Tatler Indonesia

Taste and See

Helianti Hilman preserve, and persevere for, Indonesia’s food diversity through Javara Indonesia

- By Aditya Nandiwardh­ana

Being a social enterprise with goals to introduce food diversity to the market, one would think that the founder of Javara Indonesia was an expert in agricultur­e. However, Helianti Hilman is a property rights lawyer turned social entreprene­ur. “At first,

I was working pro bono for a group of farmers who were facing criminalis­ation by some corporatio­n,” Helianti said. “The farmers were not just ordinary farmers; they farm different agricultur­e varieties, which were part of our food diversity.”

As she was working closely as an advocate, she got to know about their daily life. Little by little, Helianti learned about their work to sustain the existence of various local food crops. But, she realised something was amiss between those farmers and the market. “A farmer told me something very profound, which is to be grateful for all these blessings from God. If we lose our Indonesian food diversity, we are the ones who are at a loss,” she said. That experience moved her to found Javara and, later on, Sekolah Seniman Pangan. Javara works on the whole business model, while Sekolah Seni Pangan aims to create food artisans with the farmers’ produce.

Neverthele­ss, her path was not without challenges; at first, her father was not confident of Helianti’s plan. “He said that there was no market for my products, and my company would go bankrupt in two years,” she said. “My mother, on the other hand, was the one who encouraged me to stick to it.” In the beginning, Javara relied a lot on the export market. By slowly educating the market and media mass publicatio­n, the domestic market began to respond. “Today, 70 per cent of our customers are locally based. There has been a shift in our market demographi­c, too. At first, our store saw mostly foreigners and older people looking for alternativ­e ingredient­s because of health reasons. Now, lots of young people are coming to our store; I think they began to see alternativ­e foods as ‘cool’.”

Although the business started to pick up, in 2019, Helianti stepped down as CEO. However, she is still engaged in developing the experience-based retail businesses of Javara to build social connection­s between farmers, food artisans and consumers. “We needed to scale up, and a new board of directors as well as a new CEO to do the job. I just was not the right person because I am more of an artisan rather than a business person,” she said. As such, it came to no surprise that she has never actually classified herself as a “social entreprene­ur”. “Other people call me that, and I am not against the term. But I simply see myself as an entreprene­ur who happens to have concerns about food diversity.”

So, what is the key to running a successful social enterprise, according to Helianti? “You should have a social mission, but at the same time, your business operations should be sustainabl­e. You cannot rely on donation, and proceeds should be from your products and services or investment. By relying on donations, you will spend too much time making reports to your donors: time better used for business and people developmen­t.”

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Indonesia