Micro-social Entrepreneurship and Its Impact: A Look at Indonesia’s Wonder Women Initiative

Superheroes — it is not just an endearing term for characters with superpowers on a mission to save the world. In Indonesia, some 400 women have been ascribed the title “ibu inspirasi”, or “Wonder Women”, for the work that they do. As part of Kopernik’s initiative, they make clean energy technologies available to rural parts of the country.

Indonesia teems with 250 million people, and close to half of them live in rural parts. Over 80 million Indonesians do not have any access to electricity, and almost 100 million of them depend on three-stone fires for cooking.

Collaborating with ExxonMobil since 2010, Kopernik empowers local Indonesian women to become Tech Agents. They sell solar lanterns, water filters and fuel-efficient cook stoves by going door to door, shops, technology fairs and tech kiosks. Such a distribution model solves the previous problem of accessibility, as traditional supply chains were not reaching the remote communities.

These simple technologies have changed life for the better. The solar lanterns offer brighter illumination than kerosene lamps, so that the villagers can continue night activities, from weaving to studying or even manning their stores. They are also a much safer and cheaper choice than kerosene lamps. A cinch to use, the water filters eliminate bacteria, viruses and parasites, resulting in fresh-tasting and odourless water. This is a boon for people living in remote parts of Indonesia, who do not possess the know-how on water purification and are vulnerable to water-borne diseases. Young students no longer have to walk home during their breaks just to drink water.

As of August 2017, the Wonder Women have sold 16,000 clean energy technologies. The impact on the environment is remarkable as well — carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced by an estimated 6,000 tonnes in the country.

Allowing women to shine

According to UN Women, investing in women’s economic empowerment can lead to gender equality, eradicate poverty and encourage inclusive economic growth. It is with this in mind that both Kopernik and ExxonMobil began this initiative. In East Java and North Aceh, only half of the women are actively working, and they tend to spend their incomes catering to their families’ needs, from education to food, healthcare to sanitation.

Through the Wonder Women initiative, the participants get to retain a margin of the profits and increase their incomes. The micro-social entrepreneurs also gain lifelong skills, from sales and marketing to bookkeeping as well as public speaking, which greatly heighten their confidence and character development.

Obtaining funding

Running and operating a meaningful programme like Wonder Women requires capital, and Kopernik maintains diverse funding sources. Apart from the revenue generated from the sales of the technologies, Kopernik works with partners such as Daiwa Securities, Russell Investments and ExxonMobil. It also receives support from airlines as well as organisations offering accounting, photography, filmmaking, design, legal and communication services, often for free or at discounted prices.

Another revenue source Kopernik boasts comes via its Last Mile Consulting team, which provides professional advisory services to both corporate and public-sector clients. The team collates data and generates analyses and insights for its clients, so that the latter can make sense of the competitive landscapes of and demand in emerging markets. By conducting product trials and consolidating user feedback, it can then test-drive technology developments and innovation. Buoyed by its experience, the team also doles out advice and guidance in micro-entrepreneurship model designs and implementations.