As my time in Jakarta comes to a close, I think it is important to give an overview of the organization I have been working for over the past five months.
The Center for Indonesia Policy Studies (CIPS) is an independent, non-partisan think tank based in Jakarta. But what exactly is a think tank? To be honest, it is quite different from my expectations. A part of me thought it involved people getting together in a room and brainstorming different solutions in real time. That is certainly a part of it, but a think tank is a separate entity designated to conduct research and analysis on behalf of another organization. CIPS is quite a unique think tank because not only does it conduct research and analysis, but it also advocates for its reform through events and a strong social media presence.
Fundraising is a critical area for any type of organization, but especially for non-profits. Many think tanks and civil society organizations (CSO) in Indonesia work on behalf of the Indonesian government or are contracted by them, and their analysis relates to the interests of those who hire them. One of the things that makes CIPS stand out is their neutrality. CIPS is funded by grants, partner organizations, and individual donors that share CIPS philosophy and appreciate this neutrality to ensure the best policy reforms. This reputation as an independent and neutral think tanks allows it compete with organizations more than twice it’s size.
Indonesia would be considered a “protectionist” country. Policy-makers in Indonesia tend to favour barriers to trade in an attempt to protect local farmers. Although, noble in cause it has been argued that these policies negatively impact both farmers and consumers. Even though Indonesia is one of the largest producers of rice in South East Asia, it struggles to meet the national demand for rice. Without trade, prices rise and increase the inaccessibility of Indonesia’s most staple food source. This year inflation has been particularly bad for rice prices. CIPS argues that public policies like these continue to impact the openness, and thus, prosperity of the country. As the largest classically liberal organization in Indonesia, CIPS researches and recommends policy reforms that incentivize market openness, free trade, and private initiatives; an analytical perspective that is supported by modern economic theories.
CIPS’ research has three main focus areas: Food security and agriculture, economic opportunities, and education. The research teams at CIPS are segmented by these categories.
All research findings are published in policy papers, policy briefs, or discussion papers. Each publication is designated for a target audience along the public policy value chain. For example, policy papers are the most in-depth and analytical publication. However these papers can sometimes exceed 40 pages, thus most public officials are too busy to read them in full. Policy papers are then more directed towards academia to increase the literature within Indonesia that supports classical liberal perspectives. Policy briefs, which range from 6-10 pages are a more appropriate policy reform tool to engage policy-makers. Whereas discussion papers are aimed towards the general public and address current trends.
Once a paper has been published, CIPS’ external relations team will work hard to market the publication and get it into the hands of the right people. However, CIPS doesn’t just host events whenever they publish findings. CIPS has now become an eminent player in the events space for NGOs and CSOs. Annually they host up to 50 online and in person events throughout the year. CIPS DigiWeek, the organization’s flagship event, brings together both public and private stakeholders to discuss and collaborate solutions to opportunities and threats within Indonesia’s digital landscape. Indonesia has one of the fastest growing digital economies, not only in South East Asia, but in the world. Designing secure and efficient digital infrastructure is critical for Indonesia’s economic success, and CIPS has become the catalyst for endorsing multi-pronged efforts by establishing CIPS DigiWeek.
Lastly, there is CIPS Learning Hub. Although CIPS Learning Hub has yet to be officially established, it will soon make up a large portion of the organization. CIPS Learning Hub is an online network of lecturers and university students designed to restructure the narrative surrounding free trade and open market policies. CIPS will coordinate and design content for lectures who are established in the network. As plans stand, the rest of CIPS social media content will likely go through CIPS Learning Hub. The platform will therefore grow beyond simply a network, but into the entire external relation production space.
CIPS has recently established a monitoring and evaluation department to track and improve effectiveness of their research and recommendations. Policy reform is an extruciatingly long process. Most recommendations take years before they are reviewed and implemented. A prime example, prior to Covid-19 the Indonesian government were considering a national prohibition on alcohol. Many provincal and regional governments had already established the ban, so CIPS researched the effects of these policies. CIPS found that the prohibitions weren’t doing enough to curb alcohol consumption, and what was worse, drinkers were substituting for a dangerous bootleg liquor called opsolan. The studies even found that under the prohibition, there had been a rise in alcohol-related deaths, significantly among university students. Thanks to the CIPS study, the Indonesia government overturned the ban. However, it took a couple of years for the government to respond to the evidence. More recently, this year CIPS found a certain policy in the agricultural sector had been reformed in favour of recommendations CIPS had submitted nearly 5 years ago! So as you can see, policy reform is a patient process, and monitoring and evaluating recommendation are challenging but important.
The other departments at CIPS are related to operations which include the HR team and the finance team. Each team is small, but highly effective. The HR team are responsible for coordinating staff events and the numerous – and I mean numerous – birthday parties. My predecessor, Kieran worked closely with the HR team and was responsible for the successful implementation of Monday.com. (If Kieran is reading this, she’ll be happy to know that her legacy is in tact and thriving.) As for the finance team…well, you can imagine what they do. The finance team must coordinate budgets for each department, each unit, and each team. They process funding requests from the researchers, the events staff, and the media relations team. Given that CIPS funding comes from multiple sources, potentially in inconsistent amounts, it is quite a lot of work for a small team of two people.
I hope if you are reading this and considering interning at CIPS, that this post helps you understand the organization better. For myself it took some time to find my place at CIPS. Not because the people weren’t welcoming, that couldn’t be further from the truth, the “cipsies” are lovely. No, it was challenging because there hadn’t been the opportunity to curate it this information yet. Like I have said policy reform is demanding and thankless work that requires tons of resources. That is why it is important for interns like us to go to organizations like CIPS and make ourselves available.
My time at CIPS has been spent consolidating and distilling CIPS organization somewhat for funding opportunities, but mostly for internal purposes. It has never been easy to distill CIPS’ succinctly because they have a broad product line and each service they offer is diversified in its own right. However, if/when you arrive at CIPS, you will find paper summaries, powerpoint presentations, and instructional videos that will help you learn about the work CIPS does and the culture that exists there. This will be mine and Sierra’s legacy at CIPS. So when one of the executives asks you what area of the company you are interested to work in, hopefully you will have an idea of where you can be of service.
But one thing is for certain, after six months you will leave your own legacy and will forever be a “cipsie”.