Friday, September 17, 2010


By Muhammad AS Hikam
President University, Jababeka
Cikarang, Jabar

Gotong royong in Papua

Honorable Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen. 

First of  all, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the organizer of this  august gathering who has given me an honor to speak before such a distinguished audience.  I will begin my presentation today with some personal notes on  Jogjakarta, the center of  Javanese culture, once  the capital of the Republic,  the home of the oldest and highly venerated  Higher Educational institution  in the country, Gadjah Mada University, which is also my own alma mater, and one of the largest students’ cities  in  Southeast Asia, if not Asia. Not only was Jogjakarta the place of  birth of my late father which makes me having a rather close personal affinity, but it was also, and ultimately, the place where my first encounter with cultural diversities of Indonesia took place some twenty four years ago. For a student who was born and raised in a small village in Tuban, East Java Province, whose upbringing had been within the Islamic traditional educational institution (pesantren) milieu, the cross-cultural experience in Jogjakarta during my undergraduate years was really the most critical and yet valuable one, especially when I was graduated and  had to embark to the real world and has since been  living in such a big city as Jakarta.  Jogjakarta has equipped me with powerful and everlasting devices, namely multi-cultural experience and cultural competence, that enable me to deal with the world and transformed me into a person with more or less cosmopolitan worldview. This is in spite of Jogjakarta as the center of Javanese culture which, for some people, is characterized by its obsession toward harmony, order and tranquility, hierarchy, inward–looking worldview, and what not.

            Frankly, when I was asked to share with you about my understanding of the link between culture and business, I was initially rather perplexed. For I have never been trained or even become a businessman in my entire life. The most that I could say about it is that I do have some knowledge about intercultural communications (which I learned from my grad school and am now teaching it at President University) that could be applicable in the business world and corporate practices. However, looking back to my entire career as a scholar, politician, government employee, social activist, and even now as a University  lecturer, it soon becomes clear that cultural awareness and competence of managing cultural differences are always becoming essential ingredients to my own achievements. It seems to me  that the business world is not too different from those mentioned activites , in the sense that culture and cultural competence would be  pivotal means in determining one’s success in it. Hence I accept this task and would use my Jogjakarta-based cultural experience as its main source and reference. 

Ladies and  Gentlemen, 

Allow me now  to talk about one of the most salient heritages from the Javanese culture, namely the spirit of Gotong-royong, or mutual co-operation and, sometimes, translated into volunteerism. The importance of this notion cannot, as our fellow Indonesians would have known,  be underestimated. History has told us that gotong-royong has been a central cultural icon championed by our leaders, particularly the late President Sukarno, as the key for success in managing and developing our multicultural society and nation in the future. Indeed, Bung Karno had gone so far as to maintain that gotong-royong is actually the essence of our foundation as a nation. When he elaborated the meaning of Pancasila (the Five Pillars), our national ideology, BK had argued that the Five Pillars could actually be pressed into Three Pillars (Tri Sila) consisted of the belief in the Supreme Being, socio-nationalism and socio-democracy. Furthermore, the Tri Sila can still be pressed into only One Pillar (Eka Sila), namely gotong-royong (mutual co-operation). Regardless of the ensuing debates on, and the rejection of Sukarno’s particular idea, one could not fail to see how deep is gotong-royong in the nation’s psyche.

            It goes without saying that the word gotong-royong was originated from the Javanese  language and culture. Even though the word is now commonly used in Bahasa Indonesia’s vocabulary,  it was appropriated and valorized to become a powerful cultural instrument by our leaders whose cultural background was Javanese. As a British anthropologist, Robert Hahn, has said “Javanese culture is stratified by social class and by level of adherence to Islam... traditional Javanese culture does not emphaize material wealth.. there is respect to the general village welfare over personal gain. And the spirit of gotong-royong.. is promoted as a cultural value.” (Hahn, 1999).  Gotong-royong, in other words, has occupied a central position in the making of  modern Indonesian culture as one of the core values which the nation and its people would always refer to.

            This cultural value is obviosuly strengthened by all religious belief systems that exist in the country which all would enjoin and encourage their adherents to cooperate in doing good among humankind. The Holy Book of Qur’an has, for instance,  stated in the 5th Chapter, Verse 2: “... Help you one another in virtue, righteousness, and piety. But do not help one another in wrongdoings and trensgressions...”  Also in the same Chapter, in Verse 48: “So compete with each other in good deeds...”.  In the  Budhist teaching, the words of Dharma Master Cheng Yen is instructive, “We  act like Buddha for the sake of helping all living creatures. We act sincerely toward others for the sake of getting things done readily.” (Still Thoughts II: 54). The Bible has had a similar view about doing good to others. In Luke 6: 38, it  is said “Give and it will come back to you, good measure, pressed down and shaken together , and running over, shall men give into your bosom.” The same is true in the teachings of  Hinduism, Confusianism and  others. In short religious injuctions that stress the importance of helping each other in good deeds have strengthened the notion of gotong-royong as a vehicle to attain the common goals in society.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the business and corporate world, the notion of business etiquette and ethics has been gaining importance. Historically, in the 18th century England and France, etiquette was considered as a distinguishing manner in which one person to be alleviated from one level of social stratum to the next. Nowadays, etiquette is known as the written and unwritten rules of how to conduct business internally and externally. If you wish for your organization to improve in its performance and social standing  in a certain country, region, and area, the key word is to understand the character and prevailing culture, including etiquette as its part. Gotong-royong, I would argue, is one of the key cultural values that one could use as a point of departure in developing a strategy that would strengthen and enhance his/her business and become  a way of ensuring his/her investment to be more fruitful.

In this regard, I would like to recall the work of  my colleague at President University, Sendy Wijaya,  who  is himself  an expert in the field of business relations. In his recently published book, “Business Culture in Indonesia” (2010), he maintains that corporations will invest their resources to achieve on their investments. In this context,  investing in relationship to the surrounding is critical to succes. Accordingly,  establishing and maintaining a relationship requires investment on resources. In doing business in Indonesia, he advised, developing a genuine awareness to their surrounding community is very crucial.  This is, in my view, an example of how the notion of gotong-royong could be applied in the coporate world in order to gear toward win-win solution, between the investors and the surrounding community.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Against this  backdrop of cultural values related to gotong-royong, it is possible for the business world to give more meaning and relevance to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), a very popular and noble movement,  in  the Indonesian context at the moment. With the spirit of gotong-royong becoming a foundational values upon which the CSR is developed, it seems that both corporate and society could be mutually benefited in the long term. In pursuing this goal, the existence of higher educational  institutions could be a major focal point for the movement, because the university is an excellent place not only for education and trainings, but also  researches,  innovations, and community services.  A case in point is what has been done by President University, Jababeka. It  has been active in pursuing cooperations with government (both at the centl and  local level), research centers (both government and privately owned ones  and industries (from both inside and outside the Jababeka area) for the past several years, and  continuously expanding them both in Indonesia and foreign countries. One thing that has become the University’s underpinning philosphy is its awareness and care of the local people and communities’ needs. Here in Jogjakarta, the role of Gadjah Mada University and other similar higher educational institutions would also be significant in implementing gotong-royong based CSR programs in the region and beyond.

            I will end my presentation by saying that the  spirit of  gotong-royong is by no means exclusive to the Javanese culture and society. In fact, I would argue that such a spirit of mutual co-operation does exist in every society though it may be in different expressions and manifestations. Therefore, in today’s globalized world, the spirit of gotong-royong could be shared universally among different peoples and nations emphasizing the spirit of sharing and benefiting to all stakeholders. The corporate world has always been stereotyped as a world without compassion and geared by greed and avarice. However, like all stereotypes, they only contain half truth because the reality is more complicated than we perceive it. For corporates also need and champion a strong commitment to goals, they value highly on loyalty, and they strife to creating a sense of happiness to its members and community. Those attributes are obviosuly a far cry from the aforementioned stereotypes. It is up to the corporate leaders to demonstrate to the public at large that they are also a stalwart of public virtue whose accomplishment will also contribute to the greatness of the community, society and the nation.

Thank you very much.

Jababeka-Jogjakarta, 25-28 August 2010.

(A  speech delivered at  International Seminar " Linking Business and Culture to Create Friendship and Prosperity,"  at Sheraton Hotel, Jogjakarta, August 28, 2010).


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