Belinda Tanoto: Innovation happens in the frontline, not in HQ

At the recent UBS Philanthropy Forum Asia, Tanoto Foundation Board of Trustees member Belinda Tanoto, shared her insights on how the Foundation tackles the complex and challenging issues in Indonesia’s education system. The event which gathered top philanthropists, eminent business families and influential impact investors in Singapore for two days, provided a platform to discuss latest trends and best practices in philanthropy and impact investing.

Speaking during a media briefing and several breakout sessions, Ms Tanoto shared the story of how her parents started the foundation in response to the phenomenon of young children not being able to finish their studies due to a lack of access to quality education.  Not having finished high school education themselves, Mr & Mrs Sukanto Tanoto wanted to ensure that the quality of education is improved, and that the gaps in resource and accesses are addressed. To date, Tanoto Foundation has provided scholarships for more than 6,400 students in all levels all over Indonesia.

When learning goes both ways, impact is greater

Ms Belinda Tanoto joins panel on innovation and impact on education

Ms Belinda Tanoto joins panel on innovation and impact on education.

Ms Tanoto said that the foundation does not apply a “one-size-fits-all” approach. She said, “When we go to communities, our first task is to listen to their needs. We do not go to communities with assumptions and pre-conceived solutions. It is as much a learning experience for us as it is for them.”

This approach is reflected in all the foundation’s initiatives such as the Pelita Pendidikan programme which partners 329 state and private schools to support the improvement of the quality of education in several rural areas in the country.

“Indonesia is such a vast country, with complex, multi-layered needs. It is important to identify who to partner with so that our work has greater impact. Innovation doesn’t happen at headquarters, but at the frontline. That is why we need to empower our frontline in order to achieve the highest efficiency” said Ms Tanoto.

Pelita Pendidikan provides teacher’s training to enable them to locailse the curriculum to suit community needs. The programme also introduces teachers to alternative methods to engage their students and shift to a more activity-based approach to learning. “We believe that good teachers are not born, they are made. We want the Foundation to provide that platform of learning and growth.”

Streamlining and sustainability

Asked why she chose to concentrate on philanthropy after finishing several business degrees, Ms Tanoto said working in the foundation was no less challenging than working with the business side. “I am able to use the principles I learned in business school to solve real-time, on-the-ground challenges. Questions such as ‘How do you streamline operations?’, ‘How do you optimise resource allocation?’, and ‘How do you measure success?’ help ensure that our impact is always relevant and sustainable.”