Bagus Pursena

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow Since 1992
Yayasan Geni
This description of Bagus Pursena's work was prepared when Bagus Pursena was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992 .


Bagus Pursena is creating a student movement in Indonesia, something that has been virtually nonexistent in the past twenty years. He is setting up a forum for young people in which they learn about the world outside the classroom, become involved in solving the problems of the poor, and learn how to manage such programs professionally.He started in Salatiga, central Java, but has already developed an active network in twelve cities around Java. His dream is to involve more young people in social action work, while making their voices heard and, in the long run, represented in the Parliament and other centers of power.

The New Idea

Bagus and his friends have set up an organization that functions as a social responsibility school for students. Through its many programs, students are exposed to problems, trained to analyze, and are given the skills needed to undertake problem solving. The organization is called Yayasan Geni, and is headquartered in Salatiga, central Java. Its strategic location, close to Semarang, Solo, and Yogyakarta, enables it to recruit students not only from Satya Wacana, one of the most prestigious private universities, but also students from the numerous top-tier universities in these cities.Bagus and his colleagues, organized privately off campus, help students understand and, together, try to solve major social issues facing the bulk of the population. He believes this process instills a long-lasting sensitivity that will make the participating students responsible and effective citizens.To build strength, organization, and experience in the community itself, Yayasan Geni organizes strong, grassroots social programs. By involving students in these projects, and thus marrying student and grassroots activism, Yayasan Geni produces a powerful, complementary force for change that can be replicated virtually anywhere there are universities or institutions of higher learning - lives are improved, perspectives changed, and people empowered to take more control of their social situation and to give voice to their needs and aspirations more frequently and forcefully. For the broader education of the students and community members, Bagus has established an information center that has complete documentation on the projects and cases they handle. It contains information on Indonesian events and issues not available through the press, including materials developed by the group's own research and others from overseas.

The Problem

Since the government has discouraged students from getting involved in political activities, campus activities have generally been limited to culture, sports, and science.This is but one cause of the typical student's insensitivity toward problems faced by people outside the campus. Thousands of people may be dislocated because their village is to be used for a golf course, for example, and university students may well not notice.Bagus is concerned that if this situation continues, university graduates will never become a middle class that cares for or defends the powerless. Since social change generally comes from the middle class, a middle class that literally sees and hears no evil foretells a dark future for the powerless and the country. A responsible middle class can only be born from an education system that is sensitive to the problems in the community, offers training in how to analyze the situation, and allows students to throw themselves into the process of seeking solutions.In the past, students demonstrated their involvement by organizing campaigns to march to the Parliament and demanding that their rights be recognized and that justice be practiced. But after 1978, the Indonesian government passed a regulation stating that campuses are not the place for political activities. Even before the ban, however, experience was showing that protests alone were not enough because after campaigning and lobbying on any issue, negotiations are needed to reach a goal; this demands experience and skills that students tend not to have. Occasionally, concerned students have created organizations that study specific problems, often from academic viewpoints. They have also managed to organize campaigns and marches. However, more often than not, they have been unable to follow up, let alone prepare the local people to handle their own problems. The local communities are also poorly, if at all, organized. They must depend heavily on other parties to fight their fights. But who, practically, is ready to help?Bagus is trying to fill this double gap. Yayasan Geni offers a "real world" education for the students, community organization for the people, and a way for the two to work together.

The Strategy

Bagus and his friends first identify rising problems in society. These are then analyzed and documented. Second, they recruit students and discuss ways to approach and solve these problems.Problems that have been handled by Yayasan Geni include: land rights issues in the development of a large dam, Kedung Ombo; defending the existence of horse-drawn carts; and protecting petty traders who were to be dislocated because their market was going to be renovated. The actions taken include holding meetings with the affected people, acting as mediators in negotiations with local authorities, and linking the affected community private citizen groups that are interested in helping.Through these activities, students learn about, analyze, and handle important and very real cases. This is very different from the usual student activities, which are reactive and sporadic.Bagus also carries out social services for the community around Yayasan Geni. For example, he and his students organized a small information resource center where people can obtain information on development programs or on community organizations and activities in other regions. The resource center also offers courses on electronics and home appliance repair to school dropouts in villages near Yayasan Geni. Bagus and his friends also organized special programs for children, ranging from educational play groups to training in the performing arts. As an organization very much founded upon student membership and participation, Yayasan Geni has to make its activities and operations attractive for students. To accomplish this, Bagus and his friends organize lively discussions on particularly compelling social issues and growing problems in order to arouse the students' interest.With interesting, involved, and even exciting learning experiences and activities, recruiting students is not a big problem; in fact, students travel great distances to participate. Yayasan Geni works very closely with a number of sympathetic campus organizations which help Yayasan Geni to recruit new members.Bagus hopes to influence other student organizations, helping them improve their operating methods and systems. In Semarang and Yogyakarta, several student organizations now plan to copy the Yayasan Geni approach. Through the bulletin it publishes, Yayasan Geni reaches out and hopes to influence many more organizations, especially youth and grassroots organizations.

The Person

Bagus Pursena was born in 1964. He entered Satya Wacana University in 1982, where he initially studied electrical engineering, but then graduated from the education technology department.His involvement in the student movement started in 1987, when problems concerning land rights, especially at the Kedung Ombo dam area, surfaced. At that time, he realized how little the students knew and cared about the issue. It was at that point that Bagus decided to set up an organization that would engage, train, and empower students to make a real difference in the world.As a student, Bagus also took active part in many other activities and causes, including preparing campaigns against the building of nuclear power reactors.