Jakarta

100% Jesus, 0% Me - Interview with Abraham Viktor

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During Tommy Lee’s last visit to Jakarta, in January 2019, he was able to meet with several Resource Global (RG) cohort alumni, including Bram. The two caught up after connect group, and shared the latest updates across Bram’s life (both professionally and personally) since his time with RG.  

Bram grew up in Jakarta, and received his accounting degree from University of Indonesia (UI). He always had an enterprising spirit so before his final year in school, he attempted to launch his first startup with a few friends: a Kaya jam company. They had a great formula, but struggled to find the right factory for production. Eventually, he had to make the difficult decision to move on. The experience would be the first of a couple of “professional failures,” through which Bram learned much about the world, faith, himself, and God.

After graduating, Bram found himself on his second startup - this time in the construction industry working on lightweight building blocks. However, after much time, and significant monetary investment, a series of unfortunate events lead to the closure of that startup too. This second failure was much harder on Bram. He found himself low on cash, and felt like the weak link in a group of friends who had gone into banking or consulting, were rising the ranks, and making good money.

Looking back, he recalls how this devastation was partially influenced by his own family’s financial crisis when he was younger. That experience had taught him to be driven by monetary gain in his own decisions. Desirous of more stability, he took a step back and decided to pursue work in investment banking and consulting. He went first for an internship with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), before eventually moving into investment banking. He remembers fondly that first paycheck, and the feeling of security it came with. However, he also remembers the disappointment he felt shortly into his tenure as he began to feel restless, thinking: What am I doing here?

Throughout his early career struggles, Bram recalls feeling God convicting him to rely not on his own desires and ego, rather on God’s plan and design. He also recalls how he always pushed those convictions aside, deceived by his own pride. However, the more restless he felt at work, the more he reflected on his failed startups, and the more he found himself turning to God.

In an act of faith, Bram asked God to purify his heart. In reconciling his desires to those of God’s for him, he found renewed clarity. Suddenly, he felt God impressing upon him that he should be working in financial inclusion. He took a leap of faith, and left his cushy investment banking job. That very day, he stepped into creating his next venture: Taralite.

Through much faith and hard work, Taralite is now a key mover for financial inclusion in Indonesia, providing micro loans and and micro funding to underserved people. They also lease their algorithm to banks for more efficient processing and greater financial inclusion across the country. Most recently, Taralite has been acquired by OVO - a large mobile payments player in Indonesia. Bram sees the move as synergic, allowing the team to work with mentors with more experience, as well as expanding Taralite’s own market share and impact on Indonesia as a whole.

Around the time Bram was working on Taralite, building it up into what it is today, he had experienced several other milestones as well. These milestones informed many of his decisions, and continue to shape his career and faith journey today.

First, he got married - to a woman he says is greater than his equal. “She humbles me,” he says - describing how his pride and self-righteousness often causes him to lack grace, whereas her own deep desire and honor for truth make her the opposite: humble, kind, gentle.

Second, he participated in Resource Global’s first cohort - an opportunity he credits for giving him clear and encouraging mentorship. The Christian guidance and focus on bringing the gospel into the business sphere helped him in many a decision, especially in the Taralite’s early days.

Third, he had a clear epiphany about finances. Whereas his upbringing and “the Old Bram” led him to focus on simply gaining wealth, the Bram of today who remains stayed on the Lord realized that money is a blessing from God. This blessing, he believes, is one that must be shared, and enjoyed. Ultimately, he says “my life and even my finances don’t belong to me. [They] all belong to God alone.”

And last of all, via redemption through, and trust in, Christ, Bram has received 2 priceless gifts from his turbulent professional experiences to date: humility, and trust in God’s sovereignty. Humility because, whilst he continues to struggle with pride, he remembers that he has never succeeded when he has insisted on doing things by his own strength. And trust in God’s sovereignty, because when he looks back at the last few years (his career trajectory, his marriage, his time with Resource Global, and his failures), he sees how God’s providence was upon him through it all.

“When I failed the second time, it felt like the lowest point in my life, it felt like I’d never get close to where my friends were. But somehow God just cared for me, equipped me, strengthened me. And it’s all God’s work. When I look back, it was 0% Bram, and 100% Jesus.”

Lemonilo: Adventures Beyond Expectations

On the afternoon of January 22, 2019, Tommy Lee paid a visit to past cohort member - Johannes Ardiant, at the Lemonilo headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia. Surrounded by the cheerful green and yellow murals, and beautiful paintings by local artists, the two sat down to catch up on faith, friendship, business, and responding to God’s call.

Lemonilo - the brainchild of Johannes and Shinta Nurfauzia, is a healthy home staples brand. Their hero product is healthy additive-free instant noodles in a country where instant noodles are King. This is, after all, the place that brought the world Indomie, and boasts street food dishes like InTerNet - a mixture of instant noodles, telor (egg), and cornet (corned beef). However, analogous to Johannes’ own eclectic background and professional journey, Lemonilo wasn’t always about food. In fact, its journey (from healthcare to health food), which closely mirrors Johannes’ (from engineering to politics to business and more), is a reminder that God’s call often leads to adventures beyond our own expectations.

Johannes was born and raised in Jakarta, but studied in Singapore for university at the National University of Singapore (NUS). From an early age, he had a passion for politics, but somehow ended up in degree programs related to Computer Science. The decision had been made in response to pressures from family and the market that demanded for more engineers. After university, he took on a PhD program again related to Computer Science, but found it lonely, and knew deep down he was meant for something else. After his struggle through the program, he worked at International Business Machines (IBM) for a time, before finally admitting to his own political passions and aspirations. After IBM, he took on more finance and consulting roles across entities such as Tusk Advisory and the Indonesia Infrastructure Finance, until which point he found an opportunity to go back to school.

From 2013-2015, he took his passion for politics with him to Harvard University, and studied a Masters in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Governance. However, upon returning to Indonesia, instead of doors opening in politics, he saw doors opening in other areas to help the public as a private citizen. With his friend, Shinta, he started Konsula then - a healthcare tech startup that sought to connect Indonesians with doctors. Public health was a cause that he felt the Lord impressing upon his heart, even as he wished for inroads into policy. It then occurred to him, perhaps serving the public from this private sphere, was actually an inroad. After over a year of building the company, he felt a strong call from the Lord to think of an area he could help that was more organic to the Indonesian people. Something that they needed everyday, but weren’t even thinking about. This is where the idea for a health food startup came.

The statistics were clear: in 2015 alone, Indonesians consumed 13.2 billion instant noodle packets. That is 55 packets per person, per year, as a general average (counting even infants). The logical conclusion was that Indonesian adults ate instant noodles multiple times a week, despite what most in the developed world might consider common knowledge of how unhealthy instant noodles are because of the preservatives used. In late 2015, reports were surfacing of people developing cancer linked to their frequent consumption of instant noodles. Considering Indonesians’ dependence on the staple food, Johannes saw an opportunity there to provide a healthy alternative. With that seed planted, Konsula slowly grew into Lemonilo.

Since then, Lemonilo has launched a second instant noodle flavor (now with both mee goreng [fried noodles], and curry noodle soup), and is well along the path to launching healthy cooking oils, and other pantry must-haves. Johannes has found himself in a leadership position yet again in an area that was not his initial expectation: health products, instead of politics. However, he’s clear that, while it may not have been what he expected, he is learning that “God is teaching [him] the hard way” that doors will open and close according to God’s will.

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As a leader in this new area in his life, Johannes says “the hardest thing is the draining work, the meetings,” but it is all worth it when rewarded with the blessing of mentoring others and sharing one’s values (something he feels he lacked as a young professional). He also credits Resource Global with a lot of the strength and confidence he has pursuing his work with a Christian perspective. For his cohort, their retreat exposed him to Silicon Valley’s challenges for people of faith - the money, idolatry, relativism, and more. He considers this an important component of his maturity today as a Christian business leader. On top of all this, to cope with the pressures of his work, Johannes says he leans on the personal mentorship he received from Resource Global with Ken Baugh (Saddleback Church), as well as time in the Word. “Being rooted in the Word, focusing on one passage per week, meditating on it…[also,] instead of just spending one prayer a day, taking short breaks throughout the day to converse with God,” these are the things he leans on most when times get rough. For him, now, he no longer mourns for his own dreams (such as a political career). Rather, he feels confident that God will open and close the right doors, at the right times, and his job is to faithfully heed the Lord’s direction.

The Five Giants of Jakarta

Below is an interview with Suparno Adijato who is the Chair of our Jakarta Board and Tommy Lee, our President.

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CAN YOU PLEASE TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF?

I am an Indonesian, who has been living in Jakarta for thirty years. We have a family plantation and mining business. My wife and I are educators for preschoolers to adults. But my passion is in ministry, building up and discipling young adults so they can contribute to their cities.

WHAT GIVES YOU HOPE FOR THE CITY OF JAKARTA?

The number one word that comes to mind when I think of Jakarta is vibrant. Jakarta is full of life, even traffic jams represent the city’s vibrance. Jakarta, with a population of 30 million people, is the second biggest megalopolitan in the world, just short of Tokyo. Another word for Jakarta is improving. Indonesia used to be at the bottom of Transparency International. In 1998, we had one of the worst economic crisis, along with a change of government. But amidst the skepticism by many people, things are improving in the country. Many people thought Indonesia would go down the drain, but people have been praying for the country. There is a national prayer network that has millions of people covering Indonesia with prayers.

YOU MENTIONED THERE ARE FIVE GIANTS (PROBLEMS) IN THE CITY OF JAKARTA, WHAT IS THE FIRST PROBLEM?

Corruption is a big problem. It breeds inefficiency. By being inefficient, you get more money. Corruption also breeds uncertainties and risks. Foreign investors will not invest if the risk is too high due to corruption. With corruption, people can be bought. There is no security when you don’t know who you can trust. People don’t need to have integrity where there is corruption. So I believe that if our society can overcome corruption, then we would be on the right path.

WHAT IS THE SECOND GIANT?

The second giant is inequality. Not only are there minorities in terms of race and religion, Indonesia has one of the greatest unequal distributions of wealth amongst its people. There are three classes of people:

  • the few, who have a lot of wealth,

  • the small amount, which is considered is middle class,

  • and then the class majority of Indonesians fall into, those who are near poverty.

WHAT IS THE THIRD GIANT?

The third giant is vulnerability. A society works well if the law works to protect the people. The law is not perfect, but so is the implementation of the law in Indonesia. There are inefficiencies in the way the law is drafted. Due to that fact, a lot of times people feel that the law is against them. As a result, the people are wary and do not know who they can trust. There should be some form of social justice.

WHAT IS THE FOURTH GIANT?

The fourth giant is poverty. Unemployment is a huge issue. The government has made improvements, but there is still a lot of unemployed people. For example, people who work on a farm work for about six months and only about five hours a day. So if they get sick, there is no money. People here run into a lot of problems because of debt.

WHAT IS THE FIFTH FINAL GIANT?

The final giant is hopelessness. There is an overarching sense of hopelessness and oppression. But Jesus has come to help those that are oppressed; God has given us hope through Jesus and hope for the future. There is hope. I believe our society can and will continue to improve going forward.

ANY LAST THOUGHTS?

The Bible talks about David being the giant slayer. In our lives, we have Davids, but also men and women who can be Davids and support Davids. God can use everybody. Although we may not be a David, we can still help to bring back the kingdom. All of us can do something to slay giants.