Mia Siscawati

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow since 1995
Rimbawan Muda Indonesia (RMI)
This description of Mia Siscawati's work was prepared when Mia Siscawati was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995 .


Mia Siscawati is pioneering the field of environmental education in Indonesia.

The New Idea

Mia Siscawati is educating youth and adults about the natural environment. As she pioneers the field of environmental education in Indonesia, she is learning how to spread an awareness of the environment that can change consumer behavior and sustain the kind of citizen action that changes national policy.Even in Indonesia, where vast tracts of virgin wilderness have been "developed" in the frenzied past two decades of all-out economic growth, the idea of environmental education is not new. Mia's multi-pronged approach, however, is unique and original. She is simultaneously introducing environmental teaching into the school system and offering courses on the environment to adults through strategic venues such as botanical gardens. Her method to spread the movement relies principally on a great "renewable resource" - volunteers - and her goal is nothing less than to effect a major shift at the national level in favor of economically sustainable patterns of economic development. Rather than addressing the audience directly, she is building up an intermediary corps of volunteers, teachers and parents to carry her message of environmental protection further.

The Problem

Indonesia's harmful developmental practices–urbanization, industrialization, and heedless mineral and other natural resource extraction–have led to a rapid depletion of the country's rich bio-diversity and the degradation of fragile eco-systems. Policy-makers and the general public often lack full awareness of the problems implicit in the current economic growth pattern, or of the possible alternative paths of development that could afford sustainable livelihoods without undermining the natural resource base. The result is a consistent pattern of over-exploitation and mismanagement of resources.A corollary problem is the public's embrace of acquisitive consumerism without a thought to environmental consequences. The urban population's "modern" lifestyle is environmentally disastrous. Nor are the problems confined to in urban areas; rural agricultural areas are traumatized by "modern" agricultural methods. In order to augment agricultural yields, farmers have increased their use of pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals, all of which are having many negative effects on the land. Farmers are generally not presented with environmentally friendly alternatives to petroleum-based agriculture.

The Strategy

Mia believes that through broad, sustained education efforts, an environmental movement can be forged in Indonesia that in turn can successfully bring environmental protection and bio-diversity conservation. The proper use and management of Indonesia's natural resources is first and foremost through education. In order to create a national environmental education program of this power, Mia targets both youth (through schools) and the general public (through designated venues and the popular media). On the school front, Mia is lobbying for environmental education to be included in the national school curriculum. A pilot project on integration of environmental education into the school curriculum was attempted in two districts by the Ministry of Education in cooperation with the Environment Ministry in 1987, but was temporarily stymied by a lack of interest by the teachers. Her next step, using her knowledge of the departmental structures of the Ministry of Education, was to build an ongoing partnership with the formal "dialogue" for curriculum development between teachers and the Education Department. That avenue shows promise as a way to establish legitimacy with teachers by drawing them into the process of identifying basic principles for integration of environmental education into school curriculum. A recent decision by the Ministry of Education and Culture to devote ten percent of school curricula to issues of local interest and concern also boosts Mia's schools program. Her vehicle for this demarche on formal education is the organization that she co-founded while still at university, the Indonesian Institute for Forests and the Environment. The Institute organizes extra-curricular and other "hands on" activities–such as nature field trips–that bring environmental education to life. It invites experts on environmental education to give informal talks on how to organize and integrate an environmental curriculum. Recent speakers include Dr. Helmut Wittman of the German Ministry of Education and David Holmes of How Hill Environmental Education Center in the United Kingdom. The Institute is also a key contact point of a 27-member Environmental Education Network, which consists of citizen's groups, universities, government agencies and funding agencies. Her approach toward the general public is necessarily more diverse. Since 1994, Mia has organized an environmental program, SIKLUS, for a popular local radio station in Bogor, West Java. She is now organizing off-air programs for listeners such as seminars and workshops on specific environmental issues. The first venue for Mia's innovative general public education program is the botanical garden. This initiative grew from a survey that Mia conducted in 1993 to visitors to the Bogor Botanical Gardens, a well-known, complete tropical garden "museum". From the survey learned that only two percent of the visitors came to the gardens for "educational purposes." Her reaction was to introduce educational tours of the Gardens. These consisted of a guided group tour or a self-guided tour using a map and a brochure. The materials were written to suit different age groups, and a pool of 75 carefully selected volunteers was trained to be guides. The response was encouraging. In 1994-1995, more than 3,000 students participated in Mia's education program at the Gardens. Mia has built up relationships with schools, and parent-teacher groups to encourage them to visit the Bogor Park. She is now targeting 178 schools in Jakarta, Bogor, Tangerang, Bekasi, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Surabaya to participate in her educational programs. She has also approached women's groups, travel agents and banks in her efforts to encourage visitors to the park. Mia has plans to introduce similar educational tours in three other important botanical gardens in Indonesia–at Cibodas in West Java, Ekakarya in Bali (the biggest in the country) and Purwodadi in East Java. As with the Bogor Botanical Gardens, once established, the program will be self-sufficient through the volunteer tour guides/educators. Both the schools program and the gardens program rely on volunteer educators to sustain and expand them. Mia distinguishes between two levels of volunteers–"facilitators" and "intermediaries". Facilitators, after having completed an Institute environmental education program, become formal environmental educators either in one of Mia's programs (such as a Garden's tour) or in their professional setting (a teacher, for example, would extend school environmental education). Some even go on to establish their own environmental education programs. Intermediaries, on the other hand, are people who have participated in Mia's programs, not necessarily with the intention of becoming environmental educators themselves, but simply as interested citizens. They could be groups of younger students or children, as well as the people who accompany these groups such as teachers and/or parents. Intermediaries take the environmental awareness message home and spread it in less structured settings. They are encouraged to become part of the "environmental movement" and are offered a broad menu of ways that they can stay involved. Mia is also exploring the factory as a possible strategic venue. Her exploratory effort here is with Van Melle Indonesia Inc., a large sweets company. Together, they created a project known as the "urban forest for the industrial area". In its first year, the project has created a "green space" around the factory in order to have a balanced eco-system in the area. The project involved landscape planning, environmental education for employees, planting trees to increase species diversity, shade and pollution absorption, monitoring of the "green space", and proper plant treatment. As a result the partnership, Van Melle has become one of the Institute's main funders, and the factory workers continue to care for the trees they planted. Mia is also developing a program for a "demonstration farming village". The idea is to introduce environment friendly farming methods (e.g., organic) and to work together with surrounding communities to demonstrate to them the feasibility and success of this kind of farming. She has developed a demonstration plot in Cisarua, Puncak and is in negotiations to obtain a larger plot of six hectares outside of Bogor to base her project.

The Person

Mia was born in Jakarta on May 29, 1969. As early as her high school days, Mia was interested in the environment and joined a nature lovers group. She did her degree in Forestry at the Bogor Agricultural School and became concerned about the importance of environmental education during her university years. Her parents wanted her to pursue other studies, but she was able to convince them that through working for environmental preservation she would also be helping her society. Her family has a history of social entrepreneurship. Her mother is a kindergarten teacher who developed women's cooperatives, and her grandmother is a retired nurse who has developed alternative education programs for illiterate people (the program was financed from her food catering business). While in college, Mia and some friends decided to found the Institute, which continues to make important strides in promoting the importance of the environment in Indonesian society.After graduation she devoted her time fully to the Indonesian Institute for Forests and the Environment, despite small financial rewards. She is an extremely resourceful individual and has written many papers and newspaper articles on her field. Mia now works full-time at Institute as Director and Coordinator of Information and Education.