It is a land of familiar ironies and contrasts. An archipelago of astounding natural wealth and one of the world’s fastest-rising economies, Indonesia is also a country where the environment is threatened and poverty is widespread. The government is aggressively expanding power generation capacity to feed the economy but 90 percent of installed capacity still depends on ‘dirty’ fossil fuels and, even then, over a hundred million Indonesians, or half the nation’s population, are without electricity.
It is both a daunting problem and an exciting possibility—turning Indonesia’s vast reserves of sustainable energy into power, and at the same time releasing the dormant economic power of its rural population. This is the challenge that drives the life of TRI MUMPUNI.
Born in Semarang, Central Java—her father an economist, her mother a social worker—MUMPUNI developed a social conscience early in life, and, after earning a degree in social economics, immersed herself in rural development work. A turning point came in 1980 when she married Iskandar Kuntoadji, an engineer who in 1979 helped form Yayasan Mandiri, the first Indonesian nongovernment organization to promote hydropower technology for community development. Though the group was short-lived, Kuntoadji built considerable knowledge in hydropower technology. With his technical expertise and MUMPUNI’s social development commitment and entrepreneurial abilities, in 1993 the young couple formed People-Centered Business and Economic Institute, with the Indonesian acronym IBEKA, short for Institut Bisnis dan Ekonomi Kerakyatan. As a nongovernment organization, IBEKA committed itself to developing micro hydropower systems for impoverished rural communities.
This proved to be a daunting undertaking. As IBEKA’s leader, MUMPUNI had to struggle with restrictive state regulations, complex financing requirements, and the draining demands of social mobilization work. To meet the twin challenges of a social enterprise—remaining viable as a business without compromising its social mission—she had to focus all her energies on working at the level of the poorest communities, as well as with the highest government authorities. Operating deeply in the country’s remote regions had its grave dangers: in Aceh in 2008, MUMPUNI and her husband were kidnapped by former rebels, brought into the jungle, and forced to raise money from family and friends to ransom their freedom.
Skill, creativity, and determination, however, have turned IBEKA into an outstanding Indonesian example of social entrepreneurship, and cast MUMPUNI as a much-admired and influential leader in the field of community-based renewable energy. From its base in Subang, West Java, IBEKA has built sixty micro hydropower plants, with capacities ranging from 5 kilowatts to 250 kilowatts, providing electricity to half a million people in rural Indonesia. Equally important, it has done this through a community-based development approach that goes beyond the technology to the socioeconomic empowerment of communities. Putting a premium on community participation and ownership, IBEKA organizes electric cooperatives, trains villagers in technical management and resource conservation, and provides support in fund-facilitation and income-generating activities.
MUMPUNI works at the national level in promoting the role of hydropower in development, and in designing and implementing new models of government-business-community joint ventures in micro hydropower facilities. Boldly enterprising, she has effectively lobbied for changes in state policy that now allow independent micro hydropower plants to sell electricity to the government’s national grid. Despite what IBEKA has already accomplished, MUMPUNI knows that the task ahead remains formidable: there are still some twenty thousand villages without any electricity. But this is not just about technology and numbers. She says, “Electricity is not our main goal, but the potential to build villages that are economically empowered. This is my highest task.”
In electing TRI MUMPUNI to receive the 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes her determined and collaborative efforts to promote micro hydropower technology, catalyze needed policy changes, and ensure full community participation, in bringing electricity and the fruits of development to the rural areas of Indonesia.