Changing the World: Interview with Jerry Winata, Bawah Anambas Foundation

Bawah Reserve, a pristine private island paradise in Indonesia, founded on the pillars of conservation stewardship and eco-conscious mindfulness, introduces the Bawah Anambas Foundation.

The Bawah Anambas Foundation (BAF) is an independent foundation established with the support from Bawah Reserve as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), to help conserve and expand the biodiversity in the Anambas Islands through marine conservation programs aimed at protecting corals, turtles and managing the fish stock on the surrounding barrier reef and implement land-based conservation programs, as well as uplift the communities’ welfare.

The six-island private retreat, with 35 luxurious beach suites and overwater bungalows surrounded by crystal clear lagoons, opened its doors in early 2018 offering guests access to a previously uninhabited marine conservation area in the form of true barefoot luxury. With each element, detail and decision thoughtfully executed to coexist within the island, the foundation serves as an extension to the resort and will be an integral part of the guest experience and the future development of the islands. Bawah Reserve supports the foundation through its CSR in activating Above, Below and Beyond programs to tackle three existing development challenges in the Anambas: Forest Conservation, Marine Conservation and Community Development.

“When we built Bawah Reserve, it was very important that we followed a sustainable operational plan and that we simultaneously give back to the local community, the land and the sea,” said Tim Hartnoll, owner of Bawah Reserve.

Jerry Winata, Head of the Foundation, joined to set the priorities for the foundation, identify the main challenges in the archipelago and to implement a series of programs to address the key development challenges. Winata travelled around the Anambas and spent time in several villages to gain a deeper understanding of the day-to-day life and challenges faced by the local communities. His commitment to the sustainable growth and development of the Anambas Islands is empowering, which made him the perfect fit for this issue’s Coco Icon as we work to inspire you, dear reader, to care for Planet Earth.

We caught up with Jerry to find out all about the work he’s been doing for BAF.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I spent a chunk of my professional life working for development agencies, including the UN and World Bank, working on food security and sustainable development. I then moved to a consultancy role in the UK where I advised corporations on sustainability strategies, as well as how to continue building their business without jeopardising indigenous communities or land. Both sides of sustainability, private and public sector, gave me a full and wholesome picture of how complex it is to address sustainability issues. I truly believe that had I not made the switch from public sector to private sector that I wouldn’t be able to do this work with BAF.

How did you become the head of the foundation?

Serendipity, as corny as it sounds, got me the role of Head of BAF. I met a girl at a party and we shared mutual friends – to cut a story short, one year later she reached out and asked if she could introduce me to her friend, Matthew, who is one of Bawah’s owners. At that time there was no foundation, just a plethora of great ideas without a structure in which to implement them. I then met Tim and since then I was asked to help them put a framework together should they wish to start a foundation to aid sustainability in the Anambas.

The first two months I travelled through villages in the Anamabs in order to understand how the communities live and what their challenges are. I was also keen to find out their hopes and dreams, as well as the opportunities that existed for each village. I presented my findings and recommendations on what they should focus on for the foundation. They took that and then asked me to spearhead BAF!

What drew you to Bawah Reserve?

I wasn’t aware of Bawah before I met Tim and Matthew. I was introduced to them in October 2017 and they invited me to Bawah Reserve to find out what it was all about. As you know, you can’t help but be mind-blown by the nature at Bawah Reserve. Another thing that made me fall in love with it was the story behind its creation and the passion shown by Tim and Matthew. It took them five and a half years to build Bawah as they refused to use any heavy machinery as they were determined for the resort to have next-to-no carbon footprint. The story makes me believe in the passion and commitment behind Bawah Reserve – I’ve met a lot of people with the wealth and intention to do good, but to combine these with the commitment to build something truly different and sustainable is really rare.

During the time you spent researching in order to set the parameters for the foundation, what did you find as being the main trials for the Anambas? 

During my travels across the Anambas, I came to realise that the geographical location serves as a double-edged sword. Yes, the remoteness has helped to maintain its natural beauty as it is quite hard to reach from ‘modern society’, but this also poses an immense challenge to the communities as they’re so cut-off from the modern world. It’s difficult for them to get basic supplies and even services from the government. For BAF, the remoteness makes it difficult for us to implement an educational programme under the foundation.

What would you say is the most special thing about the Anambas?

The most beautiful thing about the Anambas is definitely the people. I stayed with a lovely lady in one village who was so hospitable towards me. I woke up every morning to cakes and coffee for breakfast, and when I’d come back from a day of research there was lunch and dinner provided. On the day I was leaving she refused to take a single cent from me – it made me uncomfortable knowing how little she has and how much I’d taken. My assistant had to convince her to accept reimbursement for her beautiful act! They share an openness and warmth that I’ll never forget.

What are the three main priorities for the BAF?

Our motto is Above, Below and Beyond. Above is forest conservation, Below is marine conservation and Beyond is community development.

Marine waste management for these small islands is my key priority, as it is for many across the world. My second priority is providing alternative livelihood for the communities, which would help marine conservation too through organic farming as an alternative, for example. Lastly, tourism and how to benefit directly from it is a crucial learning facet for these small communities. Tourism doesn’t often transfer into the welfare of the community, so we’re working to equip them with the ability to reap the benefits of the tourism boom that’s about to hit the Anambas.

Do you think that tourism to Bawah Reserve will help to educate Western travellers on the impact our ways of living are having on the oceans across the world?

What Bawah Reserve does is almost hold up a mirror to remind guests about things that they already know but may not be acting on. Highlighting the small things that they can do in their daily life to reduce the strain we’ve put on Mother Earth.

How much of a role with BAF play in the development of Bawah Reserve? 

Bawah Reserve was actually founded first, but the stronger ties between the two will begin going forward, particularly in the positioning of Bawah Reserve. For example, BAF have implemented an organic farm where we educate former fisherman in sustainable farming, where the harvest will be used for Bawah Reserve. BAF also have two marine biologists on site at Bawah Reserve to educate guests on coral reefs, while also working to restore the reefs around Bawah by building and caring for coral nurseries.

What has been the most rewarding part of heading up the BAF?

The opportunity to actually work directly with the community is incredibly rewarding. In previous roles I was so bogged down in high-level administration that I forgot who I was doing it for. Whereas with BAF, I spend so much time on-the-ground with the communities that I don’t lose sight of who I’m doing this for or the objective of what I’m doing. That’s truly precious!

What is the long-term goal of the BAF, in your mind?

We’re trying to develop a model to address some of the fundamental, small island eco-system challenges, starting with waste and conservation issues. The long-term goal is for us to develop a sustainable model for acceleration in other parts of the world, with Indonesia as a priority.

If you had one lasting impact statement to offer the rest of the world on marine conservation and protection, what would it be? 

Maybe not for the rest of the world, but for me it’s definitely to empower the community and the conservation will start. You can’t talk about conservation to hungry men or a woman who’s worried about her children’s education – start with helping the community see the grassroots benefit.


Caoilfhionn Rose

Caoilfhionn is a freelance travel writer who enjoys slow travel and avoiding landmarks in favour of diving into a destination's culture. Instagram: @CaoilfhionnRose

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