John Riady, director of BeritaSatu Media Holdings and Lippo Group. (SP Photo)

Doing Well by Doing Good: An Interview With John Riady


APRIL 12, 2015

In his book “The End of Power,” award-winning columnist and former Foreign Policy editor Moises Naim illuminates the struggle between once-dominant megaplayers and the new micro powers challenging them in every field of human endeavor. The book, according to former US president Bill Clinton, “will change the way you read news, the way you think about politics and the way you look at the world.”

Indeed, the world is changing at light speed when compared with past human history. The technological revolution is doing today what the industrial revolution achieved in the late 19th century but at three times the speed. Between 1760 and 1840, human society transitioned from hand-based production methods to machines, new chemicals manufacturing and iron production processes, improved efficiency of water power and increased the use of the steam engine.

The industrial revolution did not just enhance manufacturing, it introduced new thinking in economics, social structures and gave rise to megacities.

Human society is currently undergoing a similar seismic shift as the technological revolution gathers pace. Emerging nations such as Indonesia stand to gain enormously from new technology because they can leap-frog more developed economies.

“We are living in very dynamic times,” says John Riady, co-chair of the upcoming World Economic Forum East Asia and a Lippo Group director. “There are a lot of challenges and many new challenges facing both leaders and society at large.”

The meeting to be held in Jakarta from April 19-21 will bring together leaders from government, business, civil society and academia. It takes place at an opportune time for both Indonesia and East Asia. The region remains one of the key engines of global economic growth but is undergoing tremendous change.

One of the key themes raised at the WEF East Asia will be rebuilding public trust in the institutions of government, business, religion, banks and media.

“It has been almost eight years since the sub-prime crisis and most of the economic challenges today stem from the crisis and kicking the can down the road,” John adds. “We have been pumping liquidity into the global financial system for seven years and we are still facing huge economic uncertainty.”

Geopolitically, the world faces even more daunting challenges. “We are entering a post-US unilateral superpower era with countries such as China and Russia playing a more dominant role.”

Loss of trust

All around the world, there are hot-spots and the euphoria of the Arab Spring has metamorphosed into a long-drawn-out civil conflict.

“Within this context, all of these volatilities are testing the efficacy and strength of our institutions,” John says. “By institutions I mean the institution of the state, the institutions of civil society, the institutions of religion, the institutions of business and even media.”

The biggest challenge facing these institutions is the issue of trust because they have lost credibility.

“The trust people place in them has diminished and our ability to navigate tough times is now reduced."

“In many countries, the people do not believe that the state has done enough for them. They do not believe that the next 10 years will be better than the last 10 years,” he notes. “They do not trust that when things go wrong, the government will be looking out for them.”

In business, those who have been afforded economic resources and opportunities have not done enough to use it to benefit society at large. The issue of the 1 percent owning more than 99 percent of the rest has created social turmoil.

“People do not trust the institutions of business and markets.”

The same applies to the institutions of religion and education. More people than ever claim they do not believe in religion, whether it’s the church, the mosque or the temple. Universities too have come under scrutiny for producing graduates who do not have the skills to live a productive life.

“People are beginning to question whether they even need to go to university and obtain a degree,” John says.

These unprecedented low levels of public trust provide the backdrop of the WEF East Asia. Indonesia, John says, is at the center of these issues and it is “time for us to come together as stakeholders in this diverse society.”

Indonesia, John adds, has many ideas it can share with the world. It is an example of a country that demonstrates that democracy can work in a tremendously diverse, Muslim-majority nation-state; an example of what role civil society and the military should be playing in this world.

“Look at the challenges some new democracies have been facing.  Indonesia’s journey provides hope that it can be done.”

On the issue of food security, Indonesia also has an opportunity to take the lead by proving self-sufficiency but at the same time feeding the world.

“Countries such as Indonesia with fertile land have a responsibility to feed the world.”

So how do we rebuild trust?

“We must all work together, recognize these challenges, and take part in a collective solution,” John notes. “WEF is the largest multistakeholder organization in the world. If each of us does our part, I’m sure something can be done."

“At Lippo, for example, we continue to reflect and challenge ourselves on how our presence in many businesses allows us to make a difference in people’s lives,” he says. “Whether through our hospitals, schools, malls, telecommunications and providing connectivity, we are conscious that where the government is unable to provide services, business has to step up.”

The key is for private business to work in partnership with government. This is where business must move beyond corporate social responsibility and do well by doing good.

In today’s context, as noted by Paul Laudicina, chairman emeritus of consulting firm A.T. Kearney, society and business need to move away from a system in which people do good by doing well — that is benefit others and the planet only as a by-product of focusing on personal profit — to a system in which one does well by doing good — when providing true leadership and service is the central priority and financial returns and personal enrichment are merely the corollaries.

But as power is more diffused, those in power are no longer able to exert the same influence as before.

“Those in power are more constrained in what they can do with it and more at risk of losing it than ever before,” Moises Naim notes.

In this context, the old ways of doing business and running a country can no longer be sustained. That means it is time to look for new ways.

GlobeAsia and the Jakarta Globe are affiliated with Lippo Group.