Remembering Wimar Witoelar

Ashoka CEO Bill Drayton remembers close friend to Ashoka, Wimar Witoelar (July 14, 1945 - May 19, 2021)
Photo of journalist Wima Witoelar
Source: Siska Doviana via Wikimedia (Creative Commons)

Wimar Witoelar was one of the most amazing people I have known.

As a student, he helped lead the nonparty student movement that played a significant role in ending the Sukarno era. Refusing to join the New Order, he did many other things including designing the Jakarta Stock Exchange and being Ashoka’s first Representative in Indonesia.

In the late 1990s, he was a central figure in bringing down Suharto, including through a television interview program. When Abdurrahman Wahid (one of Ashoka’s earliest Nominators and later the head of the national organization of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)) became Indonesia’s first democratically elected President, Wimar served as his spokesperson. In recent years, he organized groups across Indonesia to study fundamentalism -- with the belief that Indonesia’s “silent majority” will get its voice as its members understand the facts more and feel the power of numbers.

When Wimar and I were sharing dinner a few years ago, he suddenly sat up in his chair and said: “Ashoka has what we need.”

He explained that he and his colleagues couldn’t compete with the attraction of fundamentalism only with criticisms. “Everyone a changemaker” provides the needed positive alternative challenge: In speaking to young people, it, in effect, says “Be powerful now for the good, which will set you up to be powerful for the good for life. And, in doing so, you will be a pioneer in helping bring a far better, far more equal world to Indonesia.”

Wimar was a giant bringing democracy to Indonesia -- and a great friend to Ashoka and to social entrepreneurship.

Photo of Wimar Witoelar and Bill Drayton
                                                            Bill and Wimar in Indonesia, 2017