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Indonesia is just beginning to realize its potential for greatness

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With the largest population and economy in Southeast Asia, substantial oil and gas reserves, richness in gold and silver, and the burst of startups in online services, Indonesia has the potential for global greatness. But there are indeed challenges to greatness for the world’s largest Muslim majority country, with its 259 million residents and G20 membership.

On two recent occasions in Jakarta, gridlock from hundreds of buses, transporting thousands of demonstrators, restricted me to my hotel where I had clear views of the crowds. I also had a clear view of the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia. Adjacent is the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Mary. During the demonstrations, and on numerous previous occasions, I have witnessed both Muslims and Catholics walking peacefully to their respective houses of worship.

However, the country’s government missed an opportunity to demonstrate greatness in tolerance of religious and ethnic differences on Aug. 17, Indonesia’s day of independence, when many prisoners are traditionally pardoned and released from prison. But this year, authorities refused to release former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaya Purnama (Ahok), along with 92,000 others who had been granted pardons.

{mosads}Ahok, the first ethnic Chinese and Christian to become governor of Jakarta in 50 years, was accused of blasphemy “after he said clerics had used a Koranic verse to mislead voters,” according to ABC News. Specifically, Ahok had contradicted political opponents who told voters that Muslims “were not allowed to vote for a Christian.”

While serving in office, Ahok did much to provide housing for the poor, improve infrastructure and remediate polluted waters. Sadly, he decided not to appeal his conviction and two years of imprisonment. Is this surprising decision an admission of his guilt, or the result of a lack of faith in the county’s justice system?

I encountered a much more modern face of Indonesian society in July, when I was privileged to host a meeting on innovation in cyber security with a group of young male and female Indonesian professionals. Their savviness in Internet security and computer architecture was outstanding. Their bold creativity and collective enthusiasm for the future indicated the huge potential that exists for Indonesia, to achieve greatness as a global center of innovation and entrepreneurship. Reinforcing this view, The Jakarta Post wrote last March that “within the last five years, startups have become part of daily lifestyle, alongside the increase in internet-​access penetration among Indonesians.”

This forward-looking face of Indonesia has already witnessed the benefits of innovation. The growth of startups in e-commerce, online financial transactions and mobile apps has attracted major foreign investment. TechCrunch this month reported Alibaba’s $1.1 billion investment in Tokopedia, an e-commerce firm in Indonesia. TechCrunch also reported that Expedia invested $350 million in Traveloka, a booking platform. In a report co-authored with Google, it is predicted that e-commerce activity in South East Asia will jump from $5.5 billion in 2015 to $88 billion a decade later. 

With resident patents per capita in Indonesia soaring to a record 1,058 in 2015, and the nation’s global WIPO ranking climbing to 34, up from 43 in 2014, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and visibly on the rise.

Indonesia can groom a new cadre of techno-entrepreneurs beyond online services by strategically increasing its spending on education from 3.3 percent of GDP, a measure on which it ranks 143rd in the world. New Waste to Energy (W2E) systems coud alleviate the need for more dump sites and landfills, while creating much-needed open space, electric power and more employment. In remote areas, small-scale W2E systems can offset the lack of electricity and reduce the major health hazards of decaying waste.

By facing challenges in education and environmental stewardship, and by nurturing the new startup culture, Indonesia can stand as a global model of greatness in innovation and entrepreneurship for all Muslim-majority nations. Literacy and tolerance will need to be advocated on a grander political scale. Indeed, these are the values cherished by the many Indonesians that I am privileged to know.

Harold J. Raveché, Ph.D., is president of Innovation Strategies International, Leader of Global Markets for Janus Technologies, and a former president of the Stevens Institute of Technology.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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