John Ndolu

Ashoka Fellow
Rote Ndao, Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia
Fellow Since 2011


This profile was prepared when John Ndolu was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.
The New Idea
An elected Chief of the Kunak ethnic group on Rote Island in East Nusa Tenggara, John is keeping community values intact while simplifying centuries-old traditions that encouraged excessively lavish outlays for dowries and wedding festivities and for similarly costly funeral ceremonies. Having realized that the high costs associated with weddings and funeral ceremonies have long trapped the people of Rote and many other communities in eastern Indonesia in a vicious cycle of excessive outlays and consequent indebtedness, often resulting in the loss of land to money lenders and in failing to make much needed investments in the education of the affected communities’ youth.

Gathering key leaders to discuss those concerns, John asked for help in crafting agreements to transform lavish wedding and funeral ceremonies into more modest ones and capping outlays for dowries at much lower levels than those that had long prevailed. In addition John crafted, and is gaining increasing support for, a new savings vehicle that has already facilitated outlays for higher education for more than forty particularly promising young women and men. Over the past eight years, John has replicated this work, which began in his own and neighboring communities, at the sub-district and district levels, and the reforms that he is advocating have now reached some 130,000 people. As a core component of his work, John has established a Local Customary Communication Forum to facilitate and monitor the new practices and to develop and impose sanctions for the noncompliant. And encouragingly, the spread of John’s idea is demonstrating to Indonesia’s burgeoning population, that even relatively isolated and conservative communities can indeed shed long-honored traditions that are demonstrably counterproductive.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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