On the Ground in Jakarta


by Curtis Clawson

Since joining Sorenson Impact nearly two years ago, I am frequently reminded of the nascent state of social impact investing.  Earlier this fall, I attended Sankalp’s third annual Southeast Asia Summit hosted in Jakarta, Indonesia. While there, I met with dozens of social entrepreneurs, on-the-ground investors, and local incubators. As the field is maturing, many conferences I attend debate the same three questions: What is social impact investing? How can we help others get more involved in this space? and finally, What is the future of impact investing?

Providing answers to the first two questions would not only require a more seasoned writer but also an extremely nuanced understanding to craft a holistic definition for social impact investing in all its diverse forms. As a student, I am still learning about all of impact investing’s configurations. However, on the future of social impact investing, I am confident my unjaded perspective will be useful, particularly in identifying trends from my recent experience in Indonesia.

Home to one of the most populous islands in the world—and the largest archipelago within  a single nation, Indonesia produces an environment for social entrepreneurship unlike any other in the world. The country encompasses over 17,000 individual islands, and its fourth-largest island, Java, is home to over 100 million people. This complex demographic forces businesses of all industries to prioritize a solution to logistics, which creates a peculiar race for early ventures to shift focus from creating new products to creating innovative distribution models. This applies to social enterprises as well, who provide solutions ranging from closing small-holder farmer distribution loops to providing rural community clinics with affordable health monitoring devices, typically only available in urban hospitals.


Another characteristic I saw in the social entrepreneurs I visited with in Jakarta was the vast diversity in age. Ranging from their early-twenties to late-fifties, founders created a wide range of enterprises from mobile wallet solutions for migrant workers to water sensors for aquaculture fish farmers. The passion for social impact among both older and younger generations is not unique to Indonesia, but has grown during the previous two decades because of the extraordinary opportunities and mindset cultivated by pioneering social entrepreneurs. This mindset of “doing good better” produced a ripple effect that has led fellow undergraduate colleagues of mine across the nation to aspire to long-term careers in social finance.

Like any aspiration, this interest needs to be given the opportunity to be tested. My work as an undergraduate for Sorenson Impact has cultivated a deep determination to make social good a priority in my career. I am confident that as other foundations, policy labs, impact oriented funds, incubators and companies provide similar opportunities, future sector leaders will continue to be developed, leading to the perpetual expansion of socially-oriented finance for decades to come.