Amid the apathy that often plagues impoverished urban neighborhoods, Reggi Kayong Munggaran is organizing marginalized youth to serve as changemakers, spearheading the development of much-needed improvements in the physical and social infrastructures of the areas in which they reside. By engaging a broad spectrum of the residents of those communities in public discussions and “action squads” he is also helping community members join together in prioritizing actionable needs and implementing youth-driven responses to them.
The New Idea
In impoverished districts and neighborhoods in Indonesian cities, there is a notable absence of public dialogue and citizen participation in addressing pressing community needs, and groups labeled as “troublemakers” are relegated to the fringes of society. Addressing these issues, Reggi has developed a civic participation initiative that engages marginalized youth, including ex-offenders and other stigmatized groups, both in discussion groups in which community problems and possible remedies are examined and in “action squads” that devise and implement appropriate responses to high-priority community needs.
As a result of Reggi’s work, “injection wells” have been constructed to cope with particularly vexing drainage and flooding problems, public spaces have been reclaimed and revitalized, and community-organized waste collection programs have been initiated. These grassroots initiatives have been undertaken with strong, in-kind support from the communities that they serve, and, in some instances, modest contributions from the municipal government. In addition, revenues generated by a trash collection venture, beyond those required to cover the costs involved, are being reinvested in the community in newly established microcredit and micro-insurance schemes.
Reggi began this work in 1999 with thirty marginalized youth in one small community in the sprawling—and very poor—Babakan Asih neighborhood of Bandung, Indonesia’s second largest metropolitan area, with some 3.5 million inhabitants. (A “neighborhood” in a large Indonesian city is the rough equivalent of a borough in New York City.) Over the past fourteen years, alumni of Reggi’s initiative have replicated his model in two other sizeable communities in Babakan Asih, and early-stage efforts to introduce his model in other Indonesian cities are now underway. In light of that expansion in his program’s reach, Reggi is now planning of create a Bandung City Forum, composed of representatives of neighborhoods engaged in similar urban improvement ventures, and his longer-term aspirations include a City Forum Network embracing all major cities in Indonesia.
In Bandung, as in similar areas in many other large cities in Indonesia, living conditions are particularly grim. With trash-filled streets and frequent flooding, outward signs of poverty are everywhere. Beneath the surface, a lack of promising opportunities for burgeoning numbers of impoverished youth, rising rates of youth crime, and the increasing prevalence of gangs and substance abuse impose additional burdens on community residents. With many competing priorities, the municipal government does very little to address these problems, and within such settings, apathy is rife, and public dialogue about community issues and collaborative efforts to address them are, at best, exceedingly rare.
For young people who are perceived to be potential “troublemakers,” including youth-offenders and recovering alcoholics and drug users, life in these impoverished settings is especially difficult. Stigmatized because of their past, with limited marketable skills and bleak job prospects, and without effective institutions helping them, such individuals are at high risk of recidivism, and their prospects for contributing to the improvement of their neighborhoods, or to economic and social development on a broader scale, are correspondingly poor.
Reggi began his work in one small community in Bandung’s Babakan Ashi neighborhood. In his initial attempts to get a better understanding of the community’s problems and needs, and of the resources at its disposal to address those needs, he talked with a broad range of community residents and hung out with young people, many of whom were perceived to be troublemakers but soon revealed that they were hungry for opportunities to improve their life situations. Reggi then used his social capital to work through an existing organization, Karang Taruna, to launch a neighborhood-based youth communication forum, FORKOP. The forum involved thirty young people from the smallest neighborhood units in Babakan Asih, and created a space for dialog and capacity building. Issues like gang fighting were addressed, and alternate dispute resolution was introduced through the forum.
The initial and subsequent forums resulted in youth setting up their own “action squads” to devise and implement specific community improvement initiatives. Reggi has also linked the action squads with urban planning experts. Recognizing the issue of regular flooding in the neighborhood, the group mobilized funding and built seventeen injection wells. These wells absorb rainwater quickly, preventing flooding and saving community members from unnecessary hassle and exposure to health risks.
Since mid 2005, having completed his legal studies and leaving his work with the West Java Corruption Watch (WJCW) as a volunteer, Reggi has devoted his full energies to strengthening the initiative in the community in Babakan Asih. The youth discussion component of his community development model has been transformed into a Youth Forum, and training programs have been introduced to enhance the relevant skills of its participants.
The Youth Forums have resulted in peer-organized tutoring programs, river cleansing, tree planting, mural creation, and the development and care of public spaces such as a badminton field. Another forum involved collaboration with community members outside of targeted youth, and immediately addressed serious problems, including the lack of waste collection. After one action squad started a waste picking service, they monetized it and used the funds to launch a micro-health insurance, and microcredit fund. Through this program, youth learn the importance of transparency and accountability, as those applying to the microcredit fund are required to present their plan to use the funds, with the forum ultimately determining eligibility for support.
To help fund the expansion of his initiative, Reggie joined a friend in co-founding an architecture firm with a corporate social responsibility initiative (Urbane Community). Ridwan, Reggi’s partner, manages the traditional business aspect of the firm, and Reggi manages Urbane Community. This arrangement allows Reggi, who received no previous compensation during his years of providing legal aid to impoverished communities, to draw a modest salary and sustain his work. He is also exploring other funding possibilities, including foundations and additional community-based income-generating activities.
Reggi has also launched two forums designed to create more democratic dialogue in Bandung. The first, Bandung Inisiatip, focuses on ecology and urban planning issues. Using this forum, Reggi engages with thirty-four different organizations including citizen organizations, and student organizations, facilitating knowledge sharing. As part of Bandung Inisiatip, Reggi runs a design competition where the public can express their vision of the ideal city, and elements of these designs are proposed to the government. Bandung Plural, the second forum, supports a diverse religious landscape in Indonesia and was founded as a response to religious discrimination. Through this forum, Reggi engages academics, artists, activists, journalists, and religious groups to analyze issues collaboratively. Together they identify potential conflicts related to differences in belief, identifying the root causes and encouraging political initiatives.
Reggi’s ideas have spread from the village where he first piloted them, to two neighboring villages, including Tamansari and Ujung Berung. As the ideas began to take root, Reggi asked local changemakers from the first area to guide those in the new areas, transitioning his role from implementer to facilitator.
Reggi is careful to look for the right people to replicate his work—people who can recognize problems, and find creative, often income-generating solutions. Reggi sources additional recruits from the two issue-based forums he initiated for people who demonstrate empathy and initiative, and from strategic alliances with LBH (legal aid), HIPMI (young entrepreneur association), and religious groups. Once Reggi identifies a potential leader, he becomes a peer mentor for the new changemaker, and invites changemakers from other areas to become mentors as well. Reggi provides trainings to teach skills needed for organizing a community, conducting social analyses, and managing projects. To further his impact, he has conducted a “training of trainers,” and these trainers assist five community groups in Bandung. A site-visit program allows people from outside these organized communities, primarily youth and neighborhood heads, to visit for two days, and learn how the work is accomplished.
Reggi envisions an established City Forum Network across Indonesia, and is currently focusing on scaling at the city and provincial levels, before spreading across Java island in five years. To scale at the city Reggi is creating a training center and a city council in Bandung.
Reggi was born in 1983 in Pontianak, the capital city of West Kalimatan (on the island of Borneo). The oldest of three children, he grew up in a low-income neighborhood in which, from an early age, he observed his neighbors suffering both from poverty and from recurring violations of their human rights.
Reggi attended secondary school in Bandung during a time of intense political turmoil in Indonesia, and in 1998, eager to help bring about political change, he joined the People’s Democratic Party, which strongly opposed President Suharto’s New Order regime. When the New Order government collapsed with Suharto’s resignation later that year, Reggi was initially jubilant; he soon realized that the change was largely confined to the macro-political sphere and that most Indonesians remained powerless and uninvolved in the decision-making processes that affect both their immediate surroundings and their life prospects.
In 1999, in one small community in Bandung’s Babakan Asih neighborhood, Reggi laid the groundwork for the work in which he is now fully engaged by building informal relationships with young people and undertaking a social mapping and social needs assessment. In 2000 he began a four-year legal studies program at Bandung Islamic University. During his course he participated in the Student Forum of Activists at the university and continued his work in Babakan Asih, drawing on the Student Forum for assistance in networking and mobilizing support.
In 2003, as a volunteer with the WJCW, an organization created and still led by 2004 Ashoka Fellow Harlans Fachra, Reggi took on the task of organizing and empowering residents of the Babkanasi neighborhood to fight corruption at the grassroots level—e.g. by refusing to pay public servants for marriage licenses, admission of children to government-funded schools, and other services to which they are legally entitled free of charge. In that assignment, Reggi learned and refined many of the principles and “dos and don’ts” of community organizing that shape his current endeavors.
In 2005 WJCW was forced to terminate its work in Babakan Asih because of mounting government hostility to its confrontational approach, and Reggi’s engagement with that organization ended. Over the ensuing seven years, Reggi has devoted his full energies to the initiative in Babakan Asih to spreading to other neighborhoods in Bandung, and other cities in Indonesia.