From Traditional to Digital-Savvy: The Story of Kampoeng Cyber
By Fahmi Ramadhan
Yogyakarta is known for its rich Javanese heritage, but behind the Taman Sari Water Castle, a former part of the royal palace, one urban village offers something different and contemporary. Kampoeng Cyber, home to some 150 residents, harnesses the power of digital platforms to promote both locally-owned businesses and social cohesion. I had a chance to talk with Antonius Sasongko, or Koko for short, the initiator of Kampoeng Cyber, to hear more about his activities and ideas for the future of the village.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of Kampoeng Cyber?
In 2008, my house was the only residence in the village that had an internet connection. At that time, I had just quit my office job and I had decided to work from home, so I needed an internet connection. Our village was already quite dynamic, and I started thinking that if we introduce computers and internet connections, we could really build on this social potential to progress our village.
At first, I started blogging about local activities and the condition of our village. My first blog was a profile of our village, complete with pictures and anecdotes, which I showed to my neighbours during the annual Independence Day celebration. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and people really liked the idea of our village having an online profile. The only thing was, they had to go to my house to be able to see the blog, and I started wondering how we could spread internet connectivity to other residents in the village. I talked to the neighbourhood leader at the time and pitched my idea that we really should have a network where residents can access the internet and share information about our village. Our neighbourhood leader (Pak RT) happened to work for the computer lab of a private university — he was very supportive of the idea, and together we came up with some ideas on how to improve village residents’ digital literacy.
Q: What were some of the main challenges in getting residents online, and how did you overcome these?
Well, for starters, most people did not even have a computer and had no idea of what the internet was. Our village has monthly resident meetings, and so in these meetings I started talking about what being connected means, and what the benefits are. I shared my internet access with them, so they can experience firsthand what it is like. Again the response was positive, but because most of our residents are lower-middle income families, encouraging them to buy a computer was very challenging. I think it took me about two years to socialise what computers are and what benefits you can get from being connected to the internet, to get them to the point where they wanted to invest in their own computers.
In the early days, I also made use of our local security post (pos ronda) to promote this initiative. Our village has a neighbourhood watch system, and every night, male residents take turn to do a security watch. When they are not doing rounds, the men often hang out at the pos ronda, so I thought this was a pretty good opportunity to make use of their time and teach them basic computing skills. I had two personal computers, so I put one in the pos ronda, connected it to the internet, and we studied every night. While people in other villages were playing cards or chess at the post, the residents in our villages learned how to browse the internet, correspond via email, etc. The men then went back to their families and told their wives and children about this.
This went on for quite some time too, before people started getting the hang of it. Because there was only one computer, people had to take turns. Slowly but surely, though, residents started to invest in their own computers. People also started pitching in for internet connectivity. Now, all 40 households in our village have computers and are connected online.
Q: What kinds of benefits do residents perceive from being connected to the internet?
One of the most significant changes I have seen is that many people have improved their livelihood by being connected to the internet. Some of the residents have found jobs through online platforms, and many residents have set up thriving online businesses. Before the 1998 financial crisis, this village was one of the centers of production for handpainted batiks. We were also a tourist destination for people wanting to study the art of batik painting. When the financial crisis hit, a lot of people went out of business. What I see now is a revival of small businesses in this village, selling traditional items like batiks, paintings and souvenirs but using online platforms to promote themselves better and increase sales. There has also been new businesses from ideas that residents gained online: one of our young residents sell special effects equipment and make up prosthetics for movies, for instance. The products from this village go all over the globe now — some of the clients come from the US and Europe, and one of the batiks produced by our residents was recently used in a European fashion show.
As a community, I think having the residents online just complements our existing daily interactions. Of course we interact offline as well — socially, I think we are a tight-knight, solid community. Being online doesn’t change that. We have our own private Facebook group, though, to discuss common issues in the neighbourhood internally. When a problem occurs, such as a missing rubbish bin or roads that need to be fixed, we share and discuss it in the internal group and bring it to our monthly neighbourhood unit meeting.
Q: So what is next for Kampoeng Cyber?
I don’t think I have a strategy… this isn’t a program where there are certain targets that I need to meet. I think it is best to let it flow, because this is a social movement to empower my community. It is not about imposing a certain goal or meeting certain timelines; it is about looking at the enthusiasm and potential of the residents, and then trying to match that. I don’t think we can impose anything — this is more about being able to walk together.
Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support of the Government of Australia.
Our smart-up Indonesia series attempts to showcase the data innovators and entrepreneurs that are shaping the nation. The articles should not be interpreted as product or service endorsements by Pulse Lab Jakarta or any of its partners.