Ellena Rachmawati

Ashoka Fellow
East Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia
Fellow Since 2014


This profile was prepared when Ellena Rachmawati was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Ellena instigates a behavioral and cultural change in rural communities by activating them to leverage their own resources for health and environmental development instead of depending on external projects. She overcomes passivity within villages by raising the important issues of health, sanitation, and clean water, and guides the villagers to make their own decisions.

Her work includes teaching the community to change its daily habits. Although this is important in itself for improved sanitation and health, it is also the first step towards wider self-reliance and an important stage in establishing a realistic bridge between the community and outside resources. She goes beyond mapping the needs and resources to engage the communities in what they themselves want to change.

In bringing to light the way in which villages can choose to spend their money – for example, to implement programs to prevent sanitation-related illnesses instead of spending those resources to visit those who have fallen ill after the fact – Ellena opens up a new option for the villages’ financial resources and empowers them to proactively solve their own problems. While local community members generally take a minimal role in managing their own health when a program is directed by the government or a foreign donor, Ellena overcomes this challenge of community passivity by mobilizing communities to creatively use their own resources. Ellena is thus not only changing the perception of the value of local resources, but is also changing the habits and behaviors of community members toward sanitation, hygiene and nutrition solutions.

In practice, prior to establishing an independent healthy village, Ellena and her team make clear to the villagers that they do not bring any funding for sanitation projects. Ellena raises awareness about the causes of sanitation-related diseases and the ecological damage that reduces water discharge. While raising the fact that the government has a very limited budget for sanitation programs while the problem continues, she makes the point that there are no poor villagers as long as they have the money to spend elsewhere.

Once she receives an invitation from the community, she starts with clean water provision – through building water pipes from freshwater sources and community management of reservoirs – as an entry point into the whole interconnected chain of water, sanitation, health, and environmental protection. Once access to clean water is established within a village, the community is able to save money on water management as well as generate revenue by providing it to surrounding villages. This combined with the cost savings of illness-related travel and other expenses, serve as bedrock for community investment.

Ellena has already begun to replicate her model in 47 villages and to train other organizations to bring her model in Papua and Sulawesi.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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