Inspiring Women’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

Retno, a housewife from crowded Petamburan neighborhood in Central Jakarta’s Tanah Abang subdistrict, used to struggle to keep her two children in school. Her husband’s income was barely enough to cover monthly household expenses.

Bank Indonesia (BI) last year opened Retno’s eyes to the entrepreneurial spirit and she now augments her family’s income by running a small clothing business. She has also learned of the importance of saving and how to manage her finances. “Thank God, BI’s assistance has been very helpful. I needed money for the household, including keeping my two children in elementary school. Now I can manage by selling clothes,” she smiles.

BI is increasing the entrepreneurial spirit of women like Retno by providing them with training and financial credit to enable them to start small businesses.

Two micro-entrepreneur programs are being conducted, the first in Jakarta and the outlying city of Tangerang in Banten province, and the second in Indonesia’s westernmost province, Aceh.

Both programs support BI’s efforts to empower women and promote gender equality. Gender equality is also smart economics. The World Bank says countries that provide better opportunities for women and girls can raise productivity, improve outcomes for children, make institutions more representative and advance development prospects for all citizens.

Indonesian women have long been relegated to the role of housewives, while men are the main breadwinners. This leaves millions of low-income families at risk of sliding into poverty if a breadwinner dies or becomes too ill to work. When women become entrepreneurs, their households become more resilient to financial shocks.

Women are traditionally responsible for providing their households with meals, childcare and general quality of life, as well as managing family expenses. This is a major role, not only in the domestic sphere, but also makes a significant contribution to the Indonesian economy. Yet women from low-income households could be doing much more to help their families and the nation, if only given training and opportunities.

According to Indonesia’s most recent census, the country has 118 million women, making up 49.66% of the population. Of the approximately 99.7 million Indonesians in the productive working age group of 15–64 years, only 36.2 million or 36.4% are women. These statistics show the productivity of women can be greatly increased to drive domestic economic growth.

Jakarta & Tangerang Program

BI in June 2015 launched the Women’s Empowerment Program for Inclusive and Sustainable Development in Jakarta and Tangerang.

The two cities were chosen because they represent the highest unemployment in Indonesia. While the national unemployment rate is 6.25%, it is 9.03% in Jakarta and 10.1% in Banten.

As a pilot project, the program is helping 3,000 women from low-income families to become micro-entrepreneurs. It also reaches 2,000 senior high school girls, who will become ‘YouthPreneurs’, learning through practical simulations, rather than just through theory.

Women selected for the program attend workshops to learn about financial literacy, the environment and food security.

Financial literacy covers business models, personal financial planning and objectives, cash flow and bookkeeping. Women learn how to make a business that is financially viable, manage a budget and keep records. The program also encourages saving, so that women can pay for school fees, healthcare and other family expenses.

The environmental aspect teaches participants about waste management and the benefits of recycling non-organic waste and composting. Women are learning how to minimize trash and pollution.

Food security teaches women to grow their own food through urban farming plots so they can provide vegetables for their families.

After the training, 2,000 women in Tangerang receive micro-credit of IDR1.75 million, while 1,000 women in Jakarta receive micro-credit of IDR2 million. Repaid capital is used to assist other women to become entrepreneurs. It will also be used to develop public facilities, such as parks, libraries and health clinics.

Using their new skills and capital, recipients have started small businesses. Some opened food stalls, selling meals and fried snacks. Others are making and selling clothing, and some are selling vegetables grown on urban plots.

BI continues to supervise the program to ensure projects run smoothly and that there is a commitment to saving and record keeping, and that beneficiaries’ children remain in school. Witnessing the success, other women have been inspired to become entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, the YouthPreneurs are learning about life planning, personal financial planning, business planning (operations, marketing and resources), communication, cash flow and financial statements. This is to give them a competitive edge upon completing high school.


Aceh’s women possess great potential for financial success but have been held back due to limited expertise and support. That situation is now changing, with BI working with the Integrated Business Service Centre for Micro, Small and Medium Cooperatives to identify groups of women with potential to develop business enterprises.

BI is supplying equipment, guidance and expertise to women involved in a range of enterprises, from salted fish production, rattan weaving and embroidered handbags, giftware and fashion accessories.

Technical consultant Nurul Fatmawati says many of the women have established joint-venture cooperatives to increase their business strength and are now reaping rewards through higher sales and income.

For example, about 40 women used to sell dried fish on the roadside and from beachside stalls, but since forming a cooperative and receiving assistance in the form of drying racks, they have improved their production techniques and are now enjoying sales across several districts. Local fishermen are also benefiting.

Similarly, women making embroidered handicrafts and trinkets from their homes in Meuraxa district have increased their turnover by 200% after receiving sewing machines from BI, while a group of rattan weavers is now selling its products to other provinces and even receiving export inquiries from Europe.

Success breeds success, and there’s no better place for women to benefit than Aceh, which had been devastated by a 2004 earthquake and tsunami. By harnessing the power of local women, the future looks bright ahead.

Published by Enaliya

writer, editor, translator and graphic designer

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