Indonesia has a population of 250 million people and produces over 64 million tonnes of waste every year. Aling Nur Naluri has a dream to fixing the waste management issue. She started experimenting with new ways to upcycle the large amounts of newspaper discarded by her community and eventually discovered the art of weaving old newspapers into new and functional products like baskets and notebooks.
It all started when Naluri recalled a period in her life when she was wheelchair-bound with nothing to do. That feeling of disempowerment traumatized her and got her thinking about the many women who are stuck in the same predicament. With that, she started hiring minority women across Indonesia to help her materialize her vision of upcycling old newspapers through crafts. The opportunities for these women not only earns them an income, but also forms a network of support they never had. She created a community that sees beauty in ashes and breathes new life into the old. This community is Salam Rancage.
Though a beautiful ideal, hiring this community of women as her artisans has its own set of problems. These women had family duties that they had to attend to. Naluri sought the help of DBS mentors to optimize her business operations and with their mentorship, she came up with a flexible working arrangement that will allows the female artisans to work from home so that they did not have the burden of choosing between family and work. She created an option that had never existed for them.
Du’Anyam is another successful example. Founded by Azalea Ayuningtyas, Du’Anyam is meant to solve one of Nusa Tenggara Timur’s big social issue - it has the highest maternal and newborn mortality rates across Southeast Asia. This southernmost province in Indonesia has been dependent on farming as the main source of income for both males and females.
The problem arises when women are pregnant but are still subjected to farming because their poverty has driven them to desperation - what would happen if the women stop farming for months when they’re pregnant? How much loss would that amount to, can they afford it? Left with no alternatives, these pregnant mothers continue to work, rain or shine, resulting in complications either in their own health or that of the unborn child.
Azalea took it upon herself to solve this problem. If the root problem was that the women had no alternative source of income, she would create that alternative for them. Seeing that the community has a strong wicker weaving tradition that was also fading away, Azalea founded Du’Anyam, a brand that sells crafts and products made by these women using their own weaving traditions.
This is a win-win, for Azalea not only created an alternative employment to subsistence farming for pregnant women, thereby decreasing the mortality rates, but also found a way for the community to preserve their wicker weaving tradition and even promote it to people outside of the community.
Du’Anyam gained increased recognition amongst the public and also received a Social Enterprise Grant from DBS foundation to expand its production and bring their crafts to more markets.
In the same thread, Dinny Jusuf founded Toraja Melo with a similar vision. She believed that weaving could change the lives of thousands of Indonesian women. It started with the community in Toraja, where she was based. Being in Toraja and completely falling in love with the community, what broke Dinny’s heart is the economic migration of the women to more affluent countries in search for better job opportunities. But for these women to move to a foreign place, it also means they are more prone to work-related violence and exploitation.
Upset with this injustice, Dinny established Toraja Melo to employ the Torajan women to weave clothings and fashion items within Toraja itself, such that they do not have to migrate and expose themselves to workplace ill-treatment. Started with only a few, Toraja Melo has now partnered with more than 1000 underprivileged women who work with her as weavers, seamstresses and artisans.
These successful case studies teach us many things. For one, the power of business as a force of good is evident - business can and should be used to empower communities, it is not just an ideal or good-to-have. More than anything, these case studies celebrate the tenacious spirit and strength of women, she who get things done with empathy and grit.