“When I worked at Go-Jek, I actually built the people inside it, not the products. I realised that life is not just about money,” Binar Academy founder Alamanda Shantika tells Ajeng G. Anindita.
We meet up with Alamanda Shantika at the school she founded, Binar Academy, at The Breeze in BSD City, South Tangerang. It has taken a one-hour drive – quite a long journey from the centre of Jakarta to a new privately developed planned community that’s being tipped to become Indonesia’s “Silicon Valley”.
Asked why she decided to locate her school there, Alamanda – or Ala as she likes to be called – explains that aside from the obvious potential that BSD (Bumi Serpong Damai) has for future economic growth, she was lucky enough to be supported by the property company behind the huge development, Sinar Mas Land.
Now aged 30, Ala started her career as an entrepreneur when she was 21. First, fashion being one of her interests, she created an e-commerce website for Indonesian brands. When she was 23, she decided to work with her mentor in another company. She embarked on her journey with Go-Jek in 2014, initially as Tech Product Consultant. In 2016, she became Vice President, Product and Technology.
Moving on in 2017, Ala decided to focus on her next brainchild, Binar Academy. This is a social enterprise that aims to transform society digitally through learning and collaboration. Ala sees wide gaps in Indonesian cities’ welfare, and most of these, she thinks, come about because of geographical problems and educational shortfalls.
“So far, the biggest focus in this country is on its major cities like Jakarta, Surabaya and Yogyakarta,” Ala says. “We rarely look at cities like Ambon and Kupang. These have turned out to have so much potential, especially among the youth.
“Indonesia is really big, of course, and many cities are not facilitated, and so they are underdeveloped. The idea is what if we can reach those cities and we can improve their education systems, we can develop their economic welfare as well.”
Binar Academy offers many classes in design and programming as well as app development. Tuition is free and joining is as simple as downloading the app and taking a placement test. The academy is so popular in Yogyakarta that its courses are fully booked until next year. Binar also offers paid classes that you can join without having to do a placement test. The academy has schools in Yogyakarta, Batam and BSD City, which opened last year.
Ala feels that education is the core of life and if she can help to improve learning in small cities, she can help people improve their lives. “Because I think everything starts from yourself. It has to come from the people first. Have you seen enough proof at the train stations? We always think it’s not maintained well. But really, if the people who use the station every day would take care of it, for example, by not throwing trash around, the station would be so much better.”
But isn’t Binar Academy a tech academy? “Yes, for now it is,” says Ala. “My background is tech, so it’s the area I’m really good at. But along the way, I want Binar to be more than just a tech academy. That’s why we don’t call it Binar Tech Academy.” How has someone with a tech background shifted into education? Ala explains that the turning point in her life so far was when she joined Go-Jek and learned from its inspirational founder, Nadiem Makarim.
“Before I joined Go-Jek, life for me was all about money,” Ala says. “I worked for money, everything I did was for money. That idea started to change when I saw how this app could really change lives. When I worked at Go-Jek, I actually built the people inside Go-Jek, not the products. I realised that life is not just about money. I learned about how we could make an impact and give back to society. After that, I sort of have had an epiphany about my life path, which is education. I decided to pursue my dream in education. One of my biggest dreams is to become Minister of Education. I now finally have my own school and I’m running it!”
Of Nadiem, Ala says he is one of her best mentors. “I didn’t only learn about technical stuff, but also how to respect others. He really cares about the (Go-Jek) drivers. He empathises with them, and he tries to improve their lives. It’s the reason why he founded Go-Jek, because he cares that much about society.” Ala’s story about working with Nadiem can be read in her book Purpose: Living in The Process, in which she also describes her life and her struggles, as well as the creation of Binar Academy.
One of the first things you notice when you enter the Binar Academy building in BSD City is a big mural in the common room. It was made and donated to the school by artist Chiki Fawzi. There’s a huge Binar sign and some interesting animals, like a frog, cockroach, ant and snake, in one natural ecosystem. Ala describes it as “Mural Kebaikan”. It contains the values she would like to instill in the students’ minds.
“The ant represents respect, as they always ‘greet’ others when they meet,” Ala says. “Because no matter how smart you are, if you do not respect others that means you don’t respect yourself. Snake represents that you have to always raise the bar, because we want Binar kids to be the best in their area. Frog likes to jump, same thing as taking a leap in your life, you never know whether you will be safe or not, you just have to risk it sometimes in order to be better.
Last but not least is the cockroach. It’s probably one of the most hated animal in the world. But I admire its grit for life. It survives for another 2 days when it’s dying. Again, Binar Academy isn’t just a tech academy, it’s a school of life, where everyone can learn deeper about life.” Says Ala who likes to meditate and play with her newly adopted puppy in her free time.
Ala says 2019 is a challenging year for her as there are a lot of changes in her life, both personally and professionally. But she sees it as a learning process to overcome her comfort zone, to change herself to become so much better in life. “The biggest enemy is actually ourselves. How can we face ourselves, accepting the journey, the lesson, and the obstacles in our life and how can we see that as a lesson to learn.”
Her father suffered a stroke and was hospitalised when Ala was in university. As a result, she had to self-finance her education. “I think that was part of the reason why I always thought about money. But I learned that it doesn’t make you happy. There’s an emptiness in your life when you think only about money and you have no other purpose. I personally felt happier when I found my purpose, which was sharing my knowledge with others.”
Purpose alone turns out not to be enough, though. Ala became ill after travelling for three months after leaving Go-Jek. She learned that she needed to take care of herself in order to help the people who needed her. “I thought to myself: it’s enough, you don’t need to work anymore, and you don’t need more money. It was also a turning point. As of now, I want to have a lot of money not for myself, but so I can help more people! That mindset really shifted my life to where I am right now.
“Life to me is all about rediscovering ourselves. There’s no right or wrong way. It’s just experience. My purpose in life keeps me going. It’s what gets me up in the morning. I have also learned to differentiate between ambition and purpose. When I was a kid, I designed my path. After I graduated from high school, I wanted to study mathematics, become a teacher, a professor and then a government minister.
“Well, if I only held on to that ambition, I would be very disappointed. But I have held on to my purpose, because the goal is simple – to share my knowledge with others. So whether it’s running an academy or being minister of education, my purpose is still the same.”
As the conversation winds up, Ala looks back on her life so far and considers what she has learned about herself. “Being vulnerable is important because I think we can then finally be our true self – be a genuine person. Sometimes, we don’t want to admit that we’re vulnerable. When we’re sad, feeling down, and if we cannot admit that to ourselves, we cannot get up and allow people to help us. So that’s one of the things I’m trying to teach to people in my team. If there’s something wrong with your life, tell us, so we can help you. Self-awareness is really important for building yourself.”