Co-founders of Kopernik
Our vision, and our commitment to making a meaningful contribution to solving some of the biggest problems facing underserved communities, remains unchanged.
Tell us your story – how did you get here?
In 2009, Toshi and I had both been working for the United Nations for more than 10 years each. We were both lucky to have worked and lived in some incredible places, such as Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, and Indonesia (we met in Jakarta), among others.
We became really interested in a new wave of simple technologies that were becoming available. Inspired by the potential of these technologies to improve people’s lives – and seeing that they weren’t reaching the people who really needed them – we decided to leave our UN jobs and move to Indonesia (Bali this time, not Jakarta) to develop a platform that would connect these technologies to remote, underserved communities that had no access to these products.
The emerging technologies at that time included affordable solar lights, easy-to-use water filters such as Nazava, promising health products such as low-cost eyeglasses, clean birthing kits and simple agricultural tools. In our first year, we reached 21,550 people through technology distribution in China, Haiti, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.
We quickly learned that there was a reason why these technologies were not reaching the people who needed them: distribution to remote, last-mile locations was extremely difficult and expensive. So, we began partnering with trusted, local organisations who understood the needs of the communities with whom they worked, and who had the necessary local connections to get the technologies to where they were needed. We also learned that technology needs differed from place to place, and people had very specific preferences on functionality and design.
In 2012 we conducted our first product-testing initiative with a Japanese educational toy company and launched our advisory service, Last Mile Consulting. We realised that there was significant demand to support corporate and public sector clients wanting to develop or distribute innovative solutions that serve the needs of people in emerging markets.
Until this point, our technology distribution platform was partnering with organisations in 26 countries, and we decided that our efforts and resources would be more effective if we focused more deeply and intentionally on Indonesia – where we are physically located. We had already established strong networks and partnerships across the country and believed that we could be more effective if we invested all our energy and resources in building more effective technology distribution networks here, which we did through the Wonder Women Indonesia (Ibu Inspirasi) programme. This programme supported more than 400 female entrepreneurs to establish clean energy technology micro-businesses who then distributed 32,000 solar lights, Nazava water filters, and clean cookstoves to communities in Eastern Indonesia, reaching 680,000 people.
By 2016, we saw that people’s ability to access clean water and electricity had improved. Clean energy technologies were more widely available and accessible to communities through other organisations who had started to implement similar distribution programmes.
The new landscape led us to explore more innovative ways in tackling challenges faced by the communities we had been working with. We began asking questions: How can we be more involved in finding potential solutions? What are other solutions that are not yet discovered that have a potential for widespread adoption? These were the questions we were grappling with when we decided to commit to systematic testing and lean experimentation of promising solutions to commonly faced problems by underserved communities.
Now, in our sixth year since we began focusing on conducting lean experiments, our experiments range from testing water desalination technologies, reducing single use plastic usage, developing low cost air purifiers to protect people from toxic air, grain storage to increase food security, solar dryers and fermentation technologies for a range of commodities such as cashews, copra and cacao. We share the results of our experiments on our solutions catalogue platform so they can be adopted and replicated by others. We have also worked with more than 30 companies to develop or test new products or services, such as off-grid refrigeration and products that prevent dengue and malaria transmission – all targeting underserved communities.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 12 years since we first started on the Kopernik journey. Back in 2009, we were a very small team of two, with a big vision to solve social and environmental challenges. Looking back, I reflect on how much we have grown, in so many aspects – the size of our team, the number of people we have reached through our work, and how over the years we’ve done a lot of ‘growing up’ as an organisation. But our vision, and our commitment to making a meaningful contribution to solving some of the biggest problems facing underserved communities, remains unchanged.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
We have been so lucky and so privileged to have some of the brightest, most passionate and committed people be part of the Kopernik team over the past 12 years. And it’s because of the Kopernik team that we have been able to achieve all that we have until now. I feel so proud to be part of such an amazing team. It is these incredible people who go above and beyond what is expected of them because they really care about the work they do to improve the world we live in.
As an organisation, we love to see our team grow and thrive. A survey we conducted found that 92% of our team members aspire to become entrepreneurs, so, last year we launched ‘The Next CEO Program’ which we see as a great opportunity to support their dreams. The programme is designed for Kopernik team members who are passionate about one of our promising lean experiments, to transform them into independent impactful companies or organisations. In addition to nurturing entrepreneurial motivations, we can also ensure that our lean experiments result in bigger impact by ‘spinning’ them off.
Encouraged by our experience in already spinning off two entities – Yayasan Rumbia and Perfect Fit Indonesia – The Next CEO Program provides selected team members a one year period of in-depth support to build the entity, together with seed funding. The selected team member will also become the CEO of the new entity. While the process is complex, it ensures that Kopernik maintains the resources and energy we need to stay focused on our core mission – finding what works to address social and environmental challenges through lean experimentation.
What impact have you made in Bali?
Being located in Indonesia, we frequently respond to the numerous emergencies and disasters in the country. In Bali specifically, this has included supporting affected communities during Mount Agung’s intermittent eruptions in 2017, the recent earthquake and the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of our Covid-19 support, we supported more than 200 health facilities with hundreds of thousands of units of health and medical supplies, provided livelihood support through job creation and distribution of food packages, and supported vaccination drives for people who were not able to be vaccinated due to administrative issues.
We have been collaborating with Bali-based band Navicula and together we have supported the creative sector – which has been one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic. We continue to work with micro-enterprises and farmers across Bali to strengthen their businesses and make them more resilient so that they can withstand current and future economic shocks.
We also launched Pulau Plastik (Plastic Island) – a collaborative campaign (in partnership with Akarumput, Watchdoc and Visinema and many other partners) to tackle the issue of single-use plastic in Bali and beyond. A feature length documentary about the plastic pollution crisis in Indonesia was released in cinemas last year and will be available on Netflix in early June.
Our work is not limited to Bali. We work with smallholder farmers in Kalimantan and Papua, families in East Nusa Tenggara on stunting prevention, women micro entrepreneurs in Java, women weavers in Adonara and Lembata, and many more. You can be part of Kopernik’s monthly donor community to help us find more effective solutions to social and environmental challenges faced by underserved communities.
What does 2022 look like for you?
In 2022, we will continue to find and implement promising solutions to social and environmental problems. While we are proud of what we have been able to achieve to date – thanks to the generosity and support of so many people and organisations over the years – we are far from satisfied. We are facing an unprecedented environmental crisis, inequality and intolerance are on the rise, and so many unmet needs remain unaddressed. Our commitment for this year – and for years to come – is to do much more, to do it better and to have a major impact on some of the biggest social and environmental challenges facing the world today.
What do you love most about Bali?
We are so lucky to call this beautiful island home, and we could not imagine a better place to live anywhere in the world. We therefore want to do as much as we can to maintain (and in some cases, restore) some of the things that make Bali so special.
Living and working in Bali also provides us with the ability to collaborate with so many incredible different people and organisations from all walks of life – musicians, artists, coffee farmers, incredible craftspeople, entrepreneurs and so many more. There is so much incredible talent, innovation and a strong sense of community here – all of which serve as a constant source of motivation and inspiration for us.
We also love Nyepi – Bali is the only place in the world that does anything like this. We talk about how special it is in this podcast episode of A Soundtrack of Resistance.
What's the one change in the world you’d like to see?
Adherence to the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana, which talks of a harmonious relationship between nature, humans and the spiritual world. Essentially, we’d like to see a fundamental shift in the relationship with the Earth and all who live on it, and recognition that we cannot damage nature without significantly damaging ourselves and our future.
Who is your Local Legend and why?
Gede Robi (Naicula) for his passion and long standing commitment to amplifying social and environmental challenges through the music of his band, Navicula.
Suzy Hutomo (Sustainable Suzy, the Body Shop Indonesia) for her unwavering commitment and dedication to environmental sustainability.
Rezal Kusumaatmadja from Katingan Mentaya Project, for always pushing boundaries and for his groundbreaking work in protecting rainforests in Kalimantan.