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Awards Category: Business Leaders

Helianti Hilman

Founder, Javara

Background

Helianti Hilman graduated Cum Laude in 1993 from Padjadjaran University, Bandung, where she majored in International Law. She later completed a Master of Law in Intellectual Property Rights at King’s College, University of London. She was a freelance consultant with UNDP (the United Nations Development Programme) before a casual meeting with indigenous farmers in 2008 led to her establishing PT Kampung Kearifan Indonesia. Also known as Javara, the company is a foremost promoter of Indonesia’s food biodiversity heritage, helping bring indigenous food products of remote Indonesia to an international audience. Helianti is a sought-after speaker and expert in the area of indigenous food systems, commercialisation of food biodiversity, and social entrepreneurship.

Creating a Better Future

Helianti’s interest in indigenous food began when she was on a roadshow visiting networks of farmers in remote parts of Java. She realised that there was a huge biodiversity of natural foods that existed in these rural areas, but which could not be accessed by the outside world. While the world was struggling with healthier diets and demand for alternative diets like gluten-free, vegan and others was growing, there was actually a vast cornucopia of produce that catered to these diets, but had yet to make it into the market. The farmers she met asked for help to bridge their products to the market, but Helianti soon realised that it wasn’t simply marketing that was required, but capabilities to develop their products so that they met the demands and quality standards of the market.

Javara was born from Helianti’s spontaneous need to be a champion for these indigenous farmers and their produce; it means ‘champion’ in Sanskrit, in line with Helianti’s vision of ‘bringing champion produce from champion farmers’ across Indonesia under one roof, and bring them to the rest of the world. To do this, Javara invests in building entrepreneurship at the grassroots; its business model is to create companies at a local level, building local capacity so that they are able to deliver at a quality that is required.

Essentially, Javara strives to keep the biodiversity of Indonesia’s native agricultural species alive, supporting small farmers by helping them create and produce artisanal food products. The company provides technical training, working capital and access to markets for farmers who lack both the financial resources and the proper knowledge to make their products available to consumers. The first step is to look for a potential ‘champion’ in a region they enter, someone with passion and discipline tempered by heart and empathy, who will help bring other farmers into the fold. Then Helianti and her team scans the area for potential indigenous products, usually the lowest-hanging fruit so that farmers can set to work immediately, and see quick results. Once potential is recognised, the rest of the process follows; capacity building, certification and quality control, and production. The entire process takes from three months to a year from inception to market, depending on the complexity of the product and processing time.

As an extension of this business model, Helianti has also established the Javara Academy to train students and farmers. Its aim is to provide a more methodical, structured way to reach out to farmers and forages in order to turn them into entrepreneurs. When Javara was first founded, they worked with people around 65 years of age; nowadays, over 40% are below 35 years old, which is why the Academy targets those within that age group as the ‘entrepreneurial farmer’ ideology becomes more popular.

Overcoming Obstacles

Artisanal products from indigenous farmers aren’t cheap, because they’re produced in small batches and go through exhaustive quality control. They’re also a result of Javara attempting to solve problems of local farmers, and may not be due to any particular market demand. Thus, Javara’s range of products are neither as affordable nor as affordable as mass market brands, and don’t have the premium imagery of high-end brands; this sometimes makes it challenging to position them in the market. However, the rise of responsible and ethical consumers as well as a growing sensitivity to where food comes from means that Javara products are better accepted in the export market, which will hopefully eventually lead them to catch on in the domestic market.

There is also a need to educate consumers on indigenous produce and Indonesia’s food heritage, as there is a lack of information or proper understanding on its richness and diversity. Getting people to see the value in the rural produce is an uphill task, but slowly but surely, consumers are beginning to understand the concept that Javara is advocating.

Measurable Outcomes

Today, Javara works with over 52,000 farmers and has approximately 2,000 artisanal producers creating more than 600 products, sold under 14 categories. Javara products are now sold in 18 countries around the world; at home in Indonesia, it’s available in over 500 outlets, primarily high-end stores.

For her efforts, Helianti received the BRI Srikandi Award for Sociopreneurs in 2018. She has been recognised as an Endeavour Entrepreneur in 2016, the Schwab Foundation’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015, and the Ernst & Young Indonesia Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013. She also made Forbes Indonesia’s 2014 Inspiring Women Honor Roll and featured as Global Asia 99 Most Inspiring Women.

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