How Indonesia is improving economic inclusion for rural communities

By Ming En Liew

Interview with Danny Januar Ismawan, Director of Telecommunications & Information Accessibility Agency (BAKTI), Community and Government, KOMINFO, Indonesia.

“Globally, poverty continues to have a rural face,” wrote a paper by the World Health Organization. This is a result of multiple factors including remote locations, lower levels of education, and limited access to infrastructure and services, the paper elaborated.

One public agency in Indonesia, however, believes that good internet connectivity may be the solution. BAKTI, an agency under the Ministry of Communications and Informatics (KOMINFO), is on a mission to “deliver connectivity equally through all of Indonesia,” shares its director Danny Januar Ismawan.

Digital access is a fundamental human right for the nation, Danny highlights. He shares how digital access is bringing life and prosperity to rural communities in Indonesia, and what BAKTI is doing to improve connectivity in these regions.

Access to economic opportunities

Digital access can help rural communities sell their products online, says Danny.

BAKTI does so through BAKTIDESA.ID, an e-commerce platform created to help village-owned businesses reach a wider market. The platform provides ready-to-use online stores that village business owners can sell their goods on, according to its website.

For example, farmers can put their crops for sale, shares Danny. Business owners will also receive training on how to use these online shops, as well as other complementary skills like online marketing.

With BAKTIDESA.ID, BAKTI managed to raise the monthly income of small businesses from about US$500 to US$3,000 a month, shares Danny. This is ten times higher than Indonesia’s minimum wage, he adds.

But the struggles rural communities face in adopting e-commerce is not just limited to digital access, Danny acknowledges. “If we want to scale up the economy in the rural area, it’s not as easy as doing so in the city,” he says.

The logistics of delivering goods and services from rural villages is a challenge due to their inaccessibility. It wouldn’t make sense if delivery costs more than the good itself, Danny explains.

BAKTI needs to help them find a way to “deliver the goods at the right place,” he says. They do so by limiting the delivery range of such e-commerce platforms. For instance, one platform may just serve one island, shares Danny.

As the logistics infrastructure in Indonesia improves, BAKTI will explore placing these village goods and services on national e-commerce sites, he shares.

The rise of digital education

“Small islands may not have the same quality of education” as compared to more established cities, shares Danny. BAKTI ran a programme to teach 40 students and 40 teachers how to use digital learning platforms back in 2021. Students in one school, for instance, were able to use Google Form on their phones for one of their exams, wrote an article by Voi.

This programme also created “local champions” who can go on to teach others the digital skills they have learned.

“BAKTI KOMINFO’s impact is fostered around around these successes which are not only one-off projects, but can actually trickle down within society and be sustainable,” says Danny. The programme successfully led to a 40 per cent increase in teaching standards based on a local teacher competency examination, he shares.

Preparing for post-pandemic tourism

Another avenue of economic opportunity is tourism. Like the rest of the world, Indonesia’s tourism was hit hard by the pandemic. “We didn’t have activities at all,” Danny shares. The nation took this lull to digitise tourism for rural communities in preparation for a post-pandemic revival.

For instance, they introduced non-mainstream tourism activities like village homestays and local attractions onto established digital platforms, Danny shares. One such platform is BAKTI Impact Adventures, which encouraged tourists to visit lesser known regions of Indonesia.

They also provided foreign language training, to help villagers eventually take up roles as tour guides, homestay hosts, or drivers.

“We hope that someday, when the pandemic is over, it will help them to promote their tourism potential, not only to Indonesia, but to the world,” shares Danny.

Bringing digital access to rural communities

Digital access can bring many benefits to rural communities, but connectivity is not always easy in an archipelago.

The first challenge is infrastructure. Currently, Indonesia has limited telecommunication options. At the moment, more than 12,000 villages in the country are not yet covered by 4G connectivity, Danny shares.

BAKTI aims to bring 4G connectivity to all of these villages in the next two years, with the help of private cellular operators and other public sector agencies, he says.

Additionally, most rural areas currently rely on satellites for connectivity, but satellites are limited in their data processing capacity. Once BAKTI completes cellular connectivity in all of Indonesia’s villages, they will explore ways to provide better quality digital services, Danny reveals.

BAKTI is also working on providing free internet access to social service locations like offices, schools, villages, and health facilities, he adds. services such as offices, schools.

Another point of concern is digital literacy. BAKTI needs to make sure that villagers are not accessing harmful, unproductive, or negative content, says Danny.

“In Indonesia, when the Internet goes to the villages, it often sways to the negative, such as pornography and gambling,” he elaborates. “We have to educate them.”

BAKTI promotes digital literacy by holding digital literacy classes for people who hold influence in these communities. This includes people like teachers and religious leaders, Danny shares.

It is their hope that these leaders will then share this information with others in the community. Besides classes, BAKTI also creates digital content such as stories and podcasts to inform villagers on how to use the internet wisely.

Digitalisation opens up a world of possibilities for rural communities, but they will first need the government’s support to access such digital services. BAKTI’s efforts are creating a blueprint for how governments can ensure no village gets left behind.