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I delivered a program in Jakarta last month.  As I was sitting in a taxi in Jakarta's gridlocked streets, I had the time to have a good look around and observe life on the streets - a welcome change from a hotel and conference room view. 

While I've had many trips to Jakarta, I'm always in awe of the constant throng of people and the seemingly limitless infrastructure developments. I recently read that Jakarta has approximately ten million residents, with almost 14,000 people per square kilometre, making it one of the most densely populated cities in Asia.  Construction is booming, development of a new MRT system and toll roads are just some of the projects I observed currently underway in a bid to support the ever expanding urban population. The city is in an unprecedented period of growth.  It is the fourth most populous country in the world.  With a median age of 29 years, 60% of the population under the age of 39, there is a growing affluent middle class, coupled with rapid economic growth, Jakarta is a city on the move.

Like all emerging economies there are a myriad of opportunities and challenges in Indonesia. The challenge though is having the appropriate business model for market entry into emerging economies such as Indonesia. These markets tend to be vastly different from the home market. 

Having a deep understanding of a country's norms, beliefs and values is paramount to sustainable success. A country such as Indonesia is socio-economically diverse and comprises of more than just one culture, there are differences and similarities between Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi, though they are all in Indonesia. Organisations need to know how to obtain the essential information quickly and effectively and then have the ability to translate this into their business models.

A fundamental cultural trait of Indonesia is the importance of building strong relationships of trust. Friendship and flexibility are essential; who you know is critical.  Here are some quick tips for establishing and nurturing deeper relationships when working in Indonesia.
  • To demonstrate your level of seriousness in developing relationships, organise appointments outside of the usual business hours i.e. lunches or dinners.  Try to avoid speaking about business during these times as the purpose is to become more familiar with the individual and to improve your understanding of their values, attitudes and beliefs. This will help you to also understand how they make decisions, negotiate and communicate.
  • Expect and allow for much more time for meetings, they will be longer than you are probably used to in the West.  Don't try to hurry processes along either - you will likely be perceived as disrespectful.
  • It is important for Indonesians to know the status of the person whom they are speaking with i.e. who is their superior, inferior or equal.  They may ask questions that maybe perceived as personal in their attempt to understand your status, so help them along because the conversation will flow a lot easier when they have this information.
  • Some good conversation starter topics to begin these relationships are family, food, travel, education or even the success of your organisation.
  • Face to face time demonstrates your continued interest and commitment to the relationship.  Don't rely on establishing relationships from within a virtual environment, or just one or two quick fly in visits.

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Best Wishes
Tom Verghese

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  Understanding the Indonesian Landscape





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