David Sutasurya

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow Since 2001
Yayasan Pengembangan Biosains dan Bioteknologi
This description of David Sutasurya's work was prepared when David Sutasurya was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001 .


David Sutasurya is preparing the future leaders of Indonesia's environmental movement, creating more knowledgeable citizens in order to further environmental preservation.

The New Idea

Indonesia needs an informed and active citizen movement to safeguard its environment. David is watching the growth of Indonesia's nascent environmental movement with a particular interest in people–the human resources who protect natural resources. David is building a movement for long-term changes in attitude and behavior in urban populations in order to promote environmental conservation. He believes that through environmental education in schools, a change of attitude and behavior can be created in urban communities. He chooses to work with children and youth as he sees them as the future leaders who will potentially bring about changes in the environmental movement. He does this via environmental clubs and youth volunteerism projects, fostering a passion for the environment that students will carry throughout their lives.

The Problem

Artificial "modern" behavior threatens today's children and thus the future generation, reducing the charge that they will conserve if not restore the ecosystem. Innovations in technology have had a negative impact on children's environmental awareness, with an ever increasing share of time being spent in front of television or computer screens. Because the Indonesian school system has separated science from its larger reality and practical applications, environmental education in schools is not an effective means to raise children's awareness and understanding of the importance of their ecosystem. Schools are largely non participatory, with students learning passively. There is little opportunity for students to be critical or creative.
Furthermore, the city lifestyle has led city dwellers to a reduced awareness of the importance of the urban environment for the ecosystem. Problems result from the increasingly environmentally unfriendly or destructive behavior of city residents. This exploitation of nature may aid the desire for a convenient city life, but society's lack of understanding of the bond between humans and nature is such that the gain of one seems to be the loss of the other. Regrettably, this will leave future generations disadvantaged.
There is an insufficient attempt being made in the city to conserve the existing ecosystem. While many campaigns to raise public awareness have been attempted, these have had little impact. The lack of follow-up means these messages are quickly forgotten. The underlying problem seems to be that society lacks leaders who will undertake initiatives to mobilize the urban population's participation in environmental management.

The Strategy

David is working with thoughtful people who are doing thoughtful things. His creation of a lifetime volunteer pathway is the foundation of his cultivation of future leaders in the environmental movement. When others are concentrating mainly on the movement, David is creating the infrastructure necessary for change to take place. He prepares students with appropriate knowledge to become strong volunteers in their field and facilitates student environmental clubs as a means to foster interest and mobilize collective action. By investing in human development, David is laying the groundwork for the strong leaders necessary to bring about needed change, and to conserve and restore the city environment.
The behavior and attitudes of the generation toward their environment depends on how today's children are introduced to and educated about environmental issues. David recognizes the importance of students and teachers as a long-term educational investment. Various types of educational activities have been organized first to draw students' and teachers' attention and subsequently to interest them in further involvement in the program. The process of each intervention is aimed at bringing about changes at the individual and community level.
However, working exclusively with students and teachers in the school environment is not what David plans to do. He sees the school as an entry point to involve the participation of city residents in general. Through the establishment of Student Environmental Clubs (SEC), David has tried to build up a students' community linked to urban society. Currently, there are four strongly established SECs conducting various activities. The establishment of school gardens is an example of students' direct contribution to society. Alternatively, a forest transect–an outdoor environmental activity–serves as simple research on the condition of existing urban forests. In the long run, these clubs will also participate in the establishment of organic city parks.
In 1998 David launched the City Torch program, providing environmental education and outreach programs for urban school children in conjunction with teachers and the City Parks' authority. This program encompasses work in schools, parks, citizens' organizations, and businesses to educate urban residents and rehabilitate urban green spaces. To promote City Torch, the Adopt A Child program was developed to encourage individuals and institutions to provide funds to underwrite the participation of young students in the City Torch program. While urban students are engaged in the urban environmental movement, ecotourism tour guide training has also been conducted for volunteers living near the Gunung Gede National Park. This program was initially a joint activity with the management of the park but is now run independently by the volunteers. David is aware that tourists from the city who care about nature and visit the park are an important group to reach in helping to promote public environmental education.
In 1995 David developed a camping program for students as an alternative conservation education activity aimed at giving students an informal environmental learning experience. By the end of the program, it is expected that students will have developed an emotional bond with nature. He has been working with many junior high schools surrounding the Gunung Gede National Park and, in 1998, he began working with 10 junior high schools surrounding a city park in Bandung. He and his foundation conduct this program once a year and around 40 students from one school participate each year. Following the camping program, David developed environmental education modules to teach the bio-science class that forms part of the standard school curriculum. The modules are developed in such a way that students are allowed to be creative and participatory. Furthermore, David created a tool kit for teachers to support the modules and provided practical training for the teachers on how to use the tool kit. He also facilitated a three-day Teachers' Ecological Footprint training aimed at providing a practical exercise for teachers to understand the impact of an individual's daily consumption of natural resources. Recently, to meet increased demand from the schools, David set up another program for students, involving a one-day visit to a national park to conduct a class. Through games and simulations, students were able to discuss how a natural ecosystem functions and affects our daily lives.
The SECs and teachers associations have proved effective in supplying youth volunteers drawn from high school graduates. Since 1999, there have been 10 graduates and two teachers who have become volunteers. This means that approximately 10 percent of the students who participate in the camping program have become active in the SECs and have graduated from the schools, eventually becoming volunteers in the environmental movement. The volunteers' support is not limited to the facilitation of the development of SECs, as they also participate in educational programs. David and his foundation provide workshops, on the job training, and apprenticeships in other organizations to volunteers in order to provide them with the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to become leaders of the environmental movement.

The Person

David's interest in the environment dates back to his early school years, when he began to persuade his friends to take nature walks with him. His inspiration came from many sources including a weekly TV nature program, adventure books, and a particular teacher of nature studies. However, during his schooling and especially his university years, David was disappointed with the quality of education and supplemented his studies by embarking on a library study course of his own. He also initiated an informal student group that challenged the initiation ceremonies and other regulations of the university. He feels that these activities, and also his experience at Wetlands International (he "negotiated" with his lecturer to allow him to conduct his field study with them), were good preparations for his present role within YPBB–the Bio-science & Biotechnology Development Foundation–as he gained organizational skills and further increased his dedication to challenge mass thinking.
While still at university in 1993 studying biology, he established the YPBB with the aim of increasing student interest in biodiversity. In an effort to start influencing the thinking of his friends about his passion–the "beauty and art of biology" and its relevance to everyday life–he began building a group of actors and campaigners for environmental conservation in order change the mindset of participants regarding environmental matters. They held discussions and made field observations, as David's approach from the outset was to create direct experiences that leave a strong impression on an individual's emotions and perceptions about nature. At first, he struggled to get the cooperation and interest of others, but now he has an eager and devoted support staff and volunteers. David has read widely and found himself devoted to the theory of deep ecology. He is able to translate this into practical terms by effectively linking different projects. Drawing on his experience from a program around a national park, in 1998 David started to transfer his work to the urban environment. He soon discovered that working in an urban setting is very different from working in a rural one, as he found that the urban students very much favor technology, like computer games. The period from 1993 to 1998 was a learning period for David and led him to his current focus.