Unless you are familiar with Indonesia it is hard to explain both the opportunities but also the complexities of the country with 18,000+ islands and a quarter of a billion population. Half of that population is rural yet it is the fastest growing gaming market in the world and has a mobile penetration rate of 125%. Amazing to see what Helianti has achieved in 6 years!
What’s your story?
I am a life explorer, underwent different expertise and ventures every few years until 2006, when I was exposed to indigenous farmers network who have been striving to keep alive Indonesia’s food biodiversity heritage. In 2008, I established a company under the brand of JAVARA to bring champion indigenous & artisanal food products to broader market. In promoting these community-based products, we emphasize on product innovation, added-value processing, organic certifications, rigorous food safety standards & unique marketing. Currently we work with 50,000 farmers across Indonesia, producing and selling over 600 products, highlighting the origin, uniqueness and stories of each product.
What excites you most about your industry?
Food system has many faces of perspectives, from socio-cultural, ecological, politics, economy to entertainment. Food touches the life of every people and involves the interest of so many stakeholders. Food connects people and culture, making our world became borderless. That makes food a very vibrant industry to be involved in.
Moreover, as one of the world’s richest country on biodiversity & ethnicity, Indonesia offers countless hidden treasures of our food biodiversity heritage as well as the traditional practices and wisdom on food production. We take pride in sharing such treasures with the broader audience who share the same passion.
What’s your connection to Asia?
Born and spent childhood in a highland coffee plantation in East Java – Indonesia, I have been exposed on the wonder of Indonesia’s wilderness. Although I have spent many years as the citizen of the world, I always find Asia to be a very unique region where the economic growth intertwined intensively with the cultural and spiritual values. Despite of my travel experiences in over 40 countries around the world, I am always mesmerized with the vibrant diversity of the Asian culture, spiritualism, people, tradition and food.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Jakarta, simply because it is so unpredictable, offers so many surprises, facets and ambiance that are so vibrant and can not be found in other cities in Asia. Of course, there are things that are not pleasant to begin with, especially with the traffic jam, but again limitations also make us becoming more creative in doing businesses.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have spent many years as consultant on community economic development, covering entrepreneurship, productive use technology, micro credits, renewable energy and IP management for SMEs. In 2005, my husband Dian gave me an awakening question: “Who do you serve? Is it the organizations that funded the projects or the community who becomes the benefactor of the projects? If it is the community, do not stop only on advising them. Be part of what they do as action speaks louder than words”. Since then I decided to quit my consulting work and turn myself into a full-time entrepreneur, using business to address our mission
Who inspires you?
Mbah Suko (a heirloom rice farmer in Magelang, Central Java) and all indigenous farmers across Indonesia who, against the odds and the mainstream market, have been striving to keep alive Indonesia heritage of heirloom food plants. Their passion goes beyond their personal interest. They believe that preserving the food biodiversity means to preserve the mankind.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
We started very small as a micro enterprise, and are fortunate to have grown exponentially every year in such a way that within our 6th year we already accomplished many things (growth of exports, awards, media attention, etc.). However, scaling up into medium size enterprise exposed us to a different game, including about the fundamental differences of how the market work in US compared to EU, the different playing ground when we started to play large volumes. Every day is a challenge for us on how to fit in and ensuring the integrity of our social mission into the global business reality.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would still do different things as I have done in the past because it allowed me to accumulate expertise that later on became very useful for my work at Javara. However, I may want to cut short my consulting years and jump sooner in to building the business. I guess it is always nice to do more challenging things when we are younger and physically more fit for tough travelling that becomes the base of our work.
How do you unwind?
Doing home food gardening with my 3-years old son
Cooking and entertain family and friends
Travel to exotic destinations, meet new interesting people and learn the culture
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Yogyakarta. I considered as my second home as I spent many teenage years there. It offers a very laid back ambience and rich in cultural heritage.
Everyone in business should read this book:
“The Power of Unreasonable People-How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change The World” by John Elkington & Pamela Hartigan
Shameless plug for your business:
JAVARA works across agricultural value chains from production to distribution in order to preserve Indonesia’s food biodiversity, bringing community-based products to broader market. Such approach enable us outreaching over 50,000 farmers/food artisans, producing over 600 products, of which almost 200 are organic certified for US, EU & Japan. Through product innovations we grow our export to 18 countries in 4 continents, constituting 90% of our total turnover. In 2013, I was named as Ernst & Young as Indonesia’s Entrepreneur of the Year and in 2014 Javara is awarded by Forbes Indonesia as one of Top 20 Global Rising Stars.
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing has started, built, bought and sold half a dozen businesses in a range of industries across two continents. He is the owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 11 countries and he is also the CEO of Entrevo Asia, a company that runs 40 week Growth Accelerator programs.
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