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On Growth, Sacrifice, and Nadiem Makarim’s appointment as Indonesia’s Education Minister

And the implications on our journey in saving ourselves vs saving the world

I’m a technologist who just can’t live with the world’s education system. Our global education system is an outdated one-size-fits-all system that is merely okay for everyone, and not great for anyone. It’s a system that is designed to create workers, and not humans. This post isn’t about education, it’s about finding a balance between contributing to the world vs to ourselves.

If you’re interested to know more about my thoughts on the past, present and future of education, watch my TEDx talk where I’ve visualised my ideas and a path forward for our civilisation.

Saving oneself vs saving the world

The common advice

I’ve been thinking a lot, for the few past years, about finding that right balance. The balance between the effort I put in saving/serving myself vs saving/serving the world. The common advice for someone like me, a computer science in Southeast Asia with an AI major, is often pretty generic and individualistic: “Join a high growth tech startup, then another one, then another one, and maybe another one, and retire early or start your own company and sell it after some years, and retire early or repeat. By the end of this, you can still be 30 something year old. And oh don’t forget to travel.” To be fair, it’s not a bad advice and I’m grateful, in fact, I think it’s a good advice; just a bit too good for me, not good enough for the world.
In Southeast Asia particularly, the quality of life (given the compensation) can get reasonably good relatively fast, and it’s easy to feel too comfortable to pursue the greater goal of making the world a better place.

In Southeast Asia particularly, the quality of life (given the compensation) can get reasonably good relatively fast, and it’s easy to feel too comfortable to pursue the greater goal of making the world a better place.

Both my parents worked for the government for the most of their lives, as teachers and academics. They viewed themselves as public servants and truly devoted themselves to serving the world, and in doing that, they often ended up burning out, mentally and financially. I’ve admired and loved their intentions and have grown up wanting to be like them in their pursuit of equality of opportunity and fairness for everyone, though I noticed how unsustainable it was for them to dedicate their everything to saving/serving the world. That’s the bit I wanna change, while copying the other bit.

The no-advice-zone

I started thinking maybe it’s wise to serve/save myself first, until I’m in a position to do something for the world. That sounded fine on the paper but I always wondered if it was even practical to focus on myself for years or decades until I could afford to be selfless.

What if it took 30 years? Would the 50 year old me be flexible enough to care? What if I lost empathy/motivations along the way? What if life became too good to care about anyone or anything but the main 8–12 people in my life? These questions have worried me, always, especially because I’ve known many brilliant people who are in their late 20s or early/mid 30s who have totally checked out and are totally focused on enjoying life alone, or with friends/family. Life is hard and listening to their stories, from them ranting about unfair pay schemes and messed up HR practices locally and globally to stories about family and health problems and other crazy life events, I’ve developed a lot of empathy and respect for them and their life and career decisions in life, but I’ve also learned that I wanna find a way so I can care about myself, AND everyone and everything but myself.

In case you’re question my choice of word for “saving” myself vs the world, this is where I’m taking it from, for context. I mean saving in both existential level as well as higher-level human wants.

You can’t save the world if you can’t even save yourself, but it’s a must to do something for the world, at any scale, when you can afford to do so.

Where can you save the world?

I talked about when/if you should do something for the world, and not just for yourself.

There’s also the question of how you can do it efficiently, and –if you’re interested in large scale impact like I am– whether you need to be in private sector to make an impact, or are governments still a useful medium to change things?

Are governments still a useful medium to change things?

Yesterday, I learned that Nadiem Makarim, resigned from his CEO role a Gojek, the Indonesian tech unicorn that he co-founded, to join the new Indonesian government’s cabinet as the Education Minister. I feel touched and amazed on so many levels.

I got to know about him some months ago through his podcast, GoFigure, and specifically this episode where he talked about GoJek’s organizational principles. I was in awe of the ideas he shared here, because they came at a time where I felt many tech companies locally were hardly built to enable meritocracy and innovation.

Back to the topic, there’ve been many great examples for people who made a large-scale impact on the world through their work in private sector, but very few who were brave (or crazy?) enough to risk joining governments in order to facilitate change.

I might be biased or even wrong, but for some reason I perceive joining government, for someone like Nadiem Makarim, to be an honest sacrifice for a greater good.

It’s a sacrifice because government is massive and messy.

It’s a sacrifice because you make a conscious choice to take on a role at which your decisions impact millions of people. By impact, I don’t just mean help, but also hurt, for generations.

It’s a sacrifice because by the default modern capitalist standards, he could live a life not doing it and still look great in the eyes of many. He does it because he cares, and it’s brave and inspiring because he’ll do it well and create a playbook and set an example for many others who’d wanna follow suit.

I, for one, will be following his work closely and look up to him as someone I wanna be like, and that’s the first time I say this about anyone, but I say it because he’s someone who’s saved himself, and is now on a mission to save the world, at whatever scale he’s capable of.

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UMHack is a tech publication that focuses on computer science education and early career tech topics

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Sina Meraji

Sina Meraji

Founder and CEO of LearningLoop.org , the universal basic education

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