Leadership as Means of Social Change

Wahyubinatara Fernandez and Yasiman
Monday, May 27, 2019

Wahyubinatara Fernandez works as policy advocacy coordinator in the RMI-The Indonesian Institute for Forest and Environment onpeople’s land rights. Yasiman is a 28-year old community organizer working in the community of Korong Wonorejo in West Sumatera Province. 

Both took part in the first training of the ILC Asia Leadership Programme (10-20 March 2019 in the Philippines) along with 18 more young women and men from India, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Cambodia, Nepal, and Indonesia. Here is their snapshot of the programme.

Joining the ILC Asia Leadership Programme was an enlightening experience for us. As individuals whose role is to  mobilize others, we are confident that the materials offered throughout the programme will be useful for us in RMI. Korong Wonorejo is a small community surrounded by tea plantations and Kerinci Seblat National Park. Since 2016, RMI has worked with the inhabitants of this hamlet (Korong), especially young people and women regarding improving their livelihoods.

RMI is a leading organization working with women and men forest dwellers in Indonesia to ensure their sovereignty over land and natural resources. Since the 1990s, RMI has focused on forest peoples' issues, especially around conservation areas managed as national parks. RMI has also been working with communities living in and around State land that is managed by State-owned plantation companies. These situations have limited communities’ access to their natural resources and have even led to the criminalization of  people due to ‘trespassing’.

The communities and RMI work together to address three big challenges. First, the challenge of lack of recognition of communities' rights to manage their natural resources—hydro systems, timber, rice fields, medicinal crops and biodiversity in general, which are part of their forest system, their life, and their livelihood. Secondly, the challenge of women's limited political participation in terms of natural resources management and governance, which expresses the gender gap in our society. Third, the challenge faced by youth, especially those living in rural areas, regarding their access to land, which leads to detachment from their local natural resource systems and a shift towards urban-industrious communities.

We are aware that leadership is needed to overcome these problems. Communities and civil society organizations (CSOs) need to have a better understanding of these challenges. Most importantly, they must have strong leadership within their constituencies. Whether a woman or a man, each person should attain leadership skills to ensure an equal distribution of authority towards one common goal.

Coming to the programme

As young people, we have experienced leadership of various types and have learned from leaders in our communities and organizations. But this is our first experience joining a leadership training. We came to the programme to grasp as many concepts of leadership as possible in order to understand the essential qualities of leadership and how to nurture it within ourselves, our organizations, and in broader society. As we prepared ourselves to participate, we realised that we needed this training in order to understand leadership in a more systematic manner and from perspectives others than our own. Also, our  expectations were to learn from  experiences in different countries in Asia.

The programme has encouraged us to reflect on our roles as young leaders in preserving the connection between our territories and communities. The insights gained in the programme are  useful to strengthening our communities and organizations, and to better internalize the sometimes abstract concept of leadership. Throughout the programme, we realised that our participation demonstrates the importance of young leaders in a global  movement towards a better  society. A successor generation of leaders is needed in Asia to quicken the pace of this movement.

Leadership is a knowledge structure, but also a practice

Reflecting on the personal characteristics  of leadership was eye-opening, and useful to assess our relationship with different aspects of life as land defenders and on our path of being fully human. New concepts, tools and discussions led us to reflect on how we are doing things and how to improve them. For example, the Star Relationships tool[1] is a very handy and applicable tool in reflecting on our activity at the end of the day. Even when not used regularly, it is powerful enough to highlight the negotiation between each relationship (i.e. to oneself, to others, to the planet, to the society, and to one’s God/belief system) and provides insight towards how to improve them.

At the organizational level, tools like the 10 Steps of Community Organizing, COCO-BREAD, and 7S organizational assessment criteria[2] are useful for improving the efficacy of our organization in almost all aspects, and will definitely be contextualized and applied. In the case of RMI, for example, we are glad to see some of these contents, like the 10 Steps tool, are being implemented. The new conceptual insights that are packed in the 10 Steps provide us with a structure for more effective monitoring and evaluation of our interventions.

We also learned from encouraging facilitators, who taught effective facilitating techniques to connect with participants, while letting us learn mostly through games and discussion. This is something we can replicate in our work with the youth.

Learning from field visits

The Ikalahan community and its long struggles for the recognition of their ancestral land  against private sector land grabbing was inspiring. They set a precedent for other Indigenous communities on the management of hydrological systems and agricultural lands. The Malabing Valey Multi-purpose Cooperatives in Nueva Vizcaya also taught us the importance of the willingness to sacrifice for a bigger purpose—founders and first members willingly gave personal time and money to expand the membership—, which is the kind of militant approach necessary to build a strong organization. Another important lesson is how society can gain benefits from a well-managed cooperative, which is rarely found in our country, Indonesia.

Helping each other

Ties with other participants were built based on solidarity and respect. Some of us were mentors, some of us were mentees. We arrived at the training with the motivation and hope to learn from our partners and to be able to transfer that knowledge comprehensively so that all of us can develop our capacities and share our experiences despite languages differences.

Taking the experience to our communities

Communities’ critical awareness is crucial. Other components that are also important are: building local women and youth leadership to be able to participate in local decision-making processes and convey their aspirations, strengthening networks with CSOs and other key stakeholders to perform bottom-up policy advocacy, and responding to the threats to future generations of farmers, which the survival of human beings depend on.

Good leaders are important to guide these processes and to inspire others to peacefully fight for land rights. Cooperation among us is key, and we as young leaders have responsibilities. Sharing the knowledge of the leadership programme with our communities is the first step to responding to the challenges we face, together.


[1] Authentic humanism is anchored on five relationships needed to be nurtured: to self, others, world/society, planet and the transcendent being. The star tool is used to reflect on the state of each one of them by giving a number—from 1 to 5— and forming a star by connecting each point.

[2] 10 Steps of CO provides basic actions and considerations for a respectful and effective community organizing work. The COCO Bread framework addresses nine areas to evaluate community organizing work. The 7S provides criteria to identify organisations’ strengths and challenges.