Established in 1998, the Kartika Soekarno Foundation (KSF) was inspired by one of Kartika’s own trips to Indonesia upon meeting the director of Unicef here, Stephen Woodhouse, who holds the title Order of the British Empire (OBE). Stephen accompanied her to the local posyandu—a clinic for children and pregnant wwwomen that provides nutritional supplements and vaccinations, and, for the first time, she experienced the spirit of gotong royong in the country.
“I was really impressed by the efforts of the local ladies in rural areas who would donate funds and dedicate their time to help the young ones in their communities,” says Kartika. “This inspired me to give back to my own local community. My father loved Indonesia, loved his people, and fought against inequality to provide education for every Indonesian, so I believe it is my duty to take forward what he started.”
Kartika began her philanthropic journey when she started working for an NGO in New York called Soho Partnership, an organisation that supports homeless people in the city. In 1998, when the monetary crisis hit Southeast Asia, children were forced into labour and the Indonesian consulate in New York contacted Kartika to request her help in its efforts.
Unicef and the American Chamber of Commerce had launched a campaign to keep children at school during the crisis. Initially, Kartika was raising funds for the Unicef/Care campaign called “Preventing a Lost Generation”. When the campaign ended, Kartika decided to stay committed to Indonesian children. Together with Stephen, they founded Kartika Soekarno Foundation.
KSF has since extended its efforts into 11 cities in Indonesia and helped more than 130,000 children in the past 20 years, revitalised more than 290 posyandus and 230 Pendidikan Anak Usia Dini (PAUD), which focuses on early childhood care and education, facilities, and trained more than 1,240 volunteer cadres around Indonesia. These include in Surabaya, Trenggalek, Blitar, Gresik, Gianyar in Bali, Solo and Kebumen. It focuses on a child’s first 1,000 days, as this time is crucial to brain development and attitude forming. “It is vital to focus on this ‘Golden Age’ as it is scientifically proven that it has a direct impact on adulthood,” Kartika says.
And with a recent grant from the Norwegian and Japanese governments, KSF is now reaching out to Sumba in NTT and Sumbawa. Kartika admits that none of this would be possible without the support and donations from the Australian, New Zealand, Japanese and Norwegian grants, as well as private donations established by Kartika’s network.
Moreover, KSF insists on working only with competent and transparent regional leaders. “With the help of Ibu Megawati Soekarnoputri, Ibu Tri Rismaharini, and Bapak Abdullah Azwar Anas, we have been able to identify bupatis who stay true to their work. In return, we support and fund their programmes for children. This ensures success, because if they’re hard-working, honest and have leadership qualities, we are sure our training programmes will really benefit them,” she explains.
But it’s not always an easy road when dealing with regional leaders. There are protocols and bureaucracy that hinder efforts to move forward every now and again, slowing down the effectiveness of the foundation’s programmes. However, this doesn’t stop Kartika’s determination in providing the education and basic healthcare that Indonesian children require. Communication skills among local people are also another challenge that the foundation faces; it takes patience and good people skills to be able to withstand the challenges they have to endure, explains Kartika.
“To a certain degree, I think the government is investing too much in infrastructure, such as new roads and renovating schools, whereas it really should be investing in the people of the country: the future of Indonesia. Basic investment should be to improve the country’s education system, provide equal education rights to all citizens, and better healthcare facilities for children.
“Inequality and the poverty gap are also difficulties in Indonesia that need to be resolved. If we want Indonesia to progress as a strong and resilient nation and follow the examples set by our neighbouring countries, investing in education is the way to go,” she concludes.