Capitalism with a Conscience
Duncan Graham, WEEKENDER | Thu, 04/26/2012 1:24 PM |
A businessman is fulfilling his dream of funding a free school through corporate training programs.
How do you get corporate Indonesia to meet its civic responsibilities and help the disadvantaged?
It sounds like a variation on the old joke: How do you make a small fortune? (By starting with a big one.)
But this question is serious – and a bother to many in business. One way is to invite executives to a training camp where they can meet the teens at Kampoeng Kidz – underprivileged high school students who have a sad story to tell but a lot of potential.
Introducing the corporate world to this other side of life was the idea of Julianto Eka Putra, head of the Binar Group. He’s set up an unusual enterprise based around self-help training – the initiative is hemorrhaging money, but it continues in the hope of healing some of society’s wounded.
For some, the US-inspired motivational industry is snake oil, cherry-picking winners; others believe it inspires those needing a hand up. If you’re in the latter and larger group, then Julianto’s your man.
Clearly the 39-year-old is a gifted salesman. He can dash off a stirring speech without notes and lace it with homely anecdotes. Although he looks nothing like the archetypal executive, he has enough energy to nudge the reluctant and disarm the skeptics.
He also has a powerful belief in himself, a quality vital for any entrepreneur. Apparently it wasn’t always that way for the son of a Surabaya jeweler.
“At school I was the ugly duckling,” he says. “I found it difficult to attract girls; I’ve got dark skin around my neck and some thought I was dirty. I got into fights but realized I was heading in the wrong direction. Once I’d set myself goals and did better than the others through hiking and study, I found my self-confidence.”
He does not get defensive about having made serious money in a short time; neither does he dismiss the importance of tertiary education.
“About 10 years ago I was ready to retire,” he says. “I was earning up to Rp 20 million a month (US$2000). I thought it was time I relaxed and enjoyed life.”
Julianto was just turning 30 and doing well selling honey through multilevel marketing. As a franchise boss, he could afford to slip down the gears. But on the way to checking out the world’s top resorts, he stalled on his conscience.
“I was praying and suddenly realized God had given me almost everything I asked for – yet I’d given nothing in return. I felt I was a very bad person,” he says.
“While presenting a motivation session before 2000 people in Surabaya I announced that within 10 years I’d set up a free school. I don’t know why I said that – it wasn’t in the script. My wife and staff were angry with me – but I had to keep my word.”
With an interest-free loan of Rp 5.3 billion (US$600,000) from a Singapore business friend, Julianto bought a block of land, almost eight hectares, tumbling down to a turbulent river at Batu, a hill town above Malang in East Java.
Another Rp 10 billion (US$1.1 million) had to be found to develop the land and build dormitories and a school. And so he created Kampoeng Kidz, a place where high school students from across the country who have hit hurdles and can’t fund further schooling are given a chance to turn around their lives.
Some are orphans and have had a tough life. About 10 percent pull out, but the rest seem to be excelling; they’re proud to show off their skills, including in dance, theater and high-level English.
Their chance to shine comes on weekends when employees of companies with problems – low staff morale, lack of direction, communication breakdowns and the like – attend custom training programs.
Motivational speeches, obstacle courses and physical challenges are supposed to build trust and get participants into a different mind-set. Meeting the students and hearing their stories opens their eyes to another world.
Karnaka, the managing director of Malang recruitment agency PT Binamandiri, sent 15 employees to the two-day course in March. He plans to expand his business interests and wants a change in workplace culture.
“Everyone seemed to enjoy it and at Rp 500,000 a head I’m getting value for money,” he says, after jumping around with his employees to brain-fracturing music. “We’ll wait till later to see if it’s effective.”
Income from business training frees, programs from the Kampoeng Kidz schools or renting out the property for an overnight break (rates start at Rp 175,000) is used to subsidize the free school and its 100 students, who come from across Indonesia.
“We’ve paid back all the loans but need to earn about Rp 350 million a month to meet costs. However, we’re only getting Rp 200 million,” Julianto says.
“The subsidies have to come from my company PT Menuju Insan Cemerlang (MIC), one of five in the Binar Group.”
MIC, which handles financial planning and real estate, has about 160 offices.
Self-help books generate further income.
“We publish and have the rights to translate the works of John C Maxwell [an evangelical American author of around 60 motivational books]. These have been bestsellers,” Julianto says. “I’ve also written Anda ingin Sukses? [Do you want Success?] and featured in another with [Muslim televangelist] AA Gym.”
The bamboo walls of the teaching areas at the Batu property are adorned with plenty of quotes and slogans. Many are in English, such as “Miracle, Faith, Action and Pray”, giving the place a heavy Christian revival theme.
Julianto and his two main colleagues are Catholic and rumors circulated that they were “Christianizing” Muslim students. Julianto said that last year an Education Ministry inquiry cleared the school.
Then the allegation changed to Communist indoctrination; the reality is that the school is pushing capitalism, albeit of a benign nature.
“I accept that some [of the students] will never become entrepreneurs. That’s not their talent. The objective is to train people so they reflect on their lives and realize their potential,” Julianto says.
“I ask the students to talk to the business participants. It’s not exploitation; it helps give them confidence and if they have that they can do anything.
“If they share their stories they will bless many people.”