Leadership for inclusive development: reflections from Indonesia

Deviana Dewi is passionate about the role of nutrition in the development of her home state, Indonesia. Intertwined with poverty, maternal and child health, and economic GDP, addressing malnutrition has needed a multi-sectoral approach. Presenting at the RDI Conference 2019, Deviana spoke to delegates of how sustained leadership of many individuals and entities has led to nutrition gaining traction in Indonesia’s policy agenda.

“Donors and government are the main actors that have supported the mainstreaming of nutrition in the development agenda for Indonesia,” she said. “For example, the World Bank supported a number of government officials to fly to Peru to learn from the country success in reducing malnutrition there. The Minister of Finance, Sri Mulyani has also been an advocate. How interesting to hear the Minister of Finance talking about the economic loss of stunting which can be up to 2 or 3% of GDP.

“In 2018 National Strategy to Accelerate Stunting Prevention was launched. What makes it unprecedented compared to other policies is that it commits 22 different ministries and agencies, aiming to tackle the multi-dimensional nature of the challenges of stunting. It will be rolled out in a staged manner. It started with the first 100 districts and then will be covering all 514 districts by 2021. It converges interventions in health, water and sanitation, in social protection, and agriculture. Because stunting is a very complex development problem, it’s not just about a lack of dietary intake. It’s also about access, resources, and how to mobilise them, and that’s where the leadership comes in.”

Sustained leadership by high-level political leaders and the political contexts in which leaders operate was critical, but not the only thing, Deviana argues, that has helped the issue gain salience. “For leaders to exercise their power, to wield their power, they need to think about how power operates within a system. Within Indonesia over the course of the last few years, there has been a political momentum for investment in early childhood. In 2018, Indonesia hosted the annual World Bank and IMF meeting where the Human Capital Index (HCI) was launched. HCI is an international metric across 157 countries that measures the contribution of health and education to the productivity of the next generations of workers. One of the composite indicators of HCI is stunting prevalence. There’s a growing sense of belonging among actors, among leaders to harness this kind of momentum.”

Civil society too, needs to play its part, Deviana noted. “CSO’s have to align themselves with the policy community and alliances in like the Scaling Up Nutrition Networks, which is made up of donors, the UN, CSO’s, the government, and the private sector. Little organisations or smaller NGOs should join themselves in these networks. At the end of the day we have to influence people in power. I’m struck by the fact that whatever we do we also have to be political, identify the right people we would like to engage with. If we can latch our agenda to existing policy communities we can go from there.”

While sharing her research was a valuable addition to the RDI Conference, Deviana reflected that hearing from others had inspired and challenged her. “For me what’s really important is not that we’re expected to make a difference in two days’ time, but the inspiration. This Conference has restored my faith that lots of people are fighting for a cause that they believe in. We’re not confined by sector, or issue or field, but leadership has been a common thread across a range of topics— nutrition, reproductive freedom and women in leadership. There are some strong leaders out there and they are empowering others. This hope is very important for me, I can take this home, spread the news, and spark hope in others. It’s important to each of us who is hoping to make a difference.”

Deviana Dewi has strong interest in the interplay between malnutrition, poverty, and inequality of opportunities. She was supported by RDI Network to present at the RDI Conference in her capacity as Institute of Development Studies Alumni Ambassador for Indonesia.