Mmafatse Ndlebe’s Summer Fellowship in UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab

The UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab team, excluding one member Pak Didi who was on Mission in Tanzania.

Written by Mmafatse Ndlebe

Salam dari Jakarata, Indonesia! (“Greetings”)

Saya harap Anda baik-baik saja! (Indonesian version of “I hope you are well’)

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work with the UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab, made possible thanks to the generous support of the UNA-NYC Summer Scholars Program. As I write this, I am wrapping up my in-country work as a Strategic Foresight and Innovative Finance Fellow with the Accelerator Lab in Indonesia. Luckily my fellowship will continue remotely when I return to New York until the end of September. Two months of knowing and exploring this spectacular country have left me with moments of amusement, learning, sheer joy, and gratitude. Allow me to reflect on the journey with you…

Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania between the Indian and Pacific oceans. It is the world’s largest archipelagic state consisting of over 17,000 unique islands, including Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, and parts of Borneo and New Guinea, making it known for its beautiful white sandy tropical beaches and surrounding turquoise waters. With that said, I was fascinated by how much the country has to offer, including rich cultural heritage, delicious cuisine, active volcanoes, and biodiversity. A country full of natural beauty.

With around 280 million people, Indonesia is the world’s fourth-most populous country, with the Java Island being home to more than half of the country’s population. The capital city, Jakarta (until August 2024), is the world’s second most populous urban area, and one can attest to this fact when stuck in traffic. Before I get carried away with sharing facts about Indonesia, let me delve into my fellowship.

Commencement of my Fellowship

The 29th of May, 2023, marked the start of my fellowship, which was remote in New York City due to visa delays. A time difference of 11 hours meant joining team calls at 11 pm (Est) on Sunday, which was 10 am (Jkt) Monday morning for the rest of the team. Therefore I was excited when I finally arrived in Indonesia towards the end of June to join the UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab team based in Jakarta.

UNDP Accelerator Labs are the world’s largest and fastest learning network on sustainable development challenges, with 91 labs serving 115 countries. They aim to develop and accelerate learning, focusing on the complex challenges each country faces to expedite the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab’s focus is to address frontier challenges in the context of urban development and urban resilience. The team explores the relationship between ecological crises and inequality in urban environments, particularly water-related issues like flooding. To understand the complexity, UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab applies collective intelligence and ethnographic research using immersion, public surveys, and solutions mapping. Through various innovative approaches, reflected in the UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab’s blogs on ‘Mapping Urban Ecological Systems,’ ‘Hidden Messages in Water,’ and ‘Grassroots Solutions for Urban Development in Indonesia,’ the team worked together with partners from the government, academia, civil society organizations (CSO), and communities on the ground.

My main tasks as a strategic foresight fellow are;

· Conduct research and assist in synthesizing the UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab’s previous foresight efforts, including developing research tools and compiling literature sources. Currently, I am a co-author in drafting a publication (which will form part of the country office’s knowledge literature) that reflects on the strategic foresight efforts in Indonesia, a compilation of initiatives (case studies) undertaken. Strategic foresight is a relatively new concept within the development sector, and the initiatives already undertaken by the UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab are impressive and have assisted various stakeholders in Indonesia.

· Actively support the organization of events/workshops/seminars. In an effort to promote community participation in the Nusantara Capital City planning and development process, the UNDP Indonesia, in collaboration with the Otorita Ibu Kota Nusantara (the government authorities), Badab Riset dan Inovasi Nasional RI (BRIN RI), and Kota Kita conducted a two-day workshop on the topic of Strategic Foresight for an Inclusive Forest City. The workshop was attended by various key stakeholders, which included central, regional, and local governments, academia, civil society organizations, and community members who collectively imagined and discussed the future of Indonesia’s new capital city in 2045. Through forward-looking approaches, participants developed robust policies for forest area management and utilized generative AI to ideate green public spaces in the city. The preparations for the workshop awarded me the opportunity to participate in discussions with government officials and research institutions relating to the New Capital City and how innovative tools such as foresight can be leveraged to collect insight that will improve their policy-making process to develop robust policies that can be deemed as inclusive and “future-fit.” Amongst my various task, the most rewarding was drafting the talking points for the Deputy Resident Representative, Sujala Pant, for her opening remarks for the workshop.

While it is impossible to predict the future, signals of change and disruptions, challenges, and opportunities working with the UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab has expanded my knowledge of strategic foresight, which is the discipline of exploring the future to anticipate changes, develop possible transition pathways, and withstand shocks. As a novel tool, strategic foresight has been utilized by policymakers worldwide to shape long-term policy planning and decisions. Working alongside experts on innovation and development within the team has been a privilege.

Accelerator Lab’s cover of the Program’s publication details its progress since its launch in March 2021 in Indonesia.
The UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab team, excluding one member Pak Didi who was on Mission in Tanzania.
The Deputy Resident Representative delivered the opening remarks at the Strategic Foresight Workshop.

Exploring Jakarta and the appetizing cuisines

On another note, I had a wonderful time exploring the city using public transport, mainly the Gojek scooter, the common mode of transportation apart from the MRT, which reduced commuting time, especially during peak traffic hours. Being a passenger on the back of the scooter was exciting and terrifying as the scooter drivers were fearless and appeared not to be intimidated by buses and cars. I’ll admit I might have screamed once or twice, okay, on most of the scooter rides, as I was sure we would be bummed over by a car. But happy to say that I arrived at all my destinations unscathed.

On my way to the National Museum as a passenger on the Gojek scooter

On my first weekend, I visited the National Museum, an archaeological, historical, ethnological, and geographical museum in Jalan Medan Merdeka Barat, Central Jakarta. Its brand collections cover Indonesia’s territory and history, popularly known as the Elephant Museum after the elephant statue in its forecourt. The museum has endeavored to preserve Indonesia’s heritage for two centuries.

The Garden of the National Museum
Learning about the Topeng Hudoq Dan Ritual Bercocok

On one of the weekends, I managed to visit Kota Tua Jakarta (Indonesian for “Jakarta Old Town”), which is one of the most popular places to visit in Jakarta. This area, about 4.5km north of the Monas, is the remainder of Old Batavia, the first walled settlement of the Dutch in the Jakarta area. It was an inner-walled city with its own Castle, and the area mainly consisted of Dutch colonial buildings built during the 17th century.

Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics
Joined the ladies for a ride around the Kota Tua area.
Outside the Museum — Bank Indonesia

There is a wide variety of recipes and cuisines partly because Indonesia comprises more than 1,300 ethnic groups, and many regional cuisines exist based upon indigenous culture with some foreign influences. I intended to capture a few of the delicious meals. However, due to the appetizing look and aroma of most of the dishes, there wasn’t time for a picture.

Back at the (remote) office

The strategic foresight workshop was conducted in Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, located on the east coast of the island of Borneo. Over two days, participants from various stakeholders discussed the future of Indonesia’s new capital city in 2045. Using a wind-tunneling approach, participants explored four different future scenarios of Nusantara that depicted the everyday lives of its citizens under the Forest City concept; social dynamics between local communities and migrants, communities’ involvement in forest management, various advanced technologies supporting conservation efforts, economic empowerment initiatives and the overall political landscape. The lively reflections elicited concerns and aspirations from participants, which were leveraged for developing technical guidance for forest management.

In a different session co-facilitated by UrbanistAI, participants used a tailored generative AI platform to formulate various components in the new capital city’s urban parks. The results exceeded the team’s expectations, as participants enthusiastically brainstormed different features that are essential for an accessible public space, balancing the modern vision of the city with local context and culture.

The workshop evidenced the benefits of incorporating innovative approaches to be incorporated into policy-making and the contribution of these approaches to achieving the SDG’s by 2030.

Key stakeholders at the Strategic Foresight workshop in Balikpapan
Facilitators at the Strategic Foresight workshop which included UNDP Indonesia, BRIN, and Kota Kita personnel.

Working from and exploring the Island of the God’s Bali

The beauty of Bali featured quite frequently during team lunches and coffee break chats, so when my supervisor agreed that I should work remotely from Bali for four days, I was thrilled. I had always heard that the Island of the Gods forever marks everyone’s soul. Gifting one with experiences, lessons, and insight one would have never imagined.

I spent most of the days drafting the Strategic Foresight publication and conducting online meetings with co-facilitators, collaborators, and participants of the various initiatives undertaken by the UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab. These meetings aimed to reflect on the initiatives and receive feedback from the different individuals on the takeaways from these initiatives and the impact of Strategic Foresight tools utilized.

Bali is enchanting, mind-blowing, profoundly touching, and rich in culture and experiences. The interactions with the Balinese and experiences on this island were life-changing. Over the weekend, I visited the Tirta Empul Temple, famous for its holy spring waters, the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, and the Satria Luwak Coffee, where I learned about producing luwak coffee.

At the Tirta Empul Temple
At the Tirta Empul Temple — My tour guide insisted on capturing this picture
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Tea and coffee tasting at Satria Luwak Coffee plantation

Back at the office in Jakarta

The last weeks in the office consisted of discussions with the team regarding multiple reports, including the Strategic Foresight report. Furthermore, continuous engagements were held with stakeholders regarding the workshop held in Balikpapan. The insights from the seminar were critical and resulted in the compilation of technical guidance to assist the policy-making process. The outcomes also resulted in discussions on potential partnerships between Otorita and UNDP Indonesia.

I was fortunate to observe Independence Day on the 17th of August, celebrated in the office on the 16th of August. The festivities included competing against the UN Women and UNFPA agencies in games such as tug of war and cracker eating contests. I’m happy to report that the UNDP did pretty well.

UNDP, UN Women, and UNFPA colleagues at the Independence Day celebration

I’ll share more about my fellowship when I return to New York. Bye for now.

Terima Kasih to my amazing colleagues at the UNDP Indonesia Accelerator Lab.

My colleagues took me around the South of Jakarta.
From left to right: Novita, Ajit, Gemilang, Arief and Daniel.

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