Saturday, January 23, 2010

It has been an interesting and busy first week here in Jakarta. It was certainly my intention to be posting more frequently and I’ll try to do better in the second week. I’ve been struggling a bit with the technology (Tech-boy where are you when I need you?) I’m trying to get some pictures into my submissions.

Tuesday the 20th was the first day in the office. The morning spent coming up to speed on PT Ruma’s operations since inception in August. Generally a very good story. Financials are tracking pretty much to plan, but as with any start-up, not everything has gone according to expectations. Nevertheless, the progress to date is impressive and optimistic.

PT Ruma’s basic mission is to create business opportunities for measurably poor people in Indonesia. Using Grameen Foundation’s “Progress out of Poverty Index” (PPI) which they have developed for quantifying a household’s poverty level, suitably “poor” entrepreneurs are indentified for becoming “Village Phone Operators” (VPOs). Originally, VPOs were just that. They would have been one of the few people in the village (or urban slum neighborhood) with a phone and would provide telephone access to everyone else without a phone. However, as the price of cell phones declined dramatically, more and more people have phones. In fact, it’s quite amazing to see how common they have become.

The issue, and opportunity, has become the sale of “air time” for the phones. The poor must prepay for their air time (called pulsa—my first word in Indonesian Bahasa) and they cannot afford to buy it in large amounts. Typically they want to purchase IR5,000 to 10,000 at a time. (This is roughly 50 cents to a dollar.) PT Ruma has organized itself to be a mass provider of these small increments of air time to the poor through poor VPOs they have trained and service through a network of field officers (FOs). As the field officers themselves often may also fall under the poverty line they too are part of PT Ruma’s mission of providing opportunities for the poor.

The picture above was taken at the home and place of business of one of the VPOs outside the city of Sarang, about 100 km west of Jakarta. We went to visit her because she is the top performing VPO in the district. She is in the yellow blouse serving tea to my colleagues Sean and Okky. We learned that she had to drop out of high school because her family could not afford the $120 annual cost to send her to school.

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