As Indonesian President Joko Widodo met with top Silicon Valley companies last month, one of the country’s most successful city leaders also made a less-publicised visit.

Tri Rismaharini was there to get inspiration for her “new hope” for Surabaya City. The Mayor wants to build up the city’s digital creative industries. “This is the new hope for Surabaya”, she says.

The Mayor wished to see how Silicon Valley has been successful in creating startups. “I want to learn how to create an environment, especially for young people”, she says. A third of the city’s 3.2 million people is under 30 years old, and it needs to provide enough jobs for them.

Rismaharini was in December re-elected for a second term in office, and is just completing her first month of the term. She began her career in the city’s parks department, and for the last five years, she has campaigned to clean and green the city.

Startup support

The city’s natural resources are limited, however, and the Mayor is looking for a new engine to drive the economy. “We have limited resources, especially natural resources. We hope we can strengthen our place in Indonesia’s creative industry”, she says.

It’s been a month since Rismaharini has started her second term in office, and the city has now started running programmes to help small businesses pick up digital skills.

Surabaya also wants startups to help solve “social problems”, the Mayor says. In one scheme, it is working with a company to encourage citizens to sign up as blood donors. “We are trying to get information to every person in Surabaya for them join us on the programme,” she says.

New mobile services

Rismaharini is known for her use of digital in government. Data was a key priority in her last term, and “my new vision is to have mobile apps for all services”, she says. “We need mobile apps to get make services easier and faster”.

With more civil servants retiring every year, there is less manpower in the city government. “We must use digital technologies to give services because we have a limited number of civil servants”, she adds.

From birth certificates and business permits to hospital visits, the Mayor wants every public service to be easily accessible on mobile phones.

The first launch of her term will be a complaints app this month for citizens to report on public services, she says. Agencies will have 24 hours to solve the problems and report back to the citizens.

The complaints system will also make it easier for Rismaharini to understand where the biggest problems in the city are, she believes. The Mayor herself relies on mobile apps to monitor the city while she is on the move. She keeps an iPad at hand from where she can track all of the city’s electronic services.

Tracking the rupiah

Looking back, where has her government been most successful? “We are more efficient and effective because we are using digital technologies”, she says.

Her administration has been able to save 20% of its budget thanks to online procurement and budgeting. She has used this to build new roads, bridges and parks in the city.

The government keeps detailed accounts of every expenditure, which is still rare in Indonesian municipal government. “You cannot buy something too expensive without planning in Surabaya. For every activity, we can account how many rupiah will be spent”, she says.

Ironically, the Mayor’s biggest challenge has been to convince the city’s manufacturers to use digital. “I need time to make them understand and prepare for what will happen in the future, especially in dealing with digital technology,” Rismaharini says. She is going to launch a scheme to encourage them to take up ecommerce.

While the Mayor’s first term focused on cleaning up the city and its government, she has now chosen a brand new vision to build a startup ecosystem in Surabaya. This pitches her against Bandung as she looks to build Indonesia’s own Silicon Valley.