A light but steady drizzle was falling upon the village of Eretan Wetan in Indramayu district, West Java. The small fishing village on the northern coast of Java looked sleepy with dozens of fishing boats bobbing up and down at the quay. Most fishermen chose to stay on shore in the gloomy weather.
But at the village’s center, things looked pretty busy. In a seven-by-nine-meter bamboo gazebo, a man was speaking animatedly in front of a small group of people, while weighing and mixing different kinds of powders and water in a bowl.
The small group, which mainly consisted of women, was watching him intently. Sometimes they interrupted the speaker with their eager questions. Then each of them practiced what they had just seen in the demonstration.
“We’re making cream detergent,” said Marini, a local housewife who attended the event. “It turned out to be quite simple and easy.”
After about half an hour of mixing and stirring, the homemade detergent was ready. The substance was cerulean in color and smelled fresh. It felt soft and creamy to the touch.
The detergent would then be packaged in 250-gram plastic cups and labeled “Ombak” (“Wave”). This local product would then be sold in local shops and warung , or kiosks The consumers are most likely the producers themselves, as well as their families and friends.
“It’s a prosumer project,” said Tedy Tricahyono, chairman of the Center for Innovations and Self-Sufficiency Programs, also known as the PIKIR Institute. “In this project, the producers are also the consumers of their own products.”
PIKIR is a community of young Indonesian people that aspires to make a difference in the country. Today, the community consists of 40 active members who are mostly based in Jakarta.
The prosumer project is a collaboration between PIKIR and the local youth organization OPSI, or Indramayu Youth Organization.
“It all started on Facebook,” Tedy said.
In 2009, a group of friends, who were all active users of the social media, met and chatted online. The issues that they talked about varied, from personal to national issues.
Over time, the group expanded. And their discussions became more focused on Indonesia’s future.
“We’re a bunch of restless people,” said Tedy, a 40-year-old mechanical engineer and entrepreneur. “We wondered why, in spite of our abundant natural and human resources, Indonesia was not yet a developed nation.”
Their ruminations came to a specific conclusion. They believed that the lack of education and entrepreneurship contributed to holding back the pace of development in the country.
These Facebook friends decided to do something about it. They met offline in Jakarta to discuss and work on these issues for real.
In November 2011, they established the PIKIR Institute in Cikini, South Jakarta. Among the founders are Tedy, IT specialist Carlos Patriawan, writer and lecturer Airlangga Pribadi, and technopreneur Adie Marzuki.
This organization seeks to address Indonesia’s educational and entrepreneurship issues through simple and practical means.
Through its members, PIKIR reaches out to youth organizations in many different cities. Together, they organize discussion forums to come up with fresh ideas to improve the welfare of the people.
It was in one of these discussion forums that Tedy met with the chairman of OPSI, Supriyanto.
Breaking the circle
There are currently around 3,300 families living in Eretan Wetan Village. The men are mainly fishermen and factory workers. The women are mostly homemakers.
A majority of the people in this village lead a hand-to-mouth existence.
“When the weather is bad, the men can’t go out fishing,” Supriyanto said.
Sometimes the bad weather lasts for weeks. And to be able to nurture their families, these fishermen resort to borrowing money from loan sharks.
These loans come with exorbitant interest rates. And when the fishermen get a catch, most of the money earned goes toward repaying the loans.
Under such conditions, it is no wonder that most of their children drop out of school.
“The average education level in the village is junior high school dropout,” said Supriyanto, a 27-year-old law student.
Young people who have some skills and talents choose to leave their village to work in the cities. The ones left behind become fishermen and factory workers like their parents.
And the vicious circle of poverty and hopelessness continues.
At night, the young men drown their frustrations by drinking and fighting.
“We were famous for village brawls,” Supriyanto said. “Our young men killed one another over every trivial matter.”
Supriyanto was concerned about this problem.
Together with a number of well-educated young locals, he established OPSI in March 2009. The organization sets up training sessions for young men and women to improve their knowledge and skills.
Currently, OPSI has around 600 active members.
Supriyanto also urges the community to learn about Indonesian laws to protect themselves against oppression and exploitation by loan sharks and government officials.
But the villagers also need to improve their livelihood to break the cycle of poverty in their village.
Supriyanto and Tedy discussed the issues faced by the people in Eretan Wetan village and tried to come up with creative solutions.
“We became inspired by the Swadeshi movement in India ,” Tedy said.
Around the 1900s, Indians protested against the British colonial government by boycotting British products. The people resolved to make and use their own products instead.
The Swadeshi movement was key to developing a strong sense of nationalism among the people and led the country to independence in 1947.
“Making cream detergent is a brilliant breakthrough for our village,” Supriyanto said.
According to Supriyanto, on average each family in the village uses approximately one kilogram of cream detergent each month for housekeeping and washing their fishing equipment and boats.
That is around 3.3 metric tons of cream detergent being consumed in that village per month.
“Just imagine if we can produce it all by ourselves,” Supriyanto said.
For a couple of months, Tedy and Supriyanto promoted their project to the villagers. About 100 people were interested and joined them.
Each recruit purchased a share of this prosumer project. Each share was priced at Rp 30,000 ($2.46). Each person could purchase up to five shares.
These initial shares become the project’s startup capital, which was used to purchase simple equipment and ingredients necessary to make cream detergent.
The shareholders then appointed 10 people from among themselves as staff in their collective business. These paid staff are in charge of the daily production, distribution and management of the business.
Tedy, who once worked for an international consumer goods factory in Jakarta, was in charge of teaching the production staff how to make the cream detergent.
Cream detergent is quite easy to make. There are about 10 ingredients necessary to make it and they are readily available at local chemists. Most of the works can be done by hand with simple equipment.
The initial costs are also quite cheap. The costs of ingredients to make a kilogram of the detergent are about Rp 4,500. They sell their products at Rp 2,000 per 250-gram cup; a little lower than similar products in the market, which are about Rp 10,000 to Rp 12,000 per kilogram.
“Ombak” was officially launched in the village in late December 2013. Within the first month, the collective has produced and sold approximately 200 kilograms of cream detergent.
It aims to achieve break-even point (BEP) within three months of production.
“After achieving BEP, we plan to approach minimarkets in Indramayu, Kuningan and Cirebon to sell this product,” Tedy said.
By the end of their first year, they aim to acquire at least 5 percent of the market-share of cream-detergent in the districts of Indramayu, Kuningan and Cirebon.
Each shareholder will get a full return on their investment at the end of the year.
“The amount may not be very substantial in the first year, but of course, it’s going to increase along with the sales increase,” Supriyanto said.
“And it’s going to be a steady side income for those who are involved.”
Marini quite enjoyed her new activity. After finishing her household chores in the morning, she came to the village center to make cream detergent with the other workers, who are also her neighbors and good friends.
“It gives us something to do, other than idle chatting,” she said, giggling.
“[Our cream detergent] makes a lot of bubbles and cleans perfectly,” Marini added. “It’s more fragrant than the other products and gentle on our hands. I’m sure that once the people know about it, they’re going to love it.”
With the money she makes, she sends her daughter to school and hopes for a brighter future.
For more information, go to pikir.org.