The Governor of West Java in Indonesia, Ridwan Kamil, has 11 million followers on Instagram. That’s twice as many followers as Mark Zuckerberg.

The Governor’s social media presence is matched by his determination to create policies that improve citizens’ everyday lives. By bringing citizen-led businesses online, implementing IoT tech, and empowering young people, he aims to close the digital divide between rural and urban areas, tackle terrorism, fight corruption, and dispel fake news.

At the heart of these policies is a hope to drive progress with digital technology. The Governor spoke at the GovInsider Live summit at the United Nations, where he was named Inspirational Leader, about how he is realising his vision for a “Digital West Java”.

Tackling terrorism with Digital Villages

In 1966, the Jakarta special capital region was carved out of the province of West Java. It remains the largest province in Indonesia today with 49.3 million residents. It has three major cities – Bandung the provincial capital, Bogor, and Bekasi – and is home to the country’s best universities – the Bandung Institute of Technology and Universitas Indonesia.

While its cities have marched on, West Java has turned its attention to its rural population. The Government is running an inclusive Digital Village programme using tech to drive rural advancement. One of the projects under this policy has allowed rural businesses to sell their products online. Residents can buy their groceries and household goods at lower prices, and local businesses have a platform to promote their products.

These online websites are combined with physical stores stocking all available products. Citizens can come to the physical shops to look at the products, then place an order through the online system installed in there. “A lot of the people living in rural areas don’t have handphones,” explained Setiaji, West Java’s Head of the Jabar Digital Service.

Bringing local businesses online isn’t just a good economic move; it ultimately fights radicalisation and terrorism, as poverty is one of the factors that can potentially turn people to extremism. “Before this, farmers were always poor because the middleman gets the profit,” the Governor explained.

West Java is also transforming the lives of fish farmers. “We usually feed the fish using hands, now we feed the fish using mobile phones,” remarked Governor Ridwan. Just a tap on a mobile phone activates ponds to dispense fish food. The time saved has enabled farmers to double their productivity, said the Governor.

That’s not all. Fishermen are using satellites and sonar technology to locate potential catches in the ocean, tripling productivity. Back in the fields, farmers are using drip irrigation systems to increase crop yields. For six months each year, farmers were not planting crops because the weather is too dry, but this tech allows them to grow vegetables all year round.

The Digital Village project was awarded Best Adaption at GovInsider Innovation Awards last month.

Garbage to gold

Besides tackling poverty, the Digital Village project provides better access to healthcare. West Java has set up mobile clinics with internet connections, so local doctors can easily consult specialists outside of their village. This means that rural communities can have access to a wider range of medical expertise.

Jabar Digital Service, the team behind the Digital Village project, has created a garbage collection app. Citizens can sell their trash to plastic processing companies, or other “waste banks” that will recycle the trash, through the app. They then receive gold savings in return for their waste.

“The garbage collected is given a monetary value, and you can convert it to gold as an investment,” said Governor Ridwan. In this case, one man’s trash is also his treasure.

This is part of the Governor’s efforts to encourage people to dispose of trash properly. West Java is also looking to turn waste into a source of energy as part of its sustainable development vision – it is building a new plant that will convert waste to fuel in Bogor, for example.

Empowering young people

At Jabar Digital Service, West Java has recruited a team of under-35s to support the government’s digitalisation and build apps to tackle citizens’ everyday problems. This is no coincidence – Governor Ridwan is deliberately empowering young people to make a difference in government.

For instance, under the Digital Village programme, Jabar Digital Service is running the One Village One Company project. This project places promising young leaders in charge of creating a startup in a village within two years.

West Java’s fake news fighting unit – the only one in existence in the country – is also made up of millennials. Fake news is a prominent issue in the province, according to Governor Ridwan. “Fake news is happening everywhere now, and it’s creating sociopolitical problems and unrest,” he said. To combat this, this special unit posts five fake news articles circulating in the province every Monday.

The Governor wants to “inspire young people to say, ‘let’s do things inside the government.’”. Jabar Digital Service received the Best Team Under 35 award at the recent GovInsider Innovation Awards.

Fighting corruption

Corruption is another issue Governor Ridwan is targeting. He has set up a website where citizens can access all of the government’s data, including budgeting plans, the amount of foreign capital the province receives, and the amount of money collected from taxes and fines. He has also made this open data policy mandatory in West Java’s 27 cities.

Governor Ridwan has been in the public service for six years: before he was Governor of West Java, he was Mayor of Bandung city. And his drive to serve the people shows no signs of abating.