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Indonesian entrepreneur brings youthful insights to government

Presidential adviser Putri Tanjung urges millennials to start businesses

Putri Tanjung, founder of Indonesian event-planning company Creativepreneur Event Creator, became a "special" presidential staff member in 2019. (Photo by Dimas Ardian)

JAKARTA -- In November 2019, Putri Tanjung, 23, received an unexpected call from Indonesian Minister of State Secretary Pratikno, a close aide to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo: "The president would like to offer you to be a special staffer. Can you accept?" 

The young female entrepreneur and social media influencer found herself suddenly thrust into the political spotlight.

Putri is the founder of event-planning company Creativepreneur Event Creator and a member of the management team at Kreavi, which operates a website that showcases up-and-coming artists.

Jokowi is giving top priority to developing human resources in a bid to make Indonesia one of the five biggest economies by 2045. With a population of 270 million -- the world's fourth-largest -- Indonesia is a big, young country, with half its people under the age of 30.

According to a survey by U.S. search giant Google and others, its internet economy is expected to surge seventeenfold to $133 billion over the 10 years to 2025. Fostering digital skills is a pressing issue.

Putri decided to accept Jokowi's offer to be a special staff member for the president because he told her: "You need to be involved in business. Give the government the insights and expertise of the younger generation."

"The bureaucracy is new for me. I can learn more and more," says Putri.  (Photo by Dimas Ardian)

Looking back, she said in an interview with Nikkei: "The bureaucracy is new for me. I can learn more and more, and it's quite fun and challenging."

Putri has so far worked at the grassroots level, helping others start businesses through events and the internet. She could accomplish more if she can influence government policies, although she faces heavy pressure.

On Nov. 21 last year, she was sworn in as a "special staff of the president of Indonesia" at the presidential palace. The following day, her name became the top trending topic on Twitter in Indonesia.

"My biggest job is to give the president feedback on what entrepreneurs in this country are facing," Putri said.

Putri visits her office at the presidential palace once a week and holds discussions with Pratikno and other advisers. She also reports to them about her experiences with businesses, such as supporting the digitalization of small and midsize companies.

Born in Jakarta in 1996, Putri is the eldest daughter of Chairul Tanjung, head of the conglomerate CT. Chairul built CT, which spans industries such as retail, finance and media, in one generation. According to the U.S. magazine Forbes, he was worth $3.6 billion in 2019, making him the ninth-richest person in Indonesia.

Chairul also served as a cabinet minister in the former administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and is a household name in the country.

Putri herself started her first business, Creativepreneur Event Creator, when she was a 15-year-old student at an international high school in Singapore. Its original purpose was mainly to plan birthday parties for friends.

After learning how enjoyable event planning was, Putri became interested in holding a big event of her own. But she needed sponsors. When she was 17, she decided to hold a live-audience talk show designed to support young people's efforts to start businesses.

She consulted with her father, but he replied: "I won't give you any money to start your business. If you are not successful, the responsibility will be yours." Having failed to get her father's financial support, she faced an uphill battle in her efforts to find sponsors.

She approached many people and got the cold shoulder time after time, with one of them saying: "You are just 17. It's not possible for you to create events." Her plan was rejected by about 30 companies.

She eventually realized her goal by using a state-run Bank Mandiri loan program targeting young people. But she initially was able to sell only 400 tickets, although she had assumed she would be able to sell 1,500.

Not letting this get her down, she used her characteristic sociability to expand her network of connections. As a result, she has been able to set up talk shows that have attracted audiences totaling 30,000 over six years.

"Whatever I did, I was told, 'That is because of your father.' This motivated me to do something on my own," Putri said.

When Putri was in elementary school, her mother doled out only half as much lunch money as her schoolmates received. Then she got the idea of making pictures and bookmarks to sell to her mother.

According to Putri: "Small things like that ... started my entrepreneurial mindset. That is, what should I do? How can I get money?"

Putri has become accustomed to performing her busy primary job as an entrepreneur while also working as a presidential adviser. She has about 600,000 followers on Instagram, where every Monday night she streams a program with prominent guests discussing how enjoyable and important starting a business can be.

In 2019, Putri was also tapped to appear in a commercial for a new product from Lenovo Group, the world's largest maker of personal computers. Her name recognition provides her with ammunition to expand the number of entrepreneurs in Indonesia.

"I believe entrepreneurship brings creativity and innovation," she said.

Putri is conscious of her fellow millennials. Indonesia's industries are still immature. How Indonesia can develop young people's abilities will decide the future of the country.

She believes her management expertise -- handling problems, overseeing budgets, choosing partners and promoting staff -- is also applicable to life.

"I hope everyone in the younger generation can have an entrepreneurial mindset, though I don't expect them all to be entrepreneurs," Putri said.

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