by Jennie S. Bev
In the eyes of international audiences, Indonesia's image is less than a rosy. Due to lack of good publicity, this beautiful archipelago's name connotes corruption, avian flu, terrorism, discrimination, copyright infringement, poor banking systems, and, above all, human rights abuses. While it is true bad news travels fast, and good news needs a push, running Indonesia as a "business" might be the answer. Although the country does not need to run its business with capitalistic-only mind, but with a focus on image and brand.
Both business and political experts agree image has the so-called "pull power," which translates to the ability to attract or influence positive attentions that are likely to result positively in the long run.
In the business world, such activity is called branding. In politics, borrowing a term coined by Joseph Nye, a Harvard professor and former dean of the Kennedy School of Government, it is called polishing soft power. Good news is, creating a good brand is not rocket science.
Branding strategist Peter Montoya might not agree with the notion that "brand" is synonymous with "image," whereas he believes that the former is much more than what an exterior looks like but more importantly how others feel and perceive about a particular person, or an artificial entity, such as a country. Here, however, we use the term "image" and "brand" interchangeably for efficiency. In general, Montoya said that a good "brand" or "image" comes from a concoction of the works of both psychological and societal variables.
Good branding matters as much as hard power, borrowing Nye's terms "hard power" and "soft power." The former refers to a country's military and economic capacities. The latter refers to the attractive elements in the forms of agendas, attractive attributes, and co-operations, which are likely drawn from institutions, values, cultures, and policies.
Indonesia certainly does not have much hard power, but its other attributes are known to be one-of-a-kind, which can serve as powerful soft power elements.
First things first, the more universal the values and interests, the better the desired outcomes, compared with narrow values and parochial cultures.
While it might be true to some extent, as the world is getting more and more borderless, or "flattened," as coined by New York Times' columnist Thomas L. Friedman in The World is Flat, this concept is obsolete. Benedict Anderson in his masterpiece Imagined Communities said in an anthropological spirit, the definition of "nation" is an imagined political community and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. He encompasses "community" in nationalism, not a geographical location, and it applies well in today's flat world.
Learning the lessons from America, whose brand has been internalized in most cultures, good or bad, the imprint left in people's minds is the result of hundreds of years of conscious "branding" effort. It is evident that both of those who love and hate America do perceive it as the leader of today's unipolar source of power. Its values, cultures, policies, and institutional visions and missions are perceived as quite provocative and often cause stirs among various groups.
Other emerging powers of the world, such as China, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand are known as very smart soft power players as well. As examples, China is renowned for its panda diplomacy and Japan is with its great industrial designs, in which cuteness and efficiency transcends all kinds of barriers. South Korea with its martial arts, such as Tae Kwon Do, which has become one of the sports competed in the Olympics, is another excellent example. Thailand with its well-controlled cuisine quality and tastes that can now be found in most parts of the world.
Learning from this, Indonesia's uniqueness, which most other countries would find irresistible, is an untapped capital. The key is building healthy pride, which can begin with school-aged children.
In addition, providing exchanges in educational, cultural and information endeavors, such as giving out scholarships and fellowships in educational institutions is another effort most countries with excellent brands have been doing. The alumni of scholarship programs are known not only representatives of Indonesia internationally, but more importantly they are "unofficial ambassadors" of the givers' countries. The same effort can be introduced to individuals from other countries to learn in Indonesia.
Learning from our own Bali on how it has become a world's treasure, Indonesia may want to start focusing on cultural activities, as well as providing tourist attractions that are unique and comfortable, without having to impose extreme nationalism on the activities, hence not focusing on the so-called "narrow nationalism." In fact, by embedding international flavors gracefully, Indonesia would be able to overcome the stereotype of being an extremely conservative nation, without compromising our eastern values.
Many analysts say "soft power" is the power of popular culture. Corporate brands and lifestyle products can penetrate even the most conservative societies. Coca Cola and Toyota are likely to be two of the most common brands worldwide and are likely to be found in countries whose names are hard to pronounce and to memorize. At this point in time, it is hard to find Indonesian brands that are being perceived as international "top brands."
Cultivating local businesses with strong encouraging trademark regulations, along with less complicated business license procedural bureaucracy are probably two of the most urgent issues to tackle for now. It is known that it would take more than three months to obtain a business license in Indonesia, while in some other countries it would only take a few days. Efficiency and streamlined bureaucracy are keys to foster entrepreneurial spirit, which would need to be fostered meaningfully to bear healthy fruits. The incorrect mindset of the notion of "quick business licensing approval" only belongs to capitalistic countries should be eliminated.
Learning from China with its panda diplomacy, one of Indonesia's rain forests' inhabitants can be chosen as meaningful symbolic ambassadors. In the spirit of gift giving, hospitality, and friendship, there are many things that can be done to foster better understanding.
While those are the vehicles of branding, to become meaningful soft power elements, it is imperative to include good conscience and good virtues as the motor. It can only be exercised by exemplary people with a good balance of heart and mind elements, which can be started with re-training the existing or future Indonesian diplomats to be less feudalistic and be more down-to-earth in actions and lifestyle.
The Jakarta Post, October 17, 2007