Connectivity and Marginalization
Melinda Gates on Gates Annual Letter 2019 mentioned one sentence that really caught my attention.
“Connectivity is a solution to marginalization.”
She then later further discussed about Indonesia’s number one unicorn startup, GOJEK. The story focused on Nikmah, a service provider of GO-MASSAGE, one of services that is offered by GOJEK through its lifestyle-focused division, GO-LIFE.
Marginalized women like Nikmah, and thousands others who couldn’t provide for their family, gained the opportunity to get steady stream of income, and now can afford education for their children, through applications like GOJEK. Nikmah’s story wasn’t the first I’ve heard.
One time I had to go for an important meeting at Kuningan. It was 5PM and all Jakartans sure know how it feels to get through the street during that time. Terrible traffic that might cause a 15-minutes drive a 3-hours one. So, I decided to leave my car and ordered GOJEK.
That was when I heard the story of the driver — whose name slipped off my mind — who managed to get his daughter to one of the most prestigious public universities in Indonesia, thanks to GOJEK. He previously worked as a construction site worker and barely had enough to eat. “And now I get to be a father of a bachelor.” I remember him saying so.
“Nah, kalau sekarang saya jadi ayahnya seorang sarjana, Mbak!”
But I am not writing this post to glorify GOJEK. In fact, it is not the only application that helps the lives of marginalized society get through the biggest problem in Indonesia — poverty.
Tokopedia, another Indonesian unicorn startup that focuses on e-commerce, has over 2.7 million of sellers in its platforms. A lot of them started as small vendors who did not have enough funding to open their own businesses, or working mothers that did not have time to work out of their homes but needed to provide for the family. Tokopedia easily tackled those problems, allowing small vendors to easily gain business access to over 100 million customers in Indonesia with very little capital and utmost flexibility, effectively leveraging the quality of thousands of lives.
So, yeah, cool, the internet and the rise of e-commerce sure brings advantages to people to get extra income, but then, what? How does it bring betterment to the marginalized groups in Indonesia?
The answer, ladies and gentleman, is that connectivity offered by internet brings access to something that marginalized groups never have: privilege.
When it especially comes to economic exclusion, the marginalized groups — i.e. those living below poverty line, divorced mothers who struggle to provide — are never in a fair competition to begin with. When people were born in a poor family, they couldn’t afford education (which is supposed to be a right, but ends up being a privilege after all, but we’ll get to that another time), and when they couldn’t afford education, they couldn’t get decent job and not only because of the lack of academic degree, but because of the lack of good networks, range of opportunities, and resources. They will always be several steps behind because the starting line was never the same at the very first place.
On top of that, we still have to deal with gender gaps. It’s still prevalent, and not only in big corporations and office jobs (because salary gap in gender is too mainstream of a topic anyway). Women, especially like Nikmah, who has to take care of her three children and has just recently divorced with her abusive ex-husband, has it harder because they have responsibilities in their homes that do not allow them to dedicate their full time in their career. But this does not only happen to divorcees. Women with husbands are also limited in working because of the sickening stigma in majority of Indonesians that women have to tend to house chores, and this becomes a greater problem than just gender equality when the family cannot afford their living with just one person working.
Internet and the privileges it offers cover these gaps. Suddenly, people do not need much resources and good business networks to have a ‘company.’ Suddenly, people do not need a bachelor’s degree to earn steady income. Suddenly, people do not need to leave their houses to work. Connectivity to an entire nation and even possibly to the entire world makes it possible for everyone to get the fair opportunity to have a better quality of life — even for the marginalized society.
Now, that sounds like a happy ending for us all. But there still is one question that has yet to be answered.
Sure, connectivity brings the greater good for educationally and economically disadvantaged marginalized communities. But, how about other socially disadvantaged marginalized communities? The racially minoritized groups? The LGBT community? Does connectivity also contribute to the betterment of their lives?
Unfortunately, not so much. At least, not as prevalent as how it has greatly helped the lives of divorced women or men with little educational background to earn money.
In Indonesia, there hasn’t been any concrete proof as to how internet and connectivity becomes the solution to the social exclusion experienced by the racially and sexually disadvantaged groups. In fact, internet only helps them as far as building networks, expanding reaches, and spreads awareness.
Why so, though? Are the marginalized groups not maximizing the use of the opportunities offered by the internet?
The problem is, there’s too little of an opportunity when it comes to the socially marginalized groups in Indonesia, especially those dealing with sexual and gender related discrimination. In fact, social inclusion will never be attained if the acceptance rate of Indonesian people remains at current rate.
What is the current rate, you might wonder? A research done by Pew Research Center in 2013 revealed that only 3% of Indonesians said homosexuality should be accepted in the country. And honestly, I’m not optimistic there has been a significant improvement on this very low number, considering the number of criminalizing cases of the LGBT communities. To support this, a survey done by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) in 2018 revealed that 87.6% of the respondents agreed that LGBT was a threat.
So, even in a country where poverty remains as the number one unsolved problem, turns out social acceptance is still way more impossible to attain.
To give you a context about the comparison, poverty is still suffered by more than 28 million of Indonesia’s citizens, accounting for around 10% of the population living below poverty line (which, I might add, is way too low. You’re considered “poor” if your average spending in a month is less than Rp. 401,220, or Rp 578,000/month if you’re living in Jakarta. That’s around Rp 11,000/day or Rp.19,000/day in Jakarta. So, if you cannot afford to spend Rp 20,000/day, you’re essentially “not poor enough”)
So, thanks to internet and connectivity, the problem for economically and educationally excluded society might get solved or at least minimized on day. For the socially marginalized communities? Maybe next time.