Basja Jantowski interview: water stewardship in Indonesia

An interview with Basja Jantowski, Indonesia country representative for the Alliance for Water Stewardship. In the interview, she discusses water stewardship in Indonesia; the challenges she has encountered and some advice for those working in the region; and women in water.

Basja is currently investigating strategic partnerships and business opportunities for application of the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) standard in Indonesia. She works on private and government sector engagement, strategic development, acquisition, and training. AWS is a global membership-based collaboration with the mission — to lead a global network that promotes the responsible use of freshwater that is socially and economically beneficial and environmentally sustainable.

AWS achieves this through a global water stewardship system, centred on the International Water Stewardship Standard that drives, recognises and rewards good water stewardship performance. The AWS Standard provides a globally-applicable framework for major water users to understand their water use and impacts and to work collaboratively and transparently for sustainable water management within a catchment context.

Interview topics

  • About Basja and the Alliance for Water Stewardship
  • Water stewardship opportunities in Indonesia
  • Interest and awareness for the need for water stewardship in Indonesia
  • Advice for working in the water sector in Indonesia
  • Basja’s thoughts on women working in the water sector
  • Building a water stewardship movement in Indonesia
  • An invitation to AWP partners to get involved

Tell us about yourself and the Alliance for Water Stewardship

My name is Basja and I’m Dutch — which may explain why I’m involved in water because the Dutch have a long history of managing water. I’ve spent 15 years in water management, beginning as a hydrologist at a government Water Board in the Netherlands and then joining an environmental consultancy for which I worked in many different countries. I’ve worked in Ethiopia on decentralised water supplies in very extreme water areas and in Nepal on the implementation of rainwater harvesting in mountainous areas, as well as the integration of microcredit for WASH. I’ve worked in Uganda implementing a catchment approach in WASH and I’ve helped develop an inclusive water governance program in the large Limpopo River basin in Mozambique. I’ve also been involved in projects supporting Mali, Burkino Faso, and Senegal in West Africa, and I have also worked in Kenya. For the last two years, I have been based in Indonesia. I joined the Alliance for Water Stewardship Asia Pacific in October 2017, and so far this is really exciting.

The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is an international standard-holding organisation, engaged in managing water stewardship, implementation, promotion, and capacity building all around the world. This region is managed through Water Stewardship Australia and I’m very happy working with my colleagues in Australia.

I’ve spent my first five months with AWS working very hard to develop a new program in Indonesia, mainly building upon the successes of other colleagues working in China. From what I’ve seen so far, the Alliance is perceived very positively. People like that it really provides a clear framework for action on water stewardship and most of all that it aims for private sector engagement in the water sector.

The AWS has developed the International Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard. We do accreditation and training of certification bodies, for example, and of consultancies or companies that want to work with the standard and in certification.

Also, we provide a platform for members and partners. Members can be companies that want to commit themselves to work on water stewardship and towards certification of their sites. Partners help us network through their larger programs. At the moment I am in the offices of WWF Indonesia, which was an initial founding partner of AWS.

AWS works at multiple levels: internationally we are the Alliance for Water Stewardship; regionally, in this region, we are the Alliance for Water Stewardship Asia Pacific, and within that, we are the Alliance for Water Stewardship Indonesia.

What are the current opportunities in Indonesia right now for the AWS?

There are huge opportunities, partly because Indonesia is a very large country with numerous islands that together make up a vast land area surrounded everywhere by water. There are over 260 million people here and although there are ups and downs, Indonesia overall is a booming economy with many multinationals. The country has a large private sector providing products and services to those 260 million people, as well as exporting around the region. From a business perspective, it’s one of the most important economies in this part of the world.

Turning to the opportunities for water stewardship that I’ve seen here in my first five months — well, it’s not easy to know exactly which opportunity will evolve and become a project. But for now, based on the network that the Alliance for Water Stewardship has internationally through its member companies and the network I have here, we intend to focus in Indonesia on agribusiness companies, on food and beverages, and on textiles. Here are some examples.

  • The Australian embassy in Indonesia, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), has long-standing programs here. They have programs in WASH and a huge program with the Government of Indonesia on the implementation of water infrastructure. There are clear opportunities to use elements of the Alliance for Water Stewardship standard to increase sustainability in these programs. I’ve already started discussing this with them and I’m very keen to collaborate.
  • Another example is the Australian embassy’s programs to do with the Australian cattle industry. We hope that AWS Indonesia can bring water stewardship into that as well.
  • Then, through WWF Indonesia — which has a very large office here — there are many NGO programs. WWF has some very interesting work currently integrating freshwater into their programs and that opens an opportunity for our organisation to work with them. One possibility relates to a very large watershed in Sumatra, where there are palm oil companies, pulp and paper companies and smallholder farmers. They all need more and more land for production and therefore, they are deforesting crucial forest areas that are important not only for water resources but of course also for biodiversity. Maybe we could use the Alliance for Water Stewardship standard and work with palm oil and pulp and paper companies in that area to turn their attention to water.
  • Another possibility — which appeals to me, being Dutch and wanting to link the Dutch and the Australians — is based on a letter of intent on water management which both countries signed at the end of 2016. I’ve been talking to the Australian Embassy here, to DFAT in Canberra, and to the Dutch Embassy and the Dutch Strategic Water Adviser to see how we might join forces as part of this letter of intent on water management. I know that the Australian Water Partnership is also in discussions with the Dutch and that it has recently signed an MOU with the Indonesian Government. Therefore, I’m looking for a way we can join with and link all these different government initiatives together to ensure that we work most efficiently and effectively on water and water management.
  • Another opportunity is a very practical project. Since November last year, I’ve been talking to the large agribusiness company Olam. They are based in Singapore and they work globally. In Indonesia, they are one of the key players in coffee and sugarcane, among other crops. At one of their project areas in Sumatra, the volume and quality of the coffee supply coming from some of their coffee farms has been badly affected by soil and water degradation. Olam is a member of the Alliance for Water Stewardship and we have already worked together successfully in relation to coffee plantations in Tanzania. Now they want to apply that successful work over here in Indonesia. We are very keen to work with them and we really hope that we can help them promote themselves as leaders in Indonesia in water stewardship and therefore, engage other agribusiness actors to do the same thing.

So, there are several possible opportunities and all of them are still in the engagement phase as you can see. I’m still exploring options and talking to many organisations.

Do you think there is increasing interest in water stewardship in Indonesia?

Yes … and no.

On the positive side, I have been talking to companies, government bodies, NGOs and others and quite a number of them really see the need for an urgent focus on water. That may seem surprising because Indonesia is often perceived as rich in tropical rainforests and diversity, so why should water be a concern? However, we are seeing the depletion of water resources here. For example, urban development in Jakarta is causing land subsidence and therefore flooding. There is also a lot of pollution. The Citarum River is often called the most polluted river in the world because of industrial pollution, such as that from the textile industry. In short, there are plenty of issues and many government bodies, companies and NGOs recognise that water is a hot topic and can see that the framework provided by the Alliance for Water Stewardship would be a very good and practical tool to use to tackle water issues.

The reason I’ve also said ‘no’ is because a lot of companies are already busy focusing on issues and risks and challenges they’re facing and need to tackle, for example, deforestation to convert land to production. When I raise water as a topic, I often find these companies see water as a new problem. That may not be the case everywhere but here I see I need to do a lot of awareness-raising so these people come to realise that forests hold water and so by tackling deforestation they are also helping the water situation. My challenge is first to show them how water is linked to the issues that they are working on already and then start to build from there.

Can you give examples of some challenges you have encountered and resolved in this region?

I would say the challenges here are not very different from those one meets working anywhere else in the world.

In my work here, just as in my previous international work, I have found the most important thing is to keep an open attitude. Always, wherever you work, whether a country is developing or developed, you should have a very open attitude and be willing to listen to others. Even in your own country, you have to be open and willing to listen to your colleagues who may be at different levels in your organisation and of a different gender. It’s important, for us all, to remember that we only know some of the possible answers and that others have probably already thought of those answers before. Working on water is nothing new — water has been of concern for a very long time and a lot of other people are already working on these issues.

I think it is important to tap into the knowledge and the capacity that is already in the country. First, get a very good understanding of the local context and of the different power plays that are often ongoing. Then, see where you can find a specific niche. It may be that you don’t have a lot to add … or maybe with your extra set of brains and hands you can make a contribution.

A most important challenge to overcome is language. In my two years in Indonesia, I have mainly learnt the language by picking it up in daily life, although I did go to a Bahasa course for two weeks. I should really improve my understanding of Bahasa Indonesia.

Another challenge is to remember to keep listening to other people and be respectful. That is the same here as anywhere else.

And sometimes the work culture can be challenging. For example, communication in Indonesia is largely done via WhatsApp rather than email. In other places where I worked, it would have been seen as too personal — not a professional way to speak to senior personnel. Here, no matter how senior the person I’m arranging to meet it’s done through WhatsApp. It’s very practical. I like it. It’s a lot faster than email. and work in Indonesia never stops, so you can expect a WhatsApp to do with work as early as 6 am or as late as 10 pm. You have to fit in and not be too rigid about keeping to working hours that we might be used to in Australia or in the Netherlands.

I think you need to be patient but I also think you should be persistent. When you have an idea to contribute, keep putting it forward. People will not listen to it straight away. Expect things to take longer than they might in your own country. Nothing is straightforward; you can’t go direct from A to B. You’re a stranger in a new country and you have to find your way. It may involve a lot of detours before you achieve the outcome you are after. I am finding this myself. I’ve been working at AWS for five months, and I’m amazed at the resulting network I have, but even now, with that network and the associated level of trust, it still takes a lot more time to get an opening to start working with a company on a project. Even so, I’m very happy with the trust and support from the Australia Water Partnership which has helped make things happen in Indonesia so far.

Funding is always a challenge. That is nothing new but it’s still a crucial element. Not only funding for me to do my work, getting companies engaged and getting the embassy involved and opening other opportunities but also funding for companies to invest. It is always tricky to convince them to invest properly in good water management and good water governance. They question why they should make this big investment. But in fact, there is a lot of money around: for example, new funds available at WWF that I wasn’t previously aware of and a group of the larger banks here in Indonesia has grouped under one umbrella organisation to embrace a sustainability strategy and move towards impact investing. These are among great initiatives that are coming from investors and other financial institutes.

What we need to do is transform our content, our matters, into a business case, and sell’ that to the companies so they can see what is in it for them, their interest, and then stepping up to that investment together. However, doing that can be quite a challenge. We all have different expertise and we should recognise our strengths and weaknesses. Try to link with others who already have a good relationship with a certain bank or a certain investor, or a certain donor, to reach that point.

There is the challenge of building relationships. That takes time but I think what is working in these challenges for me is that the Alliance can take in entry points at different levels. For example, with Olam, we’re now looking at starting a real project, and that was achieved internationally through the Alliance for Water Stewardship and Olam’s membership and the practical success of the work in Tanzania. That shows how we can succeed in this region by using international connections that were already established. Also, Water Stewardship Australia has been working with companies in Australia and my colleague in China is making a lot of contacts there. These relationships are both helping me build new relationships with companies that they have already interacted with. By combining that international network, the network in Australia and in the region, a lot of doors are open for me to use.

What are your thoughts about women in the water sector?

That’s always an interesting question because it’s important to have women working in the water sector, you know. I often wonder why it is seen as a separate topic when women’s roles in the sector should be an integral part of our work. I am a woman, and ever since I began working I have worked in the water sector. Initially, when I worked in government I interacted a lot with consultancies, mostly with men. That didn’t raise very many difficulties as long as I stood my ground and knew what I could bring to the table and really strongly defend that. As you grow older, and you move further up the career ladder, of course you see more and you experience more.

Although women are moving into more senior roles, I often see in a lot of companies and consultancies that the persons at the top are still men and that men and women do not yet equally share the decision-making, so I think we still have quite a long road to go in that respect.

I have more experience in on-ground projects. For example, in Nepal, we worked on rainwater-harvesting systems in very rural areas in the mountains. When we were doing the baseline assessments with local NGOs, talking to the communities there, we initially talked to leaders of the communities and those leaders were mainly men. When you come with a new project you can’t really change that context, because these are chosen leaders. This is how that community functions and has functioned for many, many years. You, coming in with a new project, cannot say, “Well now it has to be 50% women, and 50% men”. That change of context is something you have to build up to, over time. You can aim for that and work towards it but you cannot expect that community in Nepal, in that mountain and that small village, to all of a sudden change how they are organised. All you can do is make people aware. On the other hand, in another experience in Nepal in another village, there actually were no male leaders at all. The village was completely managed by women. In fact, for centuries, women were really the leaders of the communities. It was a very different arrangement, and we found that a lot of things were better managed.

You could say it was possibly better managed because of being run by women because women are still, especially in rural areas, responsible for the household and for children and for the elderly and having that experience they know very well how to manage a village. For me, it was an interesting opportunity to compare to the other village, and it looked as if bringing in more women leaders would definitely start to have a big impact on society as a whole. However, I’m not saying that that is the best solution because we still need to hear the voices of the men.

Another aspect of this topic, though, and one I often think of, is that we should also remember to talk about our different ethnic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds. I am a white woman, but there are also black women in the water sector, and Asian women, and others. A lot of the time I am still very privileged as a woman, as a white woman, and financially able to work here in Indonesia and add value. Other women from different backgrounds have to struggle a lot more to get into positions that I can attain. So I think that when we talk about women in water we should talk about those inequalities as well, and how we can tackle them. That is still a long road ahead of us.

What are the future plans for the Alliance for Water Stewardship in Indonesia?

First of all, we’re going to be a big success. I see a good future ahead. The issues around water are enormous and growing. My meeting with WWF has just emphasised that again, for all the work that they are encountering, from Lombok to Sumatra to here on Java.

The future for AWS Indonesia all starts with just a few companies and a few government stakeholders that are ready to start working with us and to establish some good demonstration projects on the ground. Those can then convince others to join this movement towards good water stewardship.

I really hope that the project ideas that we’re discussing with Olam will evolve into a practical project on the ground.

I really hope that for the projects that WWF is already working on in Indonesia, we can properly integrate water stewardship and use them as a showcase as well.

I really hope that from the relations that I’ve started building up with the Indonesian Government we will work towards a national level standard for the Alliance for Water Stewardship. We want to reach out to all those companies who cannot reach the international standard but could improve their water stewardship — to reach, say, a lighter version which we might call AWS Readiness, and to have that integrated more within government regulations and policies.

And I really hope that in, say, two years’ time we can look back and say, “Yes, we did a project with agribusiness and these were the successes and this what we learned; and now we’re doing this, in these other areas; we have a good project with a food and beverages player as well as a textile player; we can see already a movement happening in Indonesia.”

That’s probably a grand plan, but it’s how we should start. Maybe we should have a conversation like this again in a year and see what AWS Indonesia has achieved.

Any words for Australian Water Partnership partners hoping to work in Indonesia?

Well, I really hope that the Australian Water Partnership can continue to build its programs and thereby help me to strengthen the AWS network with all your partners.

I invite everyone who is an AWP partner to connect with me, if you’re working here in Indonesia, or if you are interested in working with me. I’m always very open to explore any opportunities. If you would like to ask questions of me, I’m always happy to respond to them.

Australia and Indonesia are neighbours with very long shared histories. If you are not yet working in Indonesia, I recommend you try to get to know the country, because it’s a very exciting place to work.

And one last point for everyone, especially those working in Indonesia and interested in water stewardship, is that I really invite you all to go to our website.

This interview and related content was originally part of the Kini Interview Series. Kini is a retired brand of the AWP and IWCAN.

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