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Architect Ridwan Kamil presents a session in TEDxBinnenhof: Catwalk for Innovation at Erasmus Huis. Courtesy of Erasmus Huis Having traveled to over 100 cities M. Ridwan Kamil is a man of the world but it is not hard to see how his home country – what he calls “dangerously beautiful” Indonesia – has a hold on his heart.
“For me, traveling is everything. It is my investment,” says Ridwan. “When I travel, I am inspired. I think about how I can ‘Indonesianize’ what I see around me.”
Not only an architect and urban planner, Ridwan is also a writer, educator, and blogger who, like many others, sees social media and technology as one of the greatest drivers of change in the 21st century.
“You cannot change the world alone. That is the beauty of social media,” he said after delivering his speech Rebuilding Indonesia: Civil Society Movement in the Era of Social Media as part of the TEDxBinnenhof: Catwalk for Innovation event held at the Erasmus Huis, the Dutch Cultural Center in Jakarta.
Coming from the humble origins of a middle class family in the West Java city of Bandung, he has never forgotten his home, and how could he.
According to Ridwan, at home is where you must begin if you want to change the world, a goal that appears to always be at the back of his mind.
As an architect, Ridwan is always impressed with Jakarta’s growing skyline. “It is one of the best in Southeast Asia for high rises,” he proclaims proudly.
But while the capital city’s horizon may well be impressive, down below, it is a different story.
“When I was studying I was always told to look up when walking around Jakarta, not down” he says. “It’s when you look down that you start to see the problems.”
It seems, however, that the architect cannot help but act against this advice and it is these problems that he seeks to solve from the bottom up.
The self-proclaimed “day dreamer and city lover” is a firm believer in change from below through community action.
While his views may be deemed idealistic at first glance, the urban planner presents an inspiring and achievable alternative to simply complaining about the issues that we see around us.
“Sometimes in Indonesia ‘complain’ is our middle name. We complain, complain, complain, but it brings us nowhere. I came to the point when I said, I cannot complain anymore. I decided I had to do it my own way.”
His proactive attitude is encouraging. Losing faith in government structures to ameliorate Indonesia’s social problems, he recounts words passed on to him by his mother that have stuck with him ever since: “We are the masters of our own happiness.”
His independent and grass roots response to social issues is evident in his many projects, such as One Park, One community – a project in which all of the 400 parks in Bandung became the responsibility of different communities in the area rather than the government.
In the past two weeks, his most recent endeavor, the Bike Sharing Project, was officially launched in Bandung. The scheme allows community members access to bicycles for cheap and environmentally friendly transportation.
Many of his projects take full advantage of the cyber world, using forums such as Twitter and Facebook to support the development of communities who work together to bring change to their country.
For him, the astounding number of Facebook and Twitter accounts in Indonesia is reflective of an encompassing desire to be connected.
“Amid the many complaints about my own country, my government, my city, I find there is a positive quality in Indonesia, I call it ‘caring’. Indonesians like to share, they like to help.”
And here lies the true potential for change in Indonesia.
The social innovator believes that there are five main ways to share; sharing capital, ideas, networks, time and knowledge. He insists that while most Indonesians cannot afford to share all aspects, every Indonesian can at least share one.
It is through this collaborative effort, he suggests, that social change can begin from within local communities.
As an individual, he is strong example of how embarking on social projects does not mean sacrificing a professional and successful career.
“In my life, I experience dualism between my professional life and my social experiments.”
There is no strict and rigid barrier between these two equally important spheres of his life. Ridwan himself regularly uses his connections and clients from his professional career as an architect to help support his social experiments and communities.
“I encourage my clients to use their corporate social responsibility money to help run and support these initiatives.”
For him, good things do not come to those who wait. In fact, “good things” do not come to anyone, unless they strive to achieve them.
Bettering a “dangerously beautiful” country like Indonesia is a task that can only be achieved from the bottom up and is a journey that “starts from home”.
— The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.