President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono opens the second Congress of Indonesian Diaspora in Jakarta today, where hundreds of Indonesians living abroad have convened to pledge their support in developing the nation.
The diaspora delegates from 26 countries, representing nearly 20 million people worldwide, are expected to network and exchange ideas on how to reinvest their knowledge and wealth gained abroad back into their country of origin.
“This is the missing link in Indonesia’s development toward becoming an advanced country,” Dino Patti Djalal, the Indonesian ambassador to the United States and the initiator of the movement, told the Jakarta Globe in an exclusive interview on Friday.
The congress will feature several big Indonesian diaspora names, including Sehat Sutardja, chief executive of Marvell Technology Group, Iwan Sunito, chief executive of Crown International Holding Group and Sri Mulyani Indrawati, former Indonesian finance minister and currently a managing director of the World Bank in Washington DC.
Dino said much of the Indonesian diaspora, which he loosely defined as citizens and non-citizens who have Indonesian blood as well as those who consider Indonesia their second home, are eager to contribute and to help Indonesians prosper.
“It’s time we include our diaspora as a key factor in our development. It could be a game changer that could boost the process that enables us to become a developed nation,” he said.
Wahid Supriyadi, head of the foreign ministry’s diaspora unit, said that after the success of the first congress in Los Angeles last year the Indonesian Diaspora Congress (IDN) has now branched to 26 countries.
The second congress in Jakarta, Wahid said, will focus on how the diaspora can efficiently contribute to the country’s development as well as how the Indonesian government can facilitate the initiative.
“They want to contribute concretely, but we need to make them feel welcome and provide means for them to contribute easier,” Wahid said of the diaspora.
Wahid said that while the diaspora is unofficially considered to number around 20 million people, only 8 million are officially identified, including around 2 million mostly domestic migrants workers.
“Migrant workers have sent 7 billion dollars in remittance [a year],” Wahid said.
But Dino said overall, the diaspora had sent much more that. “Many more money transfers have not been recorded.”
Dino said while migrant workers are always an important part of the Indonesian diaspora, it is those with globally recognized knowledge, networking and capital that will be a game changer for Indonesia.
“These people are remarkable. They are brilliant, innovative and have networks as well as capital and willingness to help Indonesia. This will be huge for us.”
Dino admitted that currently the government is still establishing a better process on how to foster a connection between people in Indonesia and the diaspora. In addition he said there are still government branches that need to take the diaspora seriously as a key factor for development.
“The diaspora is now an official government program based on the president’s instruction. It’s now part of Indonesian diplomacy abroad so each Indonesian representative office abroad must make the diaspora part of their priority,” Dino said.
Speaking to the Jakarta Globe on Sunday during preparations for today’s diaspora congress, US congressman Ed Royce emphasized the economic successes the American-Indonesian diaspora already achieved and highlighted plans to further strengthen the exchange.
“We have a vibrant Indonesian business community,” said Royce of his large Indonesian constituency, who currently serves as a representative for California’s 39th congressional district.
“There’s an interest in what can be done to build a bridge, a stronger bridge between Jakarta and Washington so that there’s … more business opportunity and an ability to get goods and services moving.”
Asked what the Indonesian diaspora brings to his community, the congressman said it was a commitment to quality education and for “pushing the concept of bringing Indonesian teachers and Indonesian students from Indonesia and from the rest of Asia.”
Over the coming days congressman Royce is expected to meet with Indonesian members of parliament and business leaders as well as returned members of the diaspora who are investing their experience from abroad back into Indonesia.
Topping his agenda is encouraging more dialog and cooperation between both countries so that Indonesia’s economy can reach its full potential.
“We understand that Indonesia is the emerging influential country in Southeast Asia, a greater understanding … is one of the reasons we’re here.”
“At the same time I think there is much more that can be done with some reforms,” the congressman said placing particular concern on environmental policies and investment regulations.