Ashoka Fellow
Fellow since 2008
This description of Pamikatsih's work was prepared when Pamikatsih was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008 .


Pamikatsih “Pikat” is leading people with disabilities in Indonesia towards economic independence through self employment. Once they become active in securing their livelihoods, she helps them work together to effectively lobby for their rights at the municipal level.

The New Idea

Pikat has created the foundation for a nationwide rights movement in Indonesia led by the disabled. In contrast with single-skill training programs offered by rehabilitation centers, she and her team have developed innovative tools to motivate and train people to start their own businesses. As a result of Pikat’s work, disabled entrepreneurs now have more opportunities to share their skills with others and demonstrate their ability to manage their own businesses.

To interact with other business networks, Pikat facilitated the formation of an association of disabled micro-entrepreneurs which serves as a citizen-based link for this population to work together. In addition to providing mutual support and sharing business tips, the participants advocate for public services and accessibility at the city level, involving them more directly in policy-making and implementation.

Pikat’s is also transforming how rehabilitation centers and government agencies relate to disabled people by encouraging participation at the city planning level. By promoting active engagement, she has succeeded in gaining budget allocation to be used as investment capital for businesses owned by disabled individuals.

Pikat is recognized as an outstanding trainer and leader throughout Indonesia, and her organization, InterAksi, is renowned. As such, she works with organizations in other cities, sharing practical tools and insights to build a broader movement.

The Problem

In Indonesia, people with physical and mental disabilities face discrimination that severely limits their access to education and employment. Most live in poverty, have difficulties finding decent jobs, and are dependent upon their families or charitable handouts to get by. Of the disabled who do work, most are forced to accept unfair positions as sub-laborers in small clothing or electronics shop. Even worse, with many having a low sense of self esteem reinforced by societal attitudes, some turn to stereotypical means of making a living, becoming masseuses and often beggars.

Rehabilitation centers serving the disabled population are generally considered insufficient, because individuals are taught a single skill—for example, how to make doormats or dresses— but not how to design or sell them. In addition, to participate in rehab centers, people are often uprooted from the communities in which they live. Ultimately, such programs simply reinforce dependency without helping people learn to solve their everyday problems.

Like rehabilitation centers, national advocacy programs for the rights of the disabled do not address their real needs. Few people with disabilities participate in planning or monitoring public policy. Even when laws to ensure their rights exist, the laws are neither widely known nor implemented. International organizations and citizen organizations (COs) tend to find solutions in drafting national laws or ratifying international conventions that generally involve segregating people according to their disability, for example, by establishing organizations that are exclusively for the blind or the deaf. Such organizations ultimately create barriers for building solidarity for a broader movement.

In cities and towns throughout the country, people with disabilities face unemployment and limited access to education and public services. While these public concerns generally fall under the duties of governmental agencies, the problems facing the disabled are relegated to the department of social welfare, and charity provided by local COs. Consequently, the disabled become the objects who are taught a skill, but not how to ensure access to public services at the municipal level.

The Strategy

Pikat works with disabled individuals and community groups to provide leadership and practical skills training in how to start small businesses. In 1999, she created the organization InterAksi to help her carry out these goals, as well as develop and expand more systematic ways to engage the disabled in advocacy. Today the eight staff and 20 volunteers include disabled and non-disabled individuals, with disabled people holding the majority of decision-making positions.

As more individuals began setting up their own businesses, Pikat created the Association of Disabled Micro-entrepreneurs (ADUM). ADUM’s routine meetings provide a forum in which the 45 members can share their successes and the problems they face related to their business endeavors. Within ADUM, a team of mentors regularly visits members to discuss their problems and help find solutions. Part of what makes ADUM unique is that it brings together people from different socio-economic classes with different forms of disabilities together to empathize with each other and help solve the struggles they all face. ADUM members are now inspiring other micro-entrepreneurs and acting as a civic force for economic and social rights.

Members of ADUM and InterAksi work together in training other people with disabilities and reaching out to new communities. They have developed books, CDs, DVDs, and even a radio station to help disseminate information to a wide audience with different forms of accessibility. Pikat also takes part in national forums of organizations working with the disabled in addition to leading trainings, cross visits, and apprenticeships at InterAksi. This has allowed her to spread her vision and ideas to other potential leaders in cities in East Java, Bali, and Sumatera.

Pikat believes that by being involved at the planning stage of development, rather than passively awaiting charity programs, disabled people can change the way government officials and their agencies interact with them. As a result, members of ADUM now engage support from several regional agencies, including those overseeing cooperatives, manpower and trade. For the past nine years, Pikat has worked hard to encourage civic engagement among the disabled, particularly by promoting involvement in urban planning meetings, and she continues to do so into the future.

The Person

The youngest of seven children, Pikat grew up in a village in Central Java. Her father was the leader of their sub-district and her mother was a teacher who left her job to care for Pikat when she contracted polio at the age of one and a half. Her mother continued to be active in social work in their community as Pikat grew up, and instilled in her daughter the notion that life has meaning when we work to help others.

Though Pikat attended regular schools as a child, she was not allowed to take part in activities such as scouts or sports. In her second year of high school, she was finally allowed to join in those activities, which motivated her to excel academically as well. After completing grade school, she was accepted into the leading national university in Surakarta, where she chose to study to become a civics teacher. To her disappointment, she was moved into the special education department to train as a teacher for handicapped children. To protest her treatment, she dropped out, and joined a private university, where she was introduced to student activism both on and off campus.

In 1990, Pikat graduated with a degree in public administration and began to apply for jobs to support herself. Over a period of three years, she applied for 54 positions and was rejected by all of them. In fact, when she actually passed a test to be a civil servant in the Department of Information, they refused to hire her after seeing she had a disability. When she finally got a job working in the provincial capital, she quickly learned that she could not earn enough to survive, so she returned to her hometown and started her own catering business.

The business was very successful and she was considering expanding, until she saw that a position was open at one of the leading rehabilitation centers in Solo. At the rehab center, Pikat developed her skills and became a trusted staff close to the director. In 1998, she expressed her belief that the disabled had to become active in advocacy for their rights, and the center’s director disagreed, claiming that advocacy had no place in their programs. Her response was to start her own organization, InterAksi. Today InterAksi is considered one of the leading organizations of the disabled in Indonesia, and through its work, Pikat is able to spread her vision for the full participation of disabled citizens throughout society.