Indonesia, Front and Center

March 7, 2013
by Alvin Powell, Harvard Gazette

In May 1998, widespread food shortages and stubbornly high unemployment led to massive riots across Indonesia. More than 1,000 people were killed, and longtime ruler Suharto was driven from office.

The violence eventually ushered in a new era for one of the world’s most populous and complex nations, which spans more than 17,000 islands and is home to hundreds of ethnic and language groups that provide the kind of natural divisions that have brought other countries to civil war.

Fifteen years later, Indonesia appears to have skirted those centrifugal forces. Instead, its 242 million people have forged the world’s most populous Muslim-majority democracy.

Interest in their progress led to the creation in 2010 of Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS) Indonesia Program, nestled within the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia, which itself is within HKS’ Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

“They have made a remarkably peaceful transition from dictatorship for 32 years to contested electoral politics,” said Jay Rosengard, lecturer in public policy at HKS and faculty chair of the HKS Indonesia Program. “The problem now is creating the institutional capacity to deliver the goods.”

The program is taking a multifaceted approach to engaging with Indonesia. Affiliated faculty members, including Ash Center director Anthony Saich, the Daewoo Professor of International Affairs, have produced several reports on aspects of Indonesian democracy, studies that Rosengard said seek to be “constructively provocative.”

The reports are distributed free in Indonesia in collaboration with a publisher there. The findings are shared with Indonesian officials and are the subject of conferences and meetings with key leaders. Important chapters are redrafted into policy briefs that leaders can read and digest quickly.

“Our goal is not to produce a report that goes on the shelf” without being read and influencing policy, Rosengard said.

In addition to the work conducted at Harvard, the program supports Indonesian researchers in their own studies. The program supports visiting fellows from Indonesia, some of whom are completing doctoral research at Harvard, and some of whom are senior practitioners studying significant issue.

In more direct support for Indonesian democracy and good governance, the HKS program has designed a leadership offshoot, called “Transformasi” or “Leadership Transformation in Indonesia,” for elected local government officials, such as mayors and local district heads. Participants in the program, which provides an intensive look at good government practices, spend one week in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta and three weeks in Cambridge.

Read full article in the Harvard Gazette

Statue in Indonesia

The HKS Indonesia Program develops research projects on key policy challenges facing the country and develops custom executive education programs for senior Indonesian policymakers and leaders that are delivered at Harvard Kennedy School and in Indonesia.

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