- Turning Indonesia’s vast reserves of sustainable energy into power, and at the same time releasing the dormant economic power of its rural population is the challenge that drives the life of Tri Mumpuni.
- Together with his husband, Iskandar Kuntoadji, they formed People-Centered Business and Economic Institute (IBEKA) using his technical expertise in hydropower technology and her social development commitment and entrepreneurial abilities to their advantage.
- To meet the twin challenges of a social enterprise—remaining viable as a business without compromising its social mission—she focused all her energies on working at the level of the poorest communities, as well as with the highest government authorities.
- The RMAF 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.”
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.
Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, fellow Awardees and friends.
I believe that poverty is not the problem of development; poverty is a symptom of the larger problem of local communities who are disconnected from the local resources surrounding them, that can contribute to their human well-being. We are now living in a world of great disconnectedness: this is apparent at so many different levels. Many people, especially the poor, carry a sense of inadequacy from being part of a system that sees them not for what they are, but as numbers and elements of some statistical ledger.
IBEKA was founded by my husband and I in the 1990s, to unify what was even then breaking apart and disconnected; IBEKA sought to change this by sharing the world the way it is meant to be shared. Community has to be reconnected to their local resources, and the technology used has to be brought closer to the community. Thus the idea of “Community-Based Electrical Power Supply” was born. I thank my dear husband Iskandar for pioneering the concept and serving as my inspiration. Also for the many sacrifices he has made over the years, in ensuring that our vision of personal happiness is continually augmented by our caring for others! He has always been by my side, showing that a deep spirit of love binds us in this magnificent enterprise of life.
I assert that, contrary to general belief, we live in a generous world of great abundance: alongside this belief is my conviction that eradicating poverty succeeds only if this natural abundance is shared, nurtured, and guarded. Furthermore, natural wealth is to be shared at the grassroots level; wealth cannot be created or sustained by “top-down” approaches. Through the construction of micro-hydro generation plants in isolated communities previously without electricity, IBEKA has shown that our approach can succeed. Now, we would like to broaden our approach by using other technologies that will allow for increased economic impact but still in a sustainable way.
IBEKA and our community partners are propagators of sound eco-management. We are also guardians. IBEKA seeks to ensure that every investment made will create tangible welfare at the community level: every rupiah we spend must be put to good use. That is why we create community institutions that assume responsibility for operation and maintenance of facilities, as well as ultimate ownership.
Economic productivity is the outcome of such community-driven designs. IBEKA offers different micro hydropower models: one is an isolated power-grid operated and maintained by the community for their community’s own electrification; the other model is where redundant energy can be sold back to the grid. Income generated from such sale is put to collective use for village development purposes, such as giving scholarships to poor families. The great beauty of both approaches is that the entire structure is consensus-based, not imposed from the outside!
I am deeply honored to be part of a lineage of Ramon Magsaysay award recipients that include people like Mother Theresa and Muhammad Yunus: champions of the frail and poor, They and other Magsaysay awardees have always intuitively understood that in order for us all to be happy, we need to bring together disparate pieces into a whole: they are holistic thinkers with a deep respect for the community, and for the individuals that make up these pockets of living cultures.
I would like to end with a warm thank-you to all my colleagues at IBEKA, without whose passion and commitment I would not be standing here today: so this award honors you, too, dear fellow travelers on this path of unification!
My deepest thank you to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for honoring us with this great prize: it is my heart-felt wish that all 1.8 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region will share equitably and fairly in our wonderful natural resources, and that all people everywhere have access to basic energy in the form of electricity at a fair and affordable price! My final wish is that we all become good stewards of our responsibilities, and inspire others to share all the good things of this world!