Project Bertumbuh: Chicken, Rice, and a Day

When people ask the Project Bertumbuh team, “What are the top three things you learned in the field?” it can be tempting to respond with a list of about a hundred observations, insights, and opportunity areas. But part of synthesis is determining which learnings should take the highest priority.

That comes in a couple of ways: If an insight has volume – if we saw a behavior again and again across contexts, crossing occupational, gender, income and/or geography lines, we highlight it; if there’s relevance – if it is actionable by our client and last but certainly not least there is the size of potential impact.

There were nine insights with all of those qualities, and one set were around how people in indonesia who make less than 3 million Rp a month think about and store value.

The Giving Factor 

For Indonesians, a gift is not a spontaneous eruption of affection that depends on the giver for size and timing; it is a duty. You must give back to someone what they gave to you: if they gave you rice for your wedding, you must give the same amount of rice for theirs. People will even take out loans in order to give what they deem is a proper gift – regardless of whether they can afford to or not. What’s also interesting is that even though most people we spent time with did not keep budgets or household figures in any kind of written or trackable form, there was a ubiquity to the gift tracking ledger. People log who gave what to them, as well as the timing, quantity and type of their gifts to others. They consider gifts an investment. They see the value of the gift as just residing with the bestower of a gift for now, to be coming back to the giver eventually.

Getting schooled in financial literacy

Understanding finances is completely independent of education or station in life. We talked to entrepreneurs who effortlessly recalled which items sold the most and which products had the biggest margins. Literacy in the conventional sense had no correlation with financial literacy, nor did level of education or tech savvy. The biggest determinant? The kinds of role models people had in their lives. If they saw business people in their community or families, they were much more likely to absorb and understand the fundamental mechanics of money and businesses. Understanding how value is built, maintained, and lost is a part of the fabric of one’s social and cultural ties – and fortunate are those who have friends and family to share the wealth of knowledge.

Piggy Bank or Chicken Bank?

Finally, we saw that people have different ideas about how to keep money. While some people saved it in a bank account, most turned a paycheck into cash, or cash into rice or chickens. They would rather have a meal they could eat than a number in an account that could be eaten by fees. Things that could be seen, touched, and counted were much preferred over anything else. Loans were explained this way too. Instead of an interest rate, people understood how much they were borrowing through the amount of days it would take to pay back – e.g. they borrow 20 days worth of pay, but will pay back 25 days worth.

This first chunk of insights had our minds racing with ideas, and of course we got those down on sticky notes. We will add to that stack this week in the frogThink – where BTPN, Dalberg, CGAP and the entire frog Project Bertumbuh contingent will go through interactive ideation and lateral thinking exercises. We’ll be sure to share what’s happening along the way on all the usual social media channels. Also, when my birthday rolls around, if you give me a chicken I will be sure to give you one right back.

Gigi Gormley

Gigi is an American born, Italian-at-heart, former design researcher and strategist at frog. She is passionate about agriculture, gut bacteria and the outdoors.

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