MENA is a social enterprise that collaborates with communities to help utilize local traditions, skills, and the natural environment to help build strong and sustainable local economies. We design culturally-inspired products made by local artisans, help develop locally-managed cultural tourism opportunities, and are working to build horizontal learning networks so that skills, ideas and experiences can be shared between communities for continued growth and innovation.MENA’s values are rooted in collaboration and an appreciation of the cultural diversity and rich environmental resources found in each region of Indonesia. We believe that communities’ traditions, wisdom, and skills should not only be preserved, but that along with the environment around them can be a key part of creating stronger communities. This is particularly true in Eastern Indonesia, where local traditions remain strong but local industry is limited and often neglected or overshadowed by extractive industries and outside investment. Strategic, mutual collaborations built on these values and designed for sustainably offer possibilities for developing local economies and improving livelihoods, thereby reducing social and regional gaps.
How this all started
Most of us met in the middle of 2016 as part of the IKKON (Creative Innovative through The Collaboration of Archipelago) program which was initiated by the Indonesia Economy Creative Agency (BEKRAF). This program aims to create change and innovation with local communities through collaborative partnerships with designers and researchers. Each year the program targets different areas of Indonesia, and in 2016 this included two districts in Sumatra, two in Java, and one in East Nusa Tenggara. Five of us joined the team working in Ngada, the East Nusa Tenggara district.
Using an ethnographic approach to build understanding, trust, and ensure the appropriateness of program activities, we stayed in three communities in Ngada to learn about their lives and the environment around them. We found that people’s daily activities have a strong connection with both their cultural practices and natural environment which resulted in the concept of the “Experience Journey.” In this journey local tourism activities and the production of distinctive local products go hand-in-hand, each enhancing and supporting the development and sustainability of the other.
Our work in Ngada built some strong collaborations and laid the groundwork for some initial products and tourism programs, but included just over four months of work in 2016 along with an additional week of capacity building and wrap-up in 2017. For our team, this felt like only a small first step. Based on the relationships we had already built with these communities we wanted to follow-through with our collaborations. Our initial activities also showed exciting possibilities for building a strong local ecosystem where local traditions and the environment are highlighted and supported in ways that can bring about positive change.
Seeing this promise, we established MENA to continue and expand upon the work that began in 2016. Establishing MENA, however, isn’t just about working in Ngada or even Flores. The word ‘mena’ originates from the Ngada people’s language, meaning ‘east’ in the context of wind direction. While recognizing our beginnings and current focus with the communities in Ngada, the eastern wind also sees the promise for carrying these processes and collaborations across other areas of Eastern Indonesia. We now see that Ngada is only an entrance, and believe that the work and lessons gained from our continuing work there can be shared and adapted in communities across Eastern Indonesia. Sustainable communities, built through mutual collaboration, rising and growing from the East just like the sun. That’s what we want to contribute to as MENA.