge exchange.
World-class medical skills are being developed on the ground in Medan. Identifying members of the Indonesian diaspora working in relevant institutions and reaching out to them has a high likelihood of tapping into a huge desire to find ways to collaborate.
Diaspora investing back in Indonesia – successful diaspora members can be engaged to invest back in Indonesia. Sehat Sutardja, who has built one of the world’s largest semiconductor businesses based out of Silicon Valley, with operations in 16 countries, was awarded a Diaspora Lifetime Achievement award at the congress, and is committed to building facilities in Indonesia, at a time when advanced manufacturing companies such as Foxconn are also looking to enter the country.
“As a proud son of Indonesia, I am committed to helping Indonesia leapfrog to the knowledge-based economy by adapting the most advanced technology that we have developed,” he told the congress.
An initiative is also underway to establish an Indonesian Diaspora Business Council to facilitate increased opportunity-sharing and business linkages with overseas diaspora communities.
The Indian and Chinese diaspora played a critical role in accelerating their countries’ development in the 1990s and 2000s as these countries stepped into the international limelight as part of the BRIC grouping.
Similarly the Indonesian diaspora can play an important role in accelerating Indonesia’s development, as we move from the number 16 economy in the world today to be number six by 2030. As we face debates over the role of foreign investment, and the right model of economic nationalism, the diaspora can contribute important perspectives given their international experience.
To maintain momentum the next congress has already been scheduled to be held in Jakarta next year with the theme of “Indonesian Diaspora: Pulang Kampoeng,” on August 23-25, 2013.
If you know members of the diaspora overseas, spread the word and get them to register and connect to the community via the website www.diasporaindonesia.org.
The Indonesian diaspora has been unleashed. Indonesian companies would do well to find their own unique way of connecting with this potent force of talent and knowledge to internationalize and accelerate their business growth.
Benjamin Soemartopo is managing director of Standard Chartered Bank’s principal finance business for Indonesia.