This is the second interview I completed at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship last month with Tri “Puni” Mumpuni from Indonesia. Puni is an example of a social entrepreneur, a person who applies entrepreneurship to address social issues.
In growing up in Indonesia, would you consider your family to be poor, middle income, or well to do?
Puni: My father is an economist. My mother is a social worker. I have three sisters and three brothers. I would say I grew up in a middle-income family.
Living in a middle-income Indonesian family is not, I believe, an environment that would inspire you to help poor people. You could have gone on to do something more lucrative. Why didn’t you do something other than your chosen field?
Puni: My mother took me to visit the people she worked with and helped. She would bring medicine to the poor people; administer penicillin, things like that. You could see in their eyes and faces how thankful to my mother they were. And seeing her inspired me to help others.
Your mother inspired you to do social work. What started you in the field of entrepreneurship, particularly electricity? And what gave you the strength to approach your government for assistance in procuring turbines?
Puni: To be honest with you, I did not approach the local government for assistance. I just presented to the local government what I was going to do. I approached the villagers and convinced them that electricity is what the community needed. The villagers bought into the concept once they realized that it would be their electricity. They would be empowered. This approach was novel because, at the time, no one wanted to do something for the villagers. Everyone wanted the villagers to travel to the city for work.
What did you do first, approach the village or approach financiers?
Puni: Both. I went to the village with my husband, who is an engineer and builder of turbines. I wrote a letter to the local government and potential financiers. You know, I wish to share something with you about working with villagers and those outside the village like the local government and financiers. It’s a story about an American anthropologist who traveled to an African village. He asked the villagers in his earnest to help, “What is your problem?” The villagers remained silent. One lady in the rear finally broke the silence by stating, “Sir, if I tell you my problem right now you will leave. But, if you stay, you will learn what the problem is and we will solve the problem together.” You see you must know the community in order to make the project succeed and be sustainable.
Did you approach the village leader first? Did you encourage the village leader to think outside the box and explore the possibilities of creating this novel idea of bringing electricity to the village?
After getting the village leader and the village enthusiastic about the project, having your husband developing turbines, and having the local government engaged, how did you go about obtaining financing to bring it all together?
Puni: I approached people with big hearts, “angel” financiers, corporations that had social responsibility programs, and those who had a clear mind as to how their investments would be applied socially. With this type of financing we went back to the village and it was they who drove the business.
How did you prevent “bureaucracy creep” from taking over and controlling the villagers’ enterprise?
Puni: It is very difficult for “bureaucracy creep” to enter because the business is community driven. Villagers don’t get frustrated at every roadblock. They are committed to success. Bureaucracies, after a year or two, will become frustrated, disinterested, or fall to administrative changes. That results in abandonment or flight from a once promising project. Bureaucracies are not socially or community vested.
What will you take from this Summit?
Puni: My big expectation is to find someone who can invest in the village that now has electricity. We would like them to invest in factory processing of petroleum, foods, fruits, and to initially enable these products to be marketable without competing with world market prices. The villagers, with energy, are now producers, and what they need are buyers.
Lessons We Can Learn from Puni about Social Entrepreneurship
First, Puni was able to connect with and understand the people she wanted to help. Second, she tried to work through the channels of local authority. Both in Asia and Africa, there are often community and traditional leaders that need to be involved to execute enterprises. It’s not just dealing with consumers and the government.
Also, there is power, passion, and commitment associated with ownership. As Puni indicated, once the villagers understood that they would own the electricity they were on board. Buy-in from the community is critical.
And finally, Puni chose an enterprise that would serve to spin-off other enterprises and develop local economic development in the community. While aid is good, developing means for communities to become self-sustaining is the best. Now that the villagers have regular electrical supply, they can consider profit-making ventures. And, as the community grows economically, they will have an economic base to address their social issues like education and health.