Embracing community like an Indonesian

Western cultures could learn a lot about community from Indonesians

I have spent the past three days visiting small to large farming enterprises on the Sumatra islands. I visited the Great Pineapple enterprise that produces 1 in every 5 cans of tinned pineapples in the world, harvesting an average 1.5 to 2 million heads of pineapple everyday.

I learnt about and witnessed the sheer size of the prawn industry and how it operates here in Indonesia, from small land holders to large Chinese companies.

I also visited two of the largest cattle feedlots, where I saw very healthy cows delivered from the Northern Territory, which gave me confidence in Australia’s live beef exports.

I strolled through the hustle and bustle of a typical traditional Wet market and was amazed at how efficiently the market processed 100% of the produce with everything sold and dispatched by 7am (despite the level of food safety and hygiene).  This is in stark contrast to all the wasted and stored produce delivered from the numerous central markets, which I’ve seen in the markets I’ve walked through in Australia.

Putting aside the commercial learnings, I think that my key take out from my tour of Indonesia was the importance and power of community in the country. This stood out the most for me because I think in western cultures our view of community is different.

From a business and social standpoint we often think that community is about building a church; planting a forest; ensuring we have the right corporate social responsibility policies; ensuring workers are protected by unions;  and employing more people and so on. However, I think our business or policy agenda often comes before the true needs of a community.

I have certainly been prone to running my agenda before considering the community and what my actions as a business owner have on the people around me.

What I learnt here in Indonesia is that community comes first and there is a real commitment to ensuring the needs of the community are met well before business and policy can be created. There is a real emphasis on relationships,  and healing and spirituality are interwoven in daily life which I think is really unique.

An example of this was a large prawn operation that was heavily invested in the region and created great employment producing 100-150 tonnes of prawns per year. It was brought to its knees for firing one worker. The whole workforce boycotted working for the business and it ultimately had to shut down. This really showed me the sensitivity and compassion the people in this region have.

I was also told by another business owner that they really need to invest in the community and get to know not only their employees, but their families. There is a genuine level of care for business owners to get involved in the community where they operate and to provide resources to support it.

My Indonesian experience has allowed me to gain a new insight into myself and really question my current and future impact on the communities that I inhabit, not only commercially but also personally. I think that if we are serious about growing more food with less earth, then at the centre of this strategy should be a genuine focus on Community.

I would like to thank our host in Indonesia who has a great insight into the culture and business in the region.  Thanks Michael Sheehy for all your insights, hospitality and friendship.

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