LEADer/ Change in Bali

Photo Resa Cahya on Unsplash

Photo Resa Cahya on Unsplash


Manila, 25 July 2018 — What is happening with plastic in Bali is a wake-up call and an opportunity for leaders to influence positive changes.

Morning of the World. That is how Bali was called by Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister and a prominent independence leader, when he visited the island in 1954. He was impressed by Bali's people, their culture, and its beautiful natural environment.  

The subsequent decades saw Bali transform into a global icon, a tourist destination of choice for millions of people, driven by a concerted central government campaign that also promoted the island's unique Tri Hita Karana (three sources of wellbeing) philosophy.

Today, like most places in the world, Bali is changing fast. Its culture and environment are feeling the pressure from economic development, population growth, and environmental challenges. More and more people are now paying attention to the quest for sustainable growth and how it can be achieved.

In this post, we will look at the example of two award-winning leaders for sustainability in Bali who are influencing positive changes through their work and have inspired me with their leadership. 

Yuyun Ismawati Drwiega

Yuyun Ismawati Drwiega is an environmental health specialist who has focused intensively on solutions for Bali's water, sanitation and waste management problems. In 2009 she was awarded the prestigious Goldman prize for her work. Watch her acceptance speech here.  

Photo Goldman Environmental Foundation

Photo Goldman Environmental Foundation

In July 2018, Mantra magazine featured an in-depth interview with her about the environmental problems in Bali, and what can be done about them. Read the story here.  

An accomplished scholar, social entrepreneur, and the co-founder and senior advisor of BaliFokus Foundation, a Bali-based environmental NGO, she shows herself to be a passionate advocate of tackling urban environmental management issues, climate change, environmental health and sanitation, toxics issues, and the promotion of Zero Waste Cities.

Among the early successes in her team's work in Bali was the introduction of an eco-rating for hotels on the island that continues to operate until today. Her team also proved that local initiatives by poor urban communities could be effective so solve their water and sanitation problems.

Currently, she is also active in international networks for a toxics-free future and a movement to break free from plastic. Earlier in her career, Yuyun Ismawati was selected to be a LEAD fellow, an Ashoka fellow, and an Ancora Scholar.

In her leadership work to influence positive change, I observed how she engages actively in the champion leader and thought-leader roles. These are two of six non-executive leadership roles identified in the research of Taylor et al in 2015.

Melati Wijsen

A world without plastic is also on the mind of Melati Wijsen, a young Indonesian-Dutch leader raised in Bali and a fresh graduate of Bali's renowned Green School.

In 2016, I interviewed Melati and her sister Isabel about their remarkable initiative to co-found Bye Bye Plastic Bags, a movement driven by young leaders in Bali. Read their story here.

Photo Green School Bali

Photo Green School Bali

The movement, which started when Melati and Isabel were 12 and 10 years old, keeps growing and has spread to many other countries and cities around the world.

In 2017, Melati and Isabel addressed the United Nations General Assembly about the need for sustainability leadership. Later that year, they were awarded a prestigious Bambi award in Germany for their work to conserve our earth.

Follow the story of the Bye Bye Plastic Bags movement here, and watch the duo's inspiring talks, including their TED talk in London.

In her Instagram profile, Melati calls herself "Human Raised in Bali • activist || ♐️Sagittarius || 🌱human doing."

I love how she ventured beyond human being to human doing. It highlights the 'working out loud' behavior that many young leaders demonstrate nowadays.

Back in 2016, Melati defined leadership as "the ability to show compassion and motivate others to follow what you believe in.” Her message was that young leaders don’t have to wait until they are older before they can take action. 

Bali's problems with plastic are complex, and the result of human behavior by people living and holidaying on the island. However, that's not the whole story. Some of the tons of plastic that wash up on Bali's beaches every day come from the ocean.

To find out more about plastic pollution and how it affects the island, Melati and fellow schoolmates recently embarked on an expedition circumnavigating the island of Bali on a repurposed boat, to take a closer look at the problem. Watch the blog of their Keliling Bali expedition here, with its fascinating video reports.

For me, Melati's work with her team shows how she engages actively in the champion leader and the enabling leader roles, while also making big strides to establish herself as a thought leader, who authors much of her material in the form of videos.

Melati and her fellow activists and human doers are hoping that the day will come soon when visitors landing in Bali airport will be asked if they have any plastic bags to declare. Sounds far off?

When I landed in Rwanda two years ago on the way to a leadership training in Uganda, the cabin crew reminded the disembarking passengers that bringing any plastic bags into the country was strictly prohibited.

Influencing positive change is possible!

Yuyun's message in her interview with Mantra is clear: "For everyone to thrive and to enjoy a good quality of life, we must allow the island to recalibrate for a balanced culture, environment and development." 

Melati is equally clear: "Youth can make change happen."