M. Yamin

Ashoka Fellow
Mataram, Indonesia
Fellow Since 2002


This profile was prepared when M. Yamin was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
In a timely response to a historic opportunity, Yamin is recreating the banjar, a customary council of village representatives, to foster the growth of democracy. After decades of top-down rule in Indonesia, which bred citizen mistrust of new institutions, Yamin sees that the banjar can be an important model for grassroots participation in public decision-making. He has turned the banjar in his own village into a membership organization that is open to all classes of society and devoted to public education and service.
The banjar has several functions. It is a forum in which members discuss local and broader issues, such as education, laws and local regulations, and social justice. It is also an action-oriented body that, using member dues and other income, implements social programs ranging from a revolving loan fund that puts loan sharks out of business to programs that put teachers in classrooms and encourages parents to contribute to their children's education. But the banjar's most important role is as a training ground for the new generation of local leaders who will be instrumental in shaping Indonesia's emerging democracy. The present gap in leadership–one legacy of an authoritarian history–can be filled either by well-trained leaders with good intentions or by party operatives and opportunists; banjar is one institutional mechanism that can help people prefer the former. When villagers are asked to elect their representatives, those representatives who have served villagers well on the banjar can stand as candidates. But regardless of who ends up on the councils, Yamin sees the new banjar as an important vehicle for monitoring councils and ensuring their transparency. Yamin's idea is a model for encouraging citizens' engagement in emerging democracies elsewhere.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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