To the kids of Puskesmas Batua,a community clinic in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Dr. Wayne Holden was larger than life.
Towering two meters tall, Holden, the president and chief executive of the Research Triangle Institute International (RTI), was in Sulawesi to support USAID-Kinerja programs to promote breast-feeding, improve safe maternal delivery practices and strengthen the management of public health facilities.
The clinic’s director, Dr. Syamsiah Densi, proudly shared information about the services available at the clinic and briefed Holden about the importance of ensuring accountability mechanisms introduced by the USAID-Kinerja program for the future.
The program is one among dozens managed by RTI International, which implements programs in more than 70 countries around the world.
In Makassar, Kinerja supports public oversight of community health clinic services and helps raise public awareness on the importance of breast feeding.
On Holden’s first visit to Indonesia, he showed a genuine passion for being in the field, describing the archipelago as a vibrant environment.
“A lot of things are going on in Indonesia,” he said. “There is a lot of focus on how things are moving into the future and people are open, interesting to talk with.”
Besides visiting the local puskesmas (community health centers), Holden also stopped by two schools supported under the USAID-PRIORITAS program. During his brief visit to state primary school SD Mamajang, he sat in on a science lesson, where students were making models of water wheels while studying transformation of energy. At private junior high school SMP YPP PGRI, Holden observed an English class, where one student asked for advice on becoming successful.
“I like visiting schools and I like kids. I have a couple of my own,” said Holden, a trained pediatric psychologist who earned his doctorate from University of South Carolina.
Holden also used the opportunity to meet with school staffprincipals and other staff.
“It’s good to go out in the field. You can get a sense of how projects really operate and what’s going on. You see a lot of people coming together as a force in that particular community.”
RTI is also focusing on the huge changes underway in research and policy development through the Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI).
Established in August 2013 as a joint commitment between the governments of Indonesia and Australia, KSI seeks to improve the lives of the Indonesian people through better public policy based on the use of research, analysis, and evidence.
Led by the Indonesian and Australian governments and implemented by RTI, KSI supports research institutions to improve the quality of their research and relevance to current issues.
KSI also seeks to narrow the gap between researchers and policy makers by exploring ways to communicate research findings and providing platforms that support communication.
This 15-year commitment, currently in its first phase, encourages the strengthening of public dialogue in building systems and regulations that support evidence-based policies, in order to support national development priorities in the social and economic fields and deliver long-lasting public impact.
“It’s important to make policy decisions based on evidence,” Holden said. “More research allows you to have evidence. Research and development are very important issues for advancing the economy. Being able to grow that leads to creativity and innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit.”
Holden went on to highlight the importance of an environment that encourages people to produce new ideas. “There is a need to work more around intellectual property that encourages people to develop ideas and take them forward, with a government that is supportive and a proponent of driving research, by funding research and development. Technical skills are important in terms of workforce development,” he said.
Regarding RTI’s long-term commitment in Indonesia, Holden said flexibility and responsiveness were crucial to adapting to changes.
“What we try to do is to project into the future and see what we know is out there and developing,” he said. “There are always things we don’t know, unexpected things that happen and might change the course of events. But we have to be thinking about the future, be ready to respond, and be ready to be flexible.”