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Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
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Soft power, the bazaar and voting for Indonesia'€™s future

  • Enda Nasution

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Mon, August 18, 2014 | 09:39 am

On one wet night in February 2009 we bloggers gathered at the official home of the mayor of Surakarta, or Solo, a colonial remnant built in 1792. There were 40 of us from Solo, Yogyakarta and Jakarta attending the launch of the Solo blogger community called Bengawan.

The rain had just stopped and the cool air was warmed by friendly conversation.

The mayor, who was unexpectedly there to greet us and to dine with us, applauded the home community and vowed support, pointing out that bloggers hold a strategic tool, our blogs, to spread positive messages about Solo and about the country.

He told us how in 2007 he managed to asked hundreds of street vendors to move from the center of Solo to a new location built as a market, after inviting all the traders for meals and talks at his house '€” not once or twice, but 54 times. And only at the 54th meeting did he tell them his intention to move them to the new location.

One may wonder what they discussed during the first 53 meetings. '€œNothing,'€ answered the mayor. '€œWe just talked about the city, our daily lives. But then, at the last meeting, they figured it out and agreed to move. They understood they were being asked to move by someone who respects them.'€

That is the power of persuasion, I thought. The mayor was Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo.

Fast forward just five years and Jokowi had plunged into a life-changing campaign as Indonesia'€™s presidential hopeful. It is mind-blowing to think how life can change so much, so soon, reminding me of how for everyone life has changed in that period of time, too, thanks to social media and digital technology, and how rapidly these two things inspired changes in many fields.

I can'€™t help drawing similarities between Jokowi'€™s leadership style and the new paradigm of how people across the globe are trying to solve their own problems.

Instead of relying on one source of authority, or central government, people are often taking charge and solving their problems locally through their hand-held gadgets.

The small pieces of this '€œdo-it-yourself'€ movement are loosely joined, but this alternative way of solving problems has often proven to be more efficient and effective.

In Indonesia we have seen communities like Indonesia Berkebun (Indonesia Gardening), on urban farming initiatives, to Akademi Berbagi (Sharing Academy), concerning adult continuous education. From Suara Pemuda Anti Korupsi (Speak, Anti-Corruption Youth Voice) to Buku Untuk Papua (Books for Papua), all are movements organized by volunteers '€” loosely coordinated, but taking on real problems through real actions.

They are ground-up solutions, as opposed to top-down directives. It'€™s the power of attraction instead of coercion. It'€™s the power of ideas instead of the power of money. It does not command, it inspires. It'€™s a movement, not a barricade.

That'€™s the biggest strength in Jokowi'€™s arsenal: his soft power, his power of persuasion to get things done instead of relying on bureaucratic procedures that mostly slip into solutions that are unfit and arrive too late.

Jokowi understood his role as a leader. As the head of state is not going to be the single source of power from which all solutions derive, he knows he needs to orchestrate all the elements of government to work together to serve people better.

Government needs to be there to provide people with basic infrastructure and administration, create fair rules for business, uphold the law, protect citizens and care for the weak. But that is all.

The dynamics of this new global age are too complex to be solved by the old way of command and conquer. A country as big and as diverse as Indonesia needs hundreds of leaders, thousands of thinkers and millions of doers and we need to be well coordinated so we all know that we are all going to the same direction. Indonesia needs to become a movement.

In a famous 1997 essay entitled, The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond, who was dubbed the father of the open software movement, the author compares how two models work: the '€œcathedral'€, the big corporation proprietary model where software development is done by command with troop-like workers targeting a single-minded goal, and the '€œbazaar'€, the open-source movement where there is no ownership of the whole software because it is owned and built by everyone.

Anyone can volunteer to work on any part of the software as long as whatever they work on becomes a part of the open software again.

The bazaar model inspired hundreds of developers and solved millions of problems at a fraction of the cost and produced software free for everyone to use.

The bazaar was a movement and the model for many successful projects, from Wikipedia to Firefox and from Apache, the most commonly used web server, to MySQL, the most commonly used database server.

It has now evolved into the '€œsharing economy'€ model, like that used by Airbnb, Uber or Lyft, where we can all rent our unused rooms or cars.

There is much criticism of how Jokowi ran his presidential campaign, from the lack of coordination to the lack of a single consistent message.

Yet this shows the volunteer groups worked for him because they were inspired, not because they were paid or commanded. They worked both separately and together, producing comic books, images, quotable photos, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, songs, video clips, mobile applications and music concerts. They were the loosely joined small pieces that created a '€œbazaar'€ '€” an open source campaign.

Nowadays there'€™s some chaotic feeling as things move so fast, as we anxiously have to let go of our feelings of control, but that'€™s exactly the skill we need in this day and age.

We need to have our principles deeply grounded, but be ready to let go of being in charge all the time '€” thus being more flexible while taking on real problems through real action.

Indonesia needs a new leadership style firmly grounded in principles, but agile enough to face and solve any kind of future challenges in this more complex and fast changing world: leaders who listen, not command; leaders who inspire, not who instruct.

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Instead of relying on one source of authority, or central government, people are often taking charge and solving their problems locally.

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The writer is an Indonesian blogger, digital activist and social media geek.

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