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Commentary: What Nadiem Makarim brings to the table as education and culture minister

The Gojek founder's appointment suggests President Jokowi is eager to focus the next five years on improving Indonesia’s education system, says an observer.

Commentary: What Nadiem Makarim brings to the table as education and culture minister

Nadiem Makarim, founder of the Indonesian ride-hailing and online payment firm Gojek waves to journalists as he arrives at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct 21, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Willy Kurniawan)

SURABAYA: President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has announced the appointment of Gojek founder Nadiem Makarim as the new Minister for Education and Culture.

Nadiem’s appointment has surprised many. For the first time in Indonesia’s history, a sitting president has recruited an entrepreneur focused on digital ventures for a ministerial position.

Jokowi, who has a background in the furniture business in his hometown Solo, Central Java, has always tried to involve entrepreneurs in his administration. 

This can be seen from his decision in appointing Susi Pudjiastuti as Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries under Jokowi’s first term presidency. Prior to her role as minister, Susi owned businesses in the fisheries and airline industries. 

READ: Commentary: So much for eradicating corruption in Indonesia

Involving business people and entrepreneurs may be part of an effort on Jokowi’s part to improve his government by streamlining Indonesia’s notorious bureaucracy.

By appointing Nadiem, who is widely considered an innovative and creative business leader, Jokowi seems eager to improve Indonesia’s education system, which has racked up complaints of being too bureaucratic and outdated.


Nadiem founded app-based transportation service Gojek back in 2010. Under his leadership, Gojek grew to become one of Indonesia’s biggest start-ups with an estimated value of at least US$10 billion.

A Go-Jek driver rides his motorcycle through a business district street in Jakarta, June 9, 2015. (Photo: REUTERS/Beawiharta) FILE PHOTO - A Gojek driver rides his motorcycle through a business district street in Jakarta, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Beawiharta

The appointment of this 35-year old Harvard alumni can hopefully provide some fresh energy to Jokowi's efforts to revitalise Indonesia’s education system, which has been stymied by bureaucracy.

Indonesia’s education system is the world’s fourth largest, but quality is lacking. The latest PISA report shows that Indonesia is among the 10 worst performing nations in terms of education. It has been ranked lower than Mexico, Columbia and Thailand.

One of the greatest challenges facing Indonesian education is its overlapping regulations. Lecturers also face stringent administration procedures that hold them back from focusing on carrying out their academic duties.

READ: Commentary: Indonesia has big plans for education but severely lacks good teachers

Nadiem’s presence can hopefully bring much needed innovation and drive new solutions not yet explored.

His experience in information and technology is also extremely useful in designing and adopting new digital systems, an area which Indonesia's academic institutions lag behind compared to many other educational systems.

Nadiem’s entrepreneurial traits in digital business – shown by his risk-taking attitude and willingness to collaborate – can also contribute to developing an education system that generates high-quality and innovative research that tackles Indonesia’s most pressing issues.

Nadiem Makarim, founder of the Indonesian ride-hailing and online payment firm Go-Jek speaks with Reuters during an interview at the Go-Jek offices in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

With his success in expanding Gojek’s operations to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, high hopes rest on Nadiem’s shoulders to take advantage of his vast international network and apply those contacts to improve conditions at home.

Many hope that Nadiem, who was recognised as an “Asian of the Year” in 2016 by the Straits Times given his contributions to improving the lives of many in Indonesia and the wider Asian region, will bring this same energy to empower teachers and improve their welfare, especially those who are contract-based.


However, in the history of Indonesia’s bureaucracy, most business leaders and entrepreneurs recruited as ministers do not stay long in the administration.

Some ministers with a background in business have not continued with their role in subsequent terms.

The closest example is former minister of marine affairs and fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti, who now no longer serves in Jokowi’s second-term cabinet.

Indonesia's Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti speaks at an event at the Defence Ministry about stepping up the country's efforts to protect its waters from illegal fishing, in Jakarta May 10, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Darren Whiteside)

Media tycoon Dahlan Iskan, who was appointed state-owned enterprises minister when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was president, only served for two years.

Owner of electronics corporation National Gobel Group Rachmat Gobel only served for one year as trade minister under Jokowi.

READ: Nadiem Makarim's commentary for CNA, Want smart Asian countries? Get governments to be digital ready first

The reason these business people don’t assume their positions for long might be because their entrepreneurial attitude clashed with the Indonesian government’s notorious culture of bureaucracy.

How long will Nadiem endure under Jokowi’s second term? I guess we’ll see.

Freddy H Istanto is a lecturer at the Faculty of Creative Industries, Ciputra University. This article first appeared in The Conversation, and was originally published in Indonesian.

Source: CNA/el(sl)


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