Indonesia’s Change Agent: Esther K. Sianipar

This is part of a series of articles highlighting the valuable work that Microsoft’s Citizenship Managers are doing in Asia.

As a child, Esther K. Sianipar would chat with her father into the late night about Indonesia’s possible pathways for democratisation. At other times, she would watch the deep discussions between her father and other politicians and activists on the latest events.

Microsoft Indonesia’s Citizenship Manager, Esther, traces her passion for social justice to this influence from her father, Mr Binsar Sianipar. A member of one of Indonesia’s most prominent political parties as well as Indonesia Christian Students’ Movement or Gerakan Mahasiswa Kristen Indonesia (GMKI), he has spent all his life campaigning for an inclusive democracy in the country. 

In 1988, Esther's family moved to the United States to accompany her father in his pursuit of higher studies. While observing Indonesia's evolution through crucial periods in the ‘90s, Esther decided to pursue a rigorous exploration of political science and international relations herself, subsequently obtaining a Masters in International Affairs from Ohio University. Since then, she has been working on Indonesia’s development in different capacities. Before joining Microsoft, she worked in the Parliament, as well as with an international organisation and a community-based organisation. 

Poverty eradication has always been at the heart of my work,” said Esther as she summarised her career. “I’m most concerned about children and youth. Now, I want to use technology to help them. I’ve seen how the transfer of skills, knowledge and attitudes can help them break free of an intergenerational cycle of poverty. 

Esther (far left) with CEOs of prominent nonprofits in Indonesia, after the CEO-Executive Directors Roundtable for NGOs in December 2013.

For the past 1.5 years at Microsoft, Esther has been engaging with civil society organisations through strategic partnerships on issues such as the health and well-being of children, youth entrepreneurship, as well as education and vocational trainings. Her portfolio sprawls across the archipelago of islands, from Sumatra to Sulawesi. One project that left the deepest impression was coordinating Microsoft’s resource donation to three large organisations: the ASEAN Foundation, Palang Merah Indonesia (Red Cross Indonesia) and Yayasan Cinta Anak Bangsa (YCAB). With Microsoft’s donations, including that of technical expertise, the organisations have managed to enhance their core work.

There are more opportunities for public-private partnerships, Esther said. “According to a McKinsey report, Indonesia is an important hub in Asia. It is currently the 16th largest economy in the world, and is predicted to become the 7th largest economy by 2030. Indonesia’s promising future translates into more opportunities for the transnationals moving into the country to contribute back to the local community.”

She emphasises the key to a successful partnership lies in local understanding, and has been instrumental in gathering multi-sectoral support, including that of the government. Last year, she helped to launch the YouthSpark initiative, with one launch event having a whopping attendance of 50,000 people.

“Corporations have to understand the economic, social and political perspectives of the people, and then decide on the causes that are aligned with the company’s mission. Corporations should be well-prepared and have an idea of what they can contribute, even before engaging with local communities. This way, engagement can achieve focused high-impact that’s meaningful for both parties. Partnering is not networking, but working with each other’s mission and strengths to find sustainable solutions for the community.”

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