Even 3,000 miles away, Dini’s voice practically bubbles over the phone with enthusiasm and ideas, telling me about life as a student at Boston University, running her Indonesia-based company from afar, and how she manages to do it all.
It’s been a busy 18 months since Dini Hajarrahmah finished the Jolkona Social Entrepreneurship Catalyst Program in Seattle WA. She said that those 2 weeks passed in an intense blur of classes, presentations and sleep deprivation, but two important components remained: an Indonesian community of social entrepreneurs, and lasting Seattle contacts who are helping her reshape and grow her company.
Dini founded and runs an eco-tourism company named “Wanderlust Indonesia” that offers packages for travelers to live and interact with local Indonesian families and villages, with a mission to enhance awareness, develop understanding of local issues and empower the participating families and communities. Before the Jolkona program she said that she had been aware of other social entrepreneurs, but she rarely knew them personally. Now she has a lasting community of other like-minded people who are committed to solving major social issues with new ideas.
Currently Dini is working to expand her company internationally and beyond eco-tourism. During her Jolkona training she met Brandon Fleming, PhD a University of Washington professor in the school of business. A few months later they collaborated, creating the “Global Study Tour to Indonesia” for his students to travel to Indonesia to learn about start-up, social entrepreneur and NGO companies, as well as visiting slum areas in Jakarta. After the trip, one student contacted Dini and said that she wanted to organize a water project in collaboration with Wanderlust and, with that, a new idea was born. Now Dr. Fleming is going to make this an annual trek for his students and it may have created a new purpose for the company: partnering with schools so students can come from 2-4 weeks, work on a business project, and learn cross-culturally.
I asked her how she juggled being a full-time student with running a company located across the globe and she admitted it has been challenging: the time difference is the big one. Day and night are almost switched so she has to make her calls at night and her staff can only reach her in the mornings. “Things don’t move as fast,” she admitted. And she still has to deal with the normal challenges of being an Indonesian social entrepreneur, from government corruption (“I can deal with that, though”) to her biggest challenge: “It’s a totally new idea in Indonesian society. People don’t know or understand it. Sometimes you have to manage locals’ expectations because they think you’re going to make them rich or that there will be instant results. So it can be a struggle to explain how it works in simple language and get on the same page.”
Given her experience at Jolkona and now her education in the Economic Development and Tourism Management at Boston University, she has several plans for Wanderlust. Besides expanding internationally, she would like to move more towards an on-line marketplace so her company can move faster, offer more options and partner more easily with others. She is also considering expanding to focus more on connecting travelers with locals by, for example, offering local culinary experiences or home stays.
Although the subject never naturally came up, I couldn’t resist asking what it’s like being a female social entrepreneur – running her own company in a Muslim-based, developing country. There was a puzzled pause before she finally answered, “It’s not a problem,” she assured me. “Women in Indonesia can do more than people think. There’s a saying,” she went on, ‘Like a mother in a village – don’t underestimate them!’ So don’t underestimate them – or the power of women in Indonesia. There are no problems with women being in charge.” With that, I had to smile. Perhaps people in the US could learn something from them.
Dini Hajarrahmah is a Jolkona Catalyst alum from 2014. Come meet Dini at the showcase!
by Casey Luce, freelance writer & Jolkona Volunteer