By Sarah Bahn and Kamala Chandrakirana
Philanthropy for social justice is not always about opposing the government; it’s sometimes about working with government in order to access the rights due to its citizens. Through our work with community organizers trying to reclaim land in a small village in Indonesia, Indonesia for Humanity (Indonesia untuk Kemanusiaan or IKA) has found that connecting activists with government officials and other community members while eliminating communication barriers can be the most effective way to create change with small grants.
For nearly 20 years, Indonesia has been working to transform itself after an abusive, authoritarian past under a military regime. Sidomukti, a village located inside a palm oil plantation, is one community trying to secure government recognition of its people’s land and rightful status as a self-standing village. After hundreds of villagers were evicted from the land 45 years ago, a group of farmers’ rights activists succeeded in reclaiming about 800,000 square meters of land in recent years. However, this process has resulted in increasing frustration and violence between villagers, the palm oil plantation, and the local government.
IKA is an activist-initiated grantmaking foundation that supports pro-democracy activism and human rights advocacy. Through small grants, we have supported social movements working to eliminate violence and structural injustices. In 2014, we decided to improve our reach by joining a national coalition of 50 civil society organizations and victim groups, the National Coalition for Justice and Truth. Through this coalition, we were introduced to several victim communities in Indonesian villages and towns. We accessed a government programme called Peduli, which engages civil society groups to advance inclusive development. The government’s agreement to assign Peduli resources to the victim communities was a milestone achievement in itself. It marked the first time the Indonesian government gave recognition to this group of people who had been systematically discriminated against by the state and society for decades.
IKA works on the assumption that the goals of social justice and lasting peace require long-term work at many levels, from empowering local communities to influencing national policy-making and enforcing the rule of law and human rights. Our participation in the Peduli program has enabled us to make grants to organizations working at the local, district, and national levels in a synchronized way and participate in a national movement to honor the rights of victims of past human rights violations.
In the one year of IKA’s involvement in the Peduli programme, it has made a range of grants to support Sidomukti. Locally, grants were made to the victims’ association to fund activities to increase victims’ access to public services, develop the community’s economic assets, support community life, and advance societal acceptance of the community. As someone who has worked with marginalized communities in Indonesia for years, I knew the importance of improving access to resources. The association itself received direct support to strengthen its governance system and to build its technical capacities. B
y accessing the government’s Peduli programme, IKA has integrated the Sidomukti community into the work of Indonesia’s largest civil society alliance advocating for victims’ rights. This new approach is a post-authoritarian transition justice initiative, citizen-led from the bottom up, and working to link victims’ civil political rights to their economic, social, and cultural rights. The collaboration and opening of communication between villagers and local service workers and government officials has led to many tangible benefits, such as increased access to government-sponsored health care for villagers in Sidomukti. For us, funding opens access, but our presence in the larger movement also strengthens connections to the Sidomukti population for other actors.
The National Coalition for Justice and Truth sees local community organizing as complementary to the legal advocacy efforts for the fulfilment of victims’ rights. The grants made by IKA this year have effectively brought together groups that work on community development and legal advocacy, ending a decades-long segregation of these two pathways for change. At IKA, we believe that working with the government to achieve justice has been a hugely effective tactic for advocating for oppressed citizens like the villagers of Sidomukti. In a post-conflict area, working for social justice must involve close collaboration with a variety of stakeholders—in this case it was villagers, government officials, public servants, and private sector actors—to hold each other accountable for creating a more just society.