A new approach to build forward, from the village level in Indonesia

March 25, 2021

Gorontalo, Indonesia

By Patrick Duong, Regional Advisor, Lead SDG Localization and Governance Cluster, UNDP Regional Hub for Asia and the Pacific and Juliaty Sopacua, SDG Advisor, UNDP Indonesia.


Millions of Indonesians in small and remote villages across the vast archipelago have borne the brunt of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, dubbed as the defining global health crisis of the modern age.

As you read on - a fisherman in Ponelo village of Gorontalo province is struggling to put food on the table for his family following strict social distancing measures. A mother from Malambe village, also in Gorontalo, has lost much of her income selling steamed yellow rice (a staple food for breakfast). Her dwindling source of income is needed to buy data and reliable mobile phones, as her kids transition to virtual learning.  

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is much more than a health crisis. The crisis has magnified much of the vulnerabilities among the marginalized rural communities, widening  inequalities and reversing gains on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While the global community has been advocating the need to adopt integrated non-linear approaches to implement the SDGs, real-life examples of hands-on experiences that turn jargon such as “portfolios” and “platforms” into governance actions at local levels, are still sparse.

So how can the SDGs be turned into real outcomes for people?

In Indonesia, the Ministry of Village, Development of Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration of the Republic of Indonesia (Kemendesa PDTT) and UNDP have recently joined forces to answer just that. With support from UNDP’s Bangkok Regional Hub and the Basque Social Innovation Lab Agirre Lehendakaria Center (ALC), the Indonesia Social Innovation Platform (SIP) aims to inform regional and local development planning and budgeting to help vulnerable groups living in villages recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Its objective is to speed up socio-economic recovery and use the SDGs to build forward better.  The SIP will be piloted for one year (2020 –2021) in the provinces of Gorontalo and West Java, where UNDP is expected to provide technical assistance in developing a Portfolio of Solutions at Kawasan Perdesaan level (cluster of villages).

SIP Indonesia: building forward better from the villages

Indonesia’s current approach to development planning is a well-established annual planning and budgeting process called “Musrenbang”. The process brings together different communities in active collaboration, as they discuss solutions to address issues that matter most to them. While this process allows residents to articulate their needs, it has yet to capture today’s fluid and complex development challenges. For example, even though, residents are being consulted on the pressing issues, their role in decision-making processes remains limited under “Musrenbang”.

How will SIP help Indonesia?

The SIP aims to facilitate pro-active listening methods that capture and analyze hidden narratives in the communities. As a result, a richer understanding of development challenges can be achieved. The SIP Indonesia has recently ushered in (remote digital) Deep Listening exercises in Gorontalo and West Java involving fishers, mothers, micro-business owners and local authorities, to assess the COVID-19 and the delay of SDG progress.

Early findings show that communities in Gorontalo and West Java perceive the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to boost strategies and awareness in addressing existing challenges, such as unequal access to clean water and unsustainable tourism.

Results coming out from the ‘Deep Listening’ exercise is a form of collective intelligence - the body of knowledge that grows out of a group's combined capacity and capability. This is crucial for the process of ‘Co-creation where a variety of actors gather to formulate development solutions.  The result of this process is a ‘Portfolio of Solutions’ that consists of prototypes that are designed to address development issues systemically through five interconnected levels, namely (i) community relations, (ii) small-scale businesses, (iii) large-scale public-private partnerships, (iv) public service redesign and (v) new regulation.

Using the ‘Portfolio of Solutions’, SIP Indonesia can facilitate the fisherman in Ponelo village in accessing alternative marketing channels for his fisheries products. At the same time,  the yellow rice seller from Malambe village can explore innovative ways to expand her customer base. And many more villagers can have access to sources of living which could withstand climate change shocks.

With only nine years to meet the 2030 agenda, UNDP has raised its game to lift millions of people out of poverty in Indonesia. Key to the ramping up the efforts is developing a platform approach, rather than a single point linear solution. This new approach will allow the nation to build better from the village level.