The air of anticipation was heavy among the small business owners packing the public library in Pamekasan district on the East Java island of Madura, as they awaited some distinguished visitors from Jakarta. Their wait wasn’t in vain as their visitors, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [BMGF] representative Jeremy Paley and Coca-Cola Foundation Indonesia executive director Titie Sadarini, were just as keen to see how the small-time businesses were faring.
Their visit to Pamekasan was more than just a random stop in a corner of Indonesia away from Jakarta; it was a firsthand look at a place leading the way for Perpuseru, a joint project between BMGF and the Coca-Cola Foundation that kicked off in November 2011. A portmanteau of “ Perpustakaan Seru ,” or “Exciting Library,” the program is designed to improve the libraries’ research capacity and empower women, young people as well as small and business owners, particularly in rural or more isolated areas.
Enlightening the public
“Perpuseru entails grants [from the Coca-Cola Foundation and BMGF] to libraries for IT and Internet communication technology facilities, and training for the library staff in their use,” Tite says of the project, which involves 34 libraries in 16 provinces.
“We aim to make the libraries places of learning for local communities that are made viable by fully qualified staff and state-of-the-art facilities due to our cooperation with state telecommunications company Telkom.”
Paley says BMGF and the Coca-Cola Foundation Indonesia decided to highlight the Pamekasan library “because it made the most of its computers and training facilities.
“These elements bolstered entrepreneurship in the area and helped develop community leaders,” he says.
“The library’s success has exceeded expectations, making it lay the groundwork for the project in Indonesia. The skills and know-how that local entrepreneurs have gained are helping Pamekasan’s economy thrive, as we see them create jobs for local people.”
Paley credits the library’s success to its head, Akhmad Zaini, whose services attracted the attention of the local government.
“The Pamekasan library has managed to become a cornerstone of the community as it is open 24 hours,” Akhmad says.
“It also draws people because of the speed of its Internet, which at nine megabytes per second is one of the highest in East Java, as it’s only exceeded by the cities of Malang and Surabaya. The staff’s proficiency in improving the locals’ Internet skills helped draw more than 62,000 people in 2013, up from more than 30,000 the previous year, before the Perpuseru program started in earnest.
“The library also has a special section on the history of Pamekasan and the rest of Madura. This collection, which includes many rare books and documents, has empowered locals by re-affirming their identity and educating them about their heritage.”
Akhmad adds that the library’s success prompted the local government to increase its budget from Rp 484 million ($42,100) to Ro 900 million.
Akhmad’s focus on education has paid off. The Pamekasan library beat all other Perpuseru libraries in winning writing competitions, while Akhmad’s stint as a guest lecturer at Ciputra University in Jakarta has increased awareness about the library.
Aside from its educational value, the Pamekasan library has helped small and medium business owners enhance their business opportunities. Among them are manufacturers of the area’s batik tulis , or hand-written batik, one of the oldest forms of the craft.
“Batik tulis is distinct because both sides of the cloth are identical, as the cloth is drawn on both sides using only the canting [tool to apply hot wax] and is dipped in a dye bath three or four times,” says batik tulis artisan Ida Rizal.
“However, no two motifs on the same cloth, whether they be leaves, flowers, lines or circles, are alike. The cloth is also more natural due to the use of tamanu oil, which helps it retain the cloth’s motif. It’s also marked by mirah , or the red shade that makes batik tulis distinctive.”
It doesn’t take long to see what she’s getting at. The lively colors and vivid motifs of the batik, which can take up to a year to make, are balanced by the cloth’s stark, intricate lines. Taken together, it has an organic, natural look and feel, distinguishing it from the more ubiquitous batik cap , or stamped batik.
“Batik tulis is a product that is a specialty of Pamekasan,” says 28-year-old Abdul Hamit, who runs his family’s batik business. “But since it’s not exactly a tourist stop, it didn’t get that much exposure, resulting in slow business and low revenues for us and other batik makers.
“But our fortunes took a turn after the library staff showed us the finer points of digital marketing, enabling us to sell the batik online. Online marketing has allowed us to sell our wares to a larger market beyond Pamekasan, and has seen our profit increase from Rp 2 million a month to Rp 5 million a month.”
As one of the batik experts who helped Abdul, Ida is well aware of how the Pamekasan library’s IT facilities can help turn businesses like his around.
“One of the benefits of digital marketing is that it can connect the batik artisans directly to their market. This is a welcome improvement for their economic fortunes,” says Ida, whose batik business directly promotes its wares to markets as far afield as Malaysia, Brunei and Germany. “For too long they have been languishing on a daily wage of Rp 5,000, while their works sell for millions of rupiah in Surabaya, Jakarta and other big cities. The library’s IT facilities and its special section on Pamekasan’s culture have helped us rediscover various age-old batik tulis styles and techniques. We also learned about its similarities to other cloths, enabling us to combine various styles, such as batik tulis and Dayak motifs from Kalimantan.”
Batik makers are not the only business owners gleaning the benefits from the library’s state-of-the-art IT facilities.
“The Internet particularly helped me in my business of breeding roosters for cockfighting,” says Wahid, a former parking attendant who can sell up to six fighting cocks for about Rp 1 million to customers throughout Java and Kalimantan.
“It helps me in many ways, from sounding out the market to finding out proper techniques to breed them. I have managed to improve the health of the chickens as well as increase their egg output. This is particularly important for the hens, as they hold the DNA key to making the fittest fighting cocks.”
For Paley, the success of Pamekasan’s small and medium enterprises in harnessing the Internet for their businesses reflects the World Wide Web’s ubiquitous role in Indonesia and other developing countries.
“Information poverty, or lack of proper IT facilities, is a form of poverty that is as important as its better-known economic and sociopolitical sides. The Internet is a form of 21st-century ‘fishing’ for opportunities. I hope other libraries in the Perpuseru project can emulate the Pamekasan library’s success,” he says.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on May 7, 2014