by Mija den Hartog
‘I started a business for the first time in 1990. Before that I often went to the city to sell vegetables. When I went there I saw a lot of people coming from their villages buying goods in kiosks (small shops) owned by non-Papuan people [Papuans are one of the main and minor people groups in Indonesia.]. I had an idea that I could have a kiosk like this in my own village and make as much money as these people in the city. I saved up some money and set up a kiosk. But, unfortunately my business failed. I tried to run my own business for 16 years but I failed again and again. I failed because of bad habits, such as gambling and drunkenness, but most importantly because of a lack of business knowledge.’
This is a summary of the business lifestory of Charles Asso, a man who did not give up after his business failed several times during 16 years. But even great perseverance could not help his kiosk to survive. People like Charles need to learn how to run a business well and how to deal with cultural situations.
In our organisation, Yayasan Oikonomos Papua, we often meet men and women like Charles Asso. From its beginning, Yayasan Oikonomos Papua started to support people by giving them the opportunity to join courses in our business school and to receive micro-credit. We quickly found out that this was not enough support, so we started our ‘Incubator programme’. People can now join training units, such as a kiosk or computer rental shop, so that they can be trained in a business environment for several months. This means they will be better prepared to keep their business running once it has been set up. Through the programme we also coach people over the long-term by providing follow-up training. Long-term coaching and accompaniment are key factors for success.
There are many difficulties that Papuan entrepreneurs have to overcome. Seven key difficulties faced by them are:
Entrepreneurs give away goods and money to relatives, which means that income is lost and reinvestment in the business is not possible. (Papuans feel obliged to do this to maintain relationships and avoid curses which are linked to their animistic roots.)
A lack of good book-keeping causes irresponsible spending.
Entrepreneurs lack discipline and the motivation to work hard for the business, because they have low expectations of success.
There is a lack of good transport infrastructure in West Papua which makes it difficult for business owners to transport their products to market.
Papuans are ‘programmed’ with the Indonesian status system. For example, working in a kiosk is for the Javanese people group, gardening is for Papuans and carpenters are Manadoo people. This gives low self-esteem and a lack of motivation to break out of this way of thinking.
Papuans often have to pay higher prices for raw materials than non-Papuans and therefore have to charge higher prices in order to make a profit.
Rising prices of supplies creates difficulties in making a profit.
To improve micro-enterprise we recommend the following actions:
- Create and cultivate role models (also know as ‘agents of change’).
- Pay more attention to private bookkeeping and savings.
- Visit people after training sessions to provide follow-up and support.
- Include more information about social and cultural aspects in the training sessions.
- Teach people the Christian responses to animistic beliefs and curses.
Charles’ business also failed several times
because of the social structures in West
Papua. At one training session he told us: ‘I
did not have any business knowledge and I
did not understand that our social structures
caused my business to fail. I used to share
out the goods in my kiosk to my family to
maintain the relationships. Also, when I sold
goods I used the money for my daily needs. I
never saved money to buy new stock. When
I received financial help I opened my kiosk
again but when I ran out of stock, I had also
run out of money’.
But the life of Charles changed: ‘When I met
the training team of Yayasan Oikonomos
Papua I was invited to join the level one kiosk
training course. During that training I learned
why my business failed again and again and
why other businesses often fail, especially
the ones that are owned by Papuan people.
They taught us how we could set up an easy
administration system so we can monitor our
business. Because of new enthusiasm, the
continuous coaching by Yayasan Oikonomos
Papua and the support of my family my
business is now healthy. I hope I can develop
my business more so that I can be an
example for other Papuan businesses’.
During training sessions, we often see
that teaching people how to deal with the
difficulties they face opens their eyes and
gives them power to start or restart their
business. Every training starts with a Bible
study so people can also see what the Bible
is telling us about business, relationships
and our daily life. Some Bible studies that
we have used are:
- bearing fruit (John 15:1-8)
- talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
- life by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26)
- submitting yourself to God only
Discussions during the training sessions aim
to raise awareness about issues and include
pictures and stories (like Charles), to show
real-life situations and experiences. We
also see that entrepreneurs who have been
trained are often more successful than
people who start without training, and they
really can be significant agents of change in
Mija den Hartog is a trainer for Yayasan Oikonomos
Papua‘s Incubator programme.