From motorcycle taxi to the ministry

The story of Nadiem Anwar Makarim, born in 1984 and the current Minister for Education and Culture in Indonesia, is fairly indicative of the path that East Asia has taken towards innovation and ideas that can change the economy. The young minister was chosen by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, elected last year for a second term: Jokowi, who has a reputation as a reformist, wants to strengthen his country’s economy, which could become, according to a projection made a few years ago by the McKinsey Global Institute, the seventh largest economy worldwide by 2030. Most importantly, Jokowi wants to eliminate corruption, streamline bureaucracy and attract capital. Nevertheless, he also wants to innovate, finding new solutions that provide employment and profits by expanding the audience, beyond workers, to consumers. However, even before Jokowi, the government was already aware of Nadiem: Indonesia’s Minister of Finance, Sri Mulyani, selected him in 2018 as one of the commissioners of Pathways for Prosperity for Technology and Inclusive Development, a group of entrepreneurs, government officials and private sector individuals, who want to shape how countries adapt to new innovations that change the culture of the workforce. This initiative is led by Oxford University.
What did Nadiem do, or more precisely, what did he invent and develop? Makarim put together two elements: the public transport deficit in a country with 270 million people and the experience of other Asian countries - especially Thailand - for deliveries by motorcycle. However, unlike countries such as Vietnam or Thailand, Nadiem had a much larger market available. It was just a matter of combining public transport, deliveries, transporting sometimes bulky items, and being paid. But it took a super app to do all of this. We may not know with certainty the date on which the first motorcycle taxi appeared in Indonesia -known as “ojek” in the local language - but we do know when the first app was launched to use it to resolve the problem of distance in the vast archipelago. The "GoJek Super App", which, according to the company constituted by Nadiem, has a network of over two million drivers spread throughout Indonesia. It is the second largest app in Asia after its rival Grab, formerly MyTeksi and GrabTaxi. Grab is truly a regional giant: a delivery service and digital payment company based in Singapore that has even opened an office in America. Created in 2009, GoJek has amassed for its creator-inventor, in less than ten years, a valuation of over $10 billion, thus making it a “decacorn”, or a start-up that is worth over $10 billion. With the GoJek app you can do practically everything: book an ojek, order food, send packages and pay for everything by phone. In 2016, Nadiem was named “Asian of the Year” by the Singapore newspaper, The Straits Times. Then, in 2019, he was asked to become a minister.
Nadiem most likely still has surprises in store for us. He has been in his position for just a short time and his country, more than others in Asia, has been heavily disrupted by Covid. He is currently working on attracting capital and restarting the economy. The Indonesian government, for example, has set up a special task force to attract businesses leaving China and facilitate their relocation to Indonesia. This mainly involves American, Japanese and South Korean companies that are holding discussions with the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) about their potential relocation to the industrial districts of Batang and Brebes (Central Java), which are currently under development. It is one of Jakarta's attempts to combat the impact of coronavirus on direct foreign investments, which have dropped by 9.2%, according to recent local press reports.
As for now, Nadiem is committed to introduce a new educational system that will improve the quality and number of Indonesian graduates. How? “We want communities, companies, non-profit organisations and educational technology start-ups to work together to improve learning outcomes,” he stated in an interview (which you can read here). In short, investing in brains to produce more new ideas.