Women As Change Agents

@america event praises women as the future

By Nushara Gunawardene
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A sea of young female students and a sprinkling of US and Indonesian political and corporate figures gathered for @america’s Women as Change Agents event to discuss women’s empowerment and how women in different industries can achieve their goals.

The January 24 event featured a panel of influential Indonesian and American female figures, including Sarah A Thornton, Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the US State Department; Yenny Wahid, Executive Director at the Wahid Foundation; and Nilam Sari, owner and Marketing Director of PT Baba Rafi Indonesia. Titi Anggraini, the Executive Director of the Association for Elections and Democracy (PERLUDEM), was moderator.

Thornton, reflecting a US foreign policy perspective on the panel, was in Jakarta to discuss the US-Indonesia Strategic Partnership with senior officials. She has participated in foreign policy issues in Europe and Asia since starting to work for the State Department in 1991.

Yenny Wahid, daughter of the late President Abdurrahman Wahid, and granddaughter of Indonesia’s first Minister of Religious Affairs Wahid Hasyim, represented Indonesian diplomacy on the panel. At the Wahid Foundation, her focus is on the humanitarian element of her father’s view of development.

Nilam Sari, is the owner and Marketing Director of PT Baba Rafi Indonesia, the largest kebab franchise chain in Indonesia with over 1500 outlets across nine countries. She also is the co-owner of the Voila! 360 communications agency. She provided a business perspective for the panel.

Wahid took the concept of women’s empowerment and compared it with the progress of the Indonesian government and the mandatory 30 percent quota of female representation in Indonesian politics.

Thornton’s view on the kind of support women needed revolved around positive relationships with others, with which both Wahid and Sari agreed. In addition to physical support from individuals, Thornton discussed the significance of the US Embassy’s promotion of women through its Women’s Entrepreneurship program and gender-based anti-violence programs.

Thornton referenced Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi as an actual “Agent of Change” – an award she was given by the United Nations Women and Global Partnership Forum. 

Retno has spoken in the past of how the prioritization of dialogue in diplomacy is vital, and this linked with Sari’s discussion of collaboration rather than competition. Sari said she believed that collaboration achieves more as opposed to competing against others. She spoke of how nurturing and caring for one another is natural for women, hence women should use that natural talent to collaborate.

As a participant in the 2016 Enhancing Prosperity and Opportunity for Women in the Asia Pacific workshop in Taiwan, Sari is an advocate for women right’s and empowerment, which has led her business to attaining 60 percent female employees.

“The future is about women,” in the words of Wahid, was the conclusion of the afternoon.

Strong support from others as well as the ability to be flexible was the main advice provided by the panel.

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