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Mayor Kamil oversees Bandung’s remarkable transformation

Interview - August 24, 2016

The city of Bandung is the capital and economic heart of West Java. In this interview with The Worldfolio, Mayor Ridwan Kamil, a former architect and lecturer, discusses how Bandung has become Indonesia’s ‘smart city’ and a hub for ICT and the creative economy. He also discusses project financing and invites investors to be a part of the city’s remarkable transformation.



Before you were Mayor of Bandung, you were a professional architect and academic. How did you come to be mayor? Within the context of the World Islamic Economic Forum, what role can Bandung play in creating better relations and understanding around Islam?

I have never considered myself a smart person, but I have always been a quick learner, I love to learn. Before I was Mayor of Bandung, I was an architect and a university professor, so bureaucracy is something new for me. After three years in the job, I am amazed to see how power can change civilization when it is practiced in the right way.

I am the product of direct elections. In Indonesia we are adopting this Western form of democracy, which means people like me, who are outside the political norm, have a chance to be elected. I am not a political party member, I am not a movie star, I’m just a regular guy, but I was the only one in the campaign using Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This is an important message to the West, that in a Muslim country, we have direct elections that are peaceful and democratic.

I was educated in the U.S. at UC Berkley and I am part of a generation that was educated overseas and then returned to the country with a global perspective. In that sense I see Bandung as the perfect diplomatic vehicle to the world in a time of global uncertainty around Islam. I really want to send a message to the West: come to Indonesia, come to Bandung to talk about Islam. When people think about Islam, the West always thinks about the Middle East, they never speak to the silent majority, which is me. Indonesia’s Muslim population outnumbers the entire Muslim population of the Middle East. Despite this, in terms of dialogue, we are never really invited to the table for these discussions.

In the future Indonesia needs to be included as a larger part of the dialogue, and Bandung should be used as a setting for this. Bandung is well qualified for the position; in 1955 Bandung hosted the Asia-Africa conference that liberated many countries in Asia and Africa. For this reason we are called the solidarity capital of Asia and Africa. We need to talk about Indonesia beyond just the economic perspective; lets send a message to the world that we have an open invitation to discuss these complex issues.


Well one example is that I built the city square not using public money but using CSR (corporate social responsibility) money.As you say, a key strength of Indonesia is its democracy and stability, especially with so many diverse cultures in one country. How is it possible to have such a harmonious society?

There is no economy if there is no political stability. Compared to the instability in places such as the Middle East, we have not seen instability in Indonesia because we are unique. We are bonded not by religion or languages, but by one universal value system and that is Pancasila. Without Pancasila I have no idea how we can bring together 700 languages, 400 ethnicities and 17,000 islands.

Bandung is a model city, it is representative of Indonesia, we have 4,000 mosques, the highest per capita in the country, but we also have bars, clubs and karaoke. We are an open-minded society, so it all works together. Bandung is also very open to social media; of the 2.4 million people living in the city, 2.1 million are Facebook users. We are lucky to have such a connected and engaged society, Bandung loves to be engaged through public participation, so we need to be accountable to them.


Bandung has undergone a remarkable transformation during your time as mayor, how have you initiated and funded your projects?

Well one example is that I built the city square not using public money but using CSR (corporate social responsibility) money. This year I also built four junior high schools, a record number for schools in one year, also with CSR money. This shows that building the country does not necessarily need to be dependent on government resources. I was part of an international business before this, I had projects in the Middle East, in China and I have used this network to help Bandung, which is why in the last three years I have received more than 50 international institutions that want to engage Bandung.

Now as a city of 2.4 million, and with six million people visiting the city every year, we require better infrastructure. I am focusing on transportation projects including the monorail, LRT, cable car, electric buses, highways and hospitals. Bandung is the capital of West Java, so with healthcare and education, we also need to cater to the surrounding areas.

These projects will require a significant budget, but in the last few years I have found a problem in the way Indonesian cities spend their money. Our cities are not progressive enough; we finance 100 percentmostly through the central government, which is not nearly enough. For example, my annual budget for development is $300 million. Now, over five years that is $1.5 billion to spend on everything, however my planning team translated my vision for Bandung and it was more or less $6 billion. I am short $4.5 billion, so Bandung either needs to wait for nine mayors to finish the job, or you fund things in a creative way.

Last year I flew to London and I learned about public-private partnerships (PPPs) in Nottingham. I went to Spain and many other places to find a way to build a city without relying too much on government funds. There are really two options, municipal bonds or PPPs. Indonesia is not really ready for municipal bonds, but with PPPs you bring the products and you already deliver the highway and the monorail and then we pay for the long-term lease.

Bandung is the first city to really push this agenda. I lobbied the President and I said that Bandung needs at least $4 billion, and if you multiply that by the 500 cities in Indonesia, that is $2 trillion for city infrastructure. That number needs to be communicated to the world, we need to invite investors to Indonesia and tell them that besides federal projects there are city projects. So in Bandung we have set up a PPP center so investors will have an independent unit set up to accommodate the process.

So with 2 trillion opportunities, I am inviting investors all over the world to come to Indonesia to take this opportunity and get involved in city and regional infrastructure projects. Bandung is growing at nearly 8 percent% and economically it is a great city to be a part of. that. Perhaps more importantly, we are happy. To me, this is the most important indicator.


What is the main strength of Bandung in terms of its people? What makes it such an attractive investment destination?

In terms of the economy, Bandung does not have natural resources or energy resources, so human capital resources are our focus, which means I am focused on having a more creative economy in Bandung. Part of this is our aim to become the Mecca for Muslim fashion. This is only logical as the biggest Muslim population is Indonesia and the most fashionable city here is Bandung. We have the talent and we have the fashion industry nearby. So we can become the Paris of Indonesia, a real Muslim fashion hub in the next five to 10 years.


Another part of this creative economy is attracting international businesses to Bandung to use it as a base. What success have you had with this so far?

Anything related to creative economy should be based in Bandung. The creative economy has 13 different sectors and one of the 13 is ICT. I am creating these ICT hubs everywhere, much of it hidden, where we have fitted out old buildings with the best technology. They are our so-called ‘guerilla workshops’. Beyond this, one of our flagship projects is the new ICT park, which is six hectares dedicated solely to technology and called Bandung Technopolis.

This year I secured $100 million in investment from UTC, an aerospace production company in the U.S. They are going to be based in Bandung Technopolis. They chose our city because we have world-class engineers that live in Bandung and beyond that our population is young; 60% are under 40, and highly educated, as we have 50 universities and research institutes here. Investors can use Bandung to tap into the 50 million middle-class Indonesian consumers, or they can use it like UTC, which does not actually sell into the Indonesian market.

Currently, I am in talks with Apple, which is thinking about opening a startup workshop in Bandung, similar to the ones they have in Brazil. I am coordinating with MENKOMINFO (the Ministry of Communication and Informatics) to use Bandung as the base. Additionally, I have already secured an animation business for Bandung with 600 employees. It is clear that investors are already seeing the value.


Bandung is Indonesia’s smartest city, with innovation at the center. How will you take Bandung to the next level of smart city?

I define smart cities into three types, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0. For 1.0, which is already finished, we digitized data and made that data open to the public so people in Bandung can now see how much I spend in my budget. For 2.0, which is what we are doing now, it is about interaction with the public. Initiatives include the scorecard for feedback and checking the progress of projects online. Another thing is transportation apps for people to check bus schedules and capacity. These are simple things that help people in their daily lives and create less stress. The next level is the smart city 3.0, which is building machine-to-machine communication. For example, I am building apps that can check things like a leaking pipe, which would be sent to the relevant maintenance crew and fixed. This is very exciting for us in terms of the amount of things we will be able to handle.


Bandung is certainly a model city, how are you sharing this success with the rest of Indonesia?

Of course, I do not want the success of Bandung to be ours alone, I have reached out to and spoke with all the Mayors of Indonesia and told them that we have 300 apps, and they don’t have to budget them for themselves. Twenty cities have already signed MOUs (memorandums of understanding) with me to use my software. Two months ago the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and MENKOMINFO voted us the smartest city in Indonesia. Now, my mission this year is to spread the smart city to all underprivileged cities that do not understand the smart city concept. Of course, when I say I saved $150 million because of the e-budgeting software, they are very interested.

Bandung is also the President of the Smart City Alliance for Asia and Africa and that is where my practice of smart cities is being spread globally. This really supports our position as the solidarity capital of Asia and Africa; in 1955 it was about decolonization, now it will be about smart cities.


Businesses have already felt the impact of some of these smart city initiatives. How do you see the ease of doing business in Bandung?

Previously, we would frequently receive complaints about how difficult it was to register an SME in Indonesia. I knew that I needed to find a revolutionary way to have SMEs register here problem free. With the decentralization of power to my office, I was able to push these reforms through on a local level. I made registration free, no permit and everything to be done online. After six months we have 30,000 businesses registered, so it speaks for itself.


What lessons could WIEF delegates take away from your leadership strategies?

I think number one is visionary political will. Sometimes you can be smart but if you do not have political will, there is no change. Political will needs a concept, a master plan and clear blueprint. Bandung is a success because its innovation inspires others. The Mayor himself has to do the trailblazing, but my leadership is always from the middle. This is the best place to lead from. If you are in front, you might leave people behind because you can’t see them. In the middle you can push those out in front of you and drag along those lagging behind you.


When communicating internationally, how would you brand Bandung and Indonesia?

I am always consistent with Bandung; we are the Indonesia’s home of creative minds. We have built a completely creative eco system. More broadly, looking at Indonesia’s brand, I have to say simply that Indonesia is the next big thing. We are not yet the biggest or the fastest, but we are on that track now.

However, going back to what I mentioned at the start, in the long term, I hope that Indonesia can be a peacekeeper and facilitate dialogue between the West and Islam, a bridge to reach the West with Bandung as the setting. As open-minded Muslims of the silent majority, we need a voice.