A few months back, I was invited to speak at President University in Central Jakarta’s Jababeka as part of an “American Day,” organized by the US Embassy.
The day included a series of speeches and discussions at the university involving the US ambassador and Embassy staff, Indonesian and American thought leaders, students and professors, all of whom were gathered together to talk about education and the role of education in preparing students to participate in an increasingly globalized economy.
The discussion throughout the day was conducted entirely in English. I was deeply impressed by the high level of the discussion and particularly by the enthusiasm of the students, their grasp of the issues and the quality of their questions and their comments.
It occurred to me as I spoke with the students that Indonesia’s potential future as an advanced economic nation was embodied in this small group. Their enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity and the integrity of their ideas were inspiring.
Although I was invited to the university to impart my knowledge to the students, I quickly realized that I was the one who was benefiting most from the exchange. I had come to the university thinking how AmCham could help these students.
But as I listened to the students I began thinking: how can these students help AmCham? That was the right question. It moved away from the old paradigm that charity is a one-way effort where one party gives and the other receives to a new paradigm of collaborative partnerships where both parties benefit. So, I put a challenge to the students that day.
AmCham Indonesia was preparing to build a new website. We wanted to build a world-class website with cutting-edge technology that would serve as a global portal for American companies interested in investing and doing business in Indonesia. Would a group of President University students be willing to build the website? Within the day, a memorandum of cooperation was drawn up between AmCham and the university.
A few days later I was speaking to the president director of one of our member companies, Microsoft, and describing my visit to the university, the inspiration I had drawn from the students and the challenge I had put to them. On the spot, he generously agreed to mentor the project, donate Microsoft’s newest platform for the site and on a pro bono basis allow his chief technology officer and website team to mentor and guide the students.
The project is now well under way, with a team of nine students from President University hard at work under the direction of Microsoft and AmCham. AmCham Indonesia’s website will be launched this fall. These selected students are receiving an apprenticeship under the leadership of one of Indonesia’s most tech-savvy developers for one of the world’s most innovative companies; AmCham is receiving a world-class website that will provide useful information on the business environment in Indonesia for our members here and interested investors around the world; and Microsoft will have the opportunity to engage with and tap into the insights of bright, young and talented technology students and to showcase its newest platform on our website.
This is not charity; it’s a collaborative partnership. While it’s a small project, it speaks to a larger dynamic and points the way forward along the critical path to a creative economy. When it comes to education, it is easy to get overawed and overwhelmed by the big numbers so much so that one wonders where and how to begin to make a difference.
However, when we view the issue of education from only the macro perspective, the risk is that we overlook the important fact that education, at depth, is a transformative experience that occurs when one mind reaches out to another. When that occurs, teacher and student, giver and receiver, are transformed and the dividing line is erased between who is giving and who is receiving. Both benefit in equal measure.
As I came to realize during my visit to President University, Indonesia’s most important resource is not buried under the ground but within the minds of its young people. The website project under way now between President University, Microsoft and AmCham is a transformative experiment, with each party bringing something to the table and each receiving a return commensurate with their needs.
It is one project, among many thousands of small projects currently being undertaken quietly across Indonesia today that ultimately, over time, will multiply exponentially and create for Indonesia a truly vibrant creative economy.
Andrew White is the managing director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia, which has a memorandum of understanding on communciation and cooperation with the Jakarta Globe.