Julia Winterflood, Jakarta – If you've traveled through Tuban on East Java's northern coast, 100 kilometers west of Surabaya, you might have sampled the delicate sweetness of the regency's horticultural pride and joy: honey starfruit.
Perhaps you continued on your way laden with oleh-oleh (gifts) such as cinnamon- and sugar-dusted dried starfruit, starfruit chips or starfruit juice. If you did, there's a good chance your snacks proudly bore the brand Putri Madu, which was established in 2017 by Siti Fatimah, one of the women micro-entrepreneurs participating in the Wonder Women Program.
Over the past 11 years, research and development organization Kopernik has worked with more than 800 women like Siti in communities across Indonesia to develop their skills as micro-entrepreneurs.
Affectionately known as wonder women, or ibu inspirasi in Indonesian, they took part in business training and mentoring sessions to improve their business, products and market access, as well as strengthen their networks with financial institutions, government and buyers to boost their income and build sustainable businesses.
The crucial role that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) such as Putri Madu play in Indonesia's economic growth is well known. In 2019, MSMEs accounted for 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 97 percent of the domestic workforce.
What is perhaps not well-known is that 64.5 percent (around 37 million) of Indonesian MSMEs were owned and led by women in 2018, according to Statistics Indonesia.
??The pandemic took a heavy toll on the sector, cutting their contribution to GDP by almost half, to 37.3 percent. Bank Indonesia reports that as many as 87.5 percent of MSMEs have been negatively impacted.
Further, according to recent studies by the United Nations Development Program, most women managing MSMEs have less financial literacy compared to men. This makes them even more vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID-19, especially those living in rural areas with limited access to education, infrastructure, healthcare, technology and government support.
In 2021, we provided in-depth business development support to 100 wonder women, with 62 entrepreneurs owning food and beverage businesses and 38 entrepreneurs owning creative businesses in batik and handicraft production.
Looking at the program's impact in 2021 the income of 67 percent of entrepreneurs increased by more than 30 percent throughout the year, and on average, their net profit increased by 37 percent from their baseline profit. Around 80 percent of entrepreneurs reported an improvement in their business leadership, bookkeeping, basic finance, and branding and marketing skills.
The entrepreneurs also received assistance to obtain the necessary government permits, including tax registration number, business registration and food and safety certificates. As a result, 84 women micro-entrepreneurs obtained their operating permits and now are able to operate their businesses legally, shifting from informal to formal sector.
A key focus of the program was assisting the entrepreneurs to sharpen their e-commerce skills. With many entrepreneurs struggling during the pandemic to continue to run their businesses, due to declines in sales through their usual channels such as souvenir shops – where many of their products are typically sold – the program supported the entrepreneurs to expand their market access through making their products available online, leading 74 percent of them to being introduced to online markets.
A "digital warung (kiosk)" was established on Instagram to promote the women's products and expand their market access. No less than 48 products are displayed on the account @warungibuinspirasi, from coffee-flavored kerupuk (cracker) to naturally dyed custom-made batik.
The account also includes success stories from the program participants, such as Ernawati, an entrepreneur who owns a food business, who has been actively diversifying her products, from homemade cookies to local pizza, and increased her income by 900 percent as compared to when she first joined the program; or Yunita Sulistiyorini with her star fruit candy business who won third place in the "Local Potential Product" competition held by the government of Tuban in the new business category.
Before starting to support women micro-entrepreneurs through business development in 2017, the Wonder Women program previously focused on delivering clean energy solutions to communities in remote North Aceh, East Java, as well as East and West Nusa Tenggara.
Although government reports state that the country reached an electrification ratio of 98.9 percent at the end of 2019, the World Resource Institute Indonesia's energy manager, Almo Pradana, pointed out that the definition of electrification included households that only had partial electrification or only several hours of electricity per day. In addition to that, last mile communities still lack reliable access to clean water for daily needs or clean cooking.
To tackle these challenges, we sourced affordable technologies – biomass stoves, solar lights and water filters – and the wonder women sold these products in their communities. The micro-entrepreneurs boosted their income and improved access to electricity, clean water and safer cooking methods to people who needed it most.
Residents of Babulu in the mountainous Atambua regency in East Nusa Tenggara, for example, had trouble accessing electricity and clean water. As a wonder woman, Regina Dobe introduced solar lights to her community and secured a deal with the local government in Babulu to provide water filters to residents.
During the technology distribution program's six years of operation, 33,075 technologies were distributed by 667 women, reaching almost 200,000 people across the country.
In addition to the continuation of the Wonder Women Program in Tuban with 100 newly recruited women-micro entrepreneurs in 2022, we are implementing several other initiatives focusing on micro-entrepreneurship in different locations including Bali and Yogyakarta. We are also currently working with women weavers in Adonara and Lembata, East Nusa Tenggara by developing ergonomic weaving tools to reduce pain caused by using traditional weaving looms.
Now we are 12 years down the line and have many more to go as our efforts to support women micro-entrepreneurs in Indonesia continue to contribute to a more equal and inclusive world.
[The writer is a communications consultant for Kopernik.]