E-commerce might be a big deal in the country, but this startup is taking a more idealistic route
After years of living under the oppressive New Order regime, Indonesians find themselves in a situation where they can freely discuss — even criticise — government policies and other current issues.
However, there is still work to be done.
“For Indonesia to move forward, it needs citizens with the right mindset, a way of thinking that is logical, not ‘upside down’,” says Frandy Wirajaya, CEO of Opini.id.
“Based on our observation, there are still many Indonesians living with such incorrect mindset. How come? First, because our Human Development Index is still far behind … Many people do not have the access to education. Second, our current political situation causes people to receive imbalanced information through the media. This is why we encourage people to discuss through polling and rating,” he continues.
Opini.id is a platform for users to post and share their opinions on current issues, with the goal to educate society about the importance of critical thinking in everyday life.
It started off as Koran Fesbuk (“Facebook Newspaper”), a Facebook fanpage created by Indra Bigwanto in 2009 for users to keep up with current news while browsing the social media platform. After a meeting with GDP Ventures, he developed the concept further by founding Opini.id.
e27 sits down with Wijaya and Bigwanto at their West Jakarta office to discuss the role startups play in building the nation’s democratic climate.
Here is the edited excerpt of the interview:
Opini.id is not an entertainment portal where people willingly spend hours browsing. What is your strategy to encourage people to join the platform?
Bigwanto: The challenge will be how to deliver these non-entertaining messages for the society to adsorb. We are utilising easy-to-digest materials such as infographics and videos.
We invite public figures to lighten up the tone, for example by using stand-up comedy. We have a collaboration coming up with [YouTube star] Sacha Stevenson … to build a more ‘popular’ packaging for our target audience.
We also combine heavier topics with everyday matters. For example, when stuck in a traffic jam, which one should you prioritise, the ambulance or the hearse? The strange thing is that we tend to ignore the ambulance, and give way to the hearse. But we all know that the cemetery is not going anywhere! (laughs).
That is how we introduce critical thinking, by using everyday examples.
Wirajaya: We once did a social experiment where our team was walking on a bridge, then suddenly stopped and stared at something below, as if an accident had happened. People then began staring in the same direction, and we gathered a large crowd.
The point of the experiment was to spark discussion, does it really matter for you to watch an accident? It would be much better for you to go and help, instead of just watching.
How do you introduce users to using logic?
Bigwanto: Indonesians tend to express themselves verbally. They need to get used to expressing their opinion in written form. So we tried to focus more on encouraging the expression first, with proper logical construction … Then [we’ll] slowly guide them.
Is there any certain pattern that you noticed about Indonesian users of the platform?
Bigwanto: Same as everybody else in the world – they love entertainment news. They also love politics, which we are grateful of.
That they still focus more on the politicians, not the policies … It tends to happen anywhere, because human beings are indeed the centre of the news, but we have to encourage them to focus on the background instead.
Wirajaya: Like the recent case where a politician uses the President’s name for a contract. Instead of just discussing the politician, we also discuss whether it is legally acceptable to use someone’s name without their consent, even for seemingly trivial things.
Because it’s something people tend to do, like when someone in the office says, “Hey, the Boss said …”
Bigwanto: It helps people to be less judgmental. Because we cannot bash politicians for doing what they are doing, when we as the people are also doing the same thing.
It’s not that we try to justify [those politicians]; we try to give a clearer perspective.
Apart from providing the platform, what role can tech startups play in building democracy?
Wirajaya: For 2016, we have many programmes that involve university students as future leaders. We [will] also open up opportunities for big companies in Indonesia to work together with us, to make Indonesia better through their CSR programme.
We are also excited about President Jokowi’s Mental Revolution programme, as it shows government’s commitment to build Indonesian people’s mindset.
We would love to be able to partner with Ministry of Education or state-owned enterprises. We have already talked to Telkom, as we have a similar mission.
Bigwanto: The government ideally plays the role as a referee. As we know, in the digital sector, policy tends to have a hard time catching up with innovation.
The government needs to be wiser in dealing with this matter. Digital is one of the quickest ways to put Indonesia in the same place as other nations. It needs to be well-managed …
As long as we are playing a fair game, [Indonesian startups] are not afraid to compete even with giants like Google.
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