Reflections 29th Year AKATIGA’s Journey

I first joined AKATIGA in 1998, shortly after the monetary and economic crisis hit Indonesia. I joined a research team that looked at the impact of the monetary crisis (krismon) on small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as a surveyor, and then as a data input and processor with the SPSS program.

On the next trip, AKATIGA invited me to join as a junior researcher. My involvement is mainly related to micro small business issues, micro finance issues, and issues of gender relations in the world of business and empowerment. My involvement with AKATIGA has continued until now, twenty-two years later since the krismon impact survey, and where we are in another crisis, namely the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the twenty-two years of AKATIGA’s journey, I also feel AKATIGA’s consistency in taking sides with the marginalized and providing research results that are accurate and scientifically rigorous and accountable. These two things are held firmly together. Alignment without being accompanied by caution and thoroughness in research can reduce the credibility of research results and recommendations, which in the end can be counterproductive to efforts to strengthen the marginalized themselves. In maintaining the quality of our research, we are very fortunate to receive mentoring from reliable senior researchers both from within and outside the country.

Along with the development of time and political economy conditions, our research also experienced a shift in emphasis. AKATIGA was founded during the New Order regime. Under the repressive conditions of the New Order, AKATIGA’s research has shown more of the real conditions of marginalized groups, especially workers, small business actors, and farmers. AKATIGA’s research uncovers subcontracting practices and nucleus-plasma patterns that are detrimental to farmer groups and small entrepreneurs, agrarian shifts, and processes of exploitation of industrial workers.

During the financial crisis, we saw the impact of the crisis on various groups in society, especially MSMEs, workers, and urban poor women. One of the main findings from the research results is the important role of MSMEs as a bearing for employment, especially in the urban informal sector and the agricultural/plantation sector. Buzzwords about strengthening small businesses as the backbone of the Indonesian economy began to appear during this period.

After the monetary crisis and the beginning of the rise of democratization and decentralization in Indonesia, there have been massive efforts to strengthen the grassroots community in the policy process. Responding to this development, our research is also placed in that context, and especially in collaboration with civil society groups that strengthen marginalized groups. In addition, AKATIGA has started to carry out various evaluations of development programs, including PNPM and PKH. In the past few years, we have put our research focus on SMEs, farmers and laborers in the context of employment opportunities for young people.

Individually, AKATIGA provides opportunities for continuous learning. In the past, I was often asked what was interesting about this research work. I answered, at AKATIGA I went to a new place and read a book/article, then got paid (Of course I didn’t mention that writing field notes and interview transcripts was very boring, even though it was important). The continuous learning process is also carried out through intensive discussions with researchers, including with senior researchers. Relatively fluid relations made these discussions relatively distant, even with very deep topics.

AKATIGA also encourages young researchers to appear and represent the institution in official presentations as well as in written works (books and journals), and even become study team coordinators. After studying the impact of the crisis, I became the coordinator of several studies, including on the impact of Islamic financial institutions on small businesses, in collaboration with the Bogor Peramu Foundation. Such trust provides enormous opportunities to simultaneously build capacity in designing studies, building collaborations with other institutions, leading studies, and even writing them in a book.

Through AKATIGA I also received a Fulbright scholarship in 2004. One of the interviewers at the time of selection was the head of a donor organization that had previously collaborated with AKATIGA. Even though he didn’t know me personally, his experience with AKATIGA made him convince the selection committee that I was a suitable candidate for the scholarship.

Of course AKATIGA’s journey (and mine personally) is not always smooth. There are ups and downs. However, the closeness and enthusiasm to maintain this institution exists at various layers of AKATIGA, from the founders to junior researchers. Of course this is also due to the support and trust of various institutions and AKATIGA’s network. Therefore, at the age of 29, we express our gratitude for the support and trust of AKATIGA friends and pray that we can continue to contribute to the improvement of marginalized groups in Indonesia.

Bandung, 16 September 2020
Nurul Widyaningrum
Director Eksekutif AKATIGA