6 principles we apply to empower Bali’s women entrepreneurs 

March 8, 2024

I have been involved in many climate and sustainability projects, but The Bali Women Climate Entrepreneurs project (which has now evolved into The Matangi Bali Project) has been both humbling and exhilarating, unlike any other. Discussions on women, climate, and entrepreneurship has been a journey of discovery – gradually revealing new perspectives and cultivating an atmosphere where trust and empowerment flourish.

“Matangi” directly translates to “wake up” and embodies the essence of reviving Balinese communities and their symbiotic unity with nature. The Matangi Bali Project aims to develop an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to sustainable growth in Bali.

When thoughts turn to Bali, visions of its mesmerizing azure skies, enchanting oceans and stunning architecture immediately come to mind. Indeed, Balinese culture has embraced the ethos of harmonious coexistence with nature. Renowned for its deeply ingrained and rich cultural heritage, this ethos permeates every facet of its community.Despite being entrenched in patriarchal norms and cultural favoritism towards men, the lasting impact of Balinese culture and its identity, which has fuelled a tourism-driven economy to the island, owes much of its influence to the women. Balinese women, who play pivotal roles in various spheres of life – be it within the family, in economic pursuits, or in upholding traditions, are often overlooked. Their culture places the responsibility of shaping the nation’s next generation squarely on the shoulders of mothers to instill cultural values such as moral integrity, spirituality and environmental consciousness.

How will these women, deeply rooted in community values yet constrained by a strong patriarchal system navigate the path towards climate entrepreneurship? It’s a question that invites exploration.

Here are six valuable learnings that have shaped my perspective on this project.


1. Admitting and embracing the unknown

The first and most crucial lesson learned is admitting our own limitations. Rather than succumbing to preconceptions, we chose humility and opted to inquire. We met the women entrepreneurs where they are, seeing the world through their eyes. Understanding the context and cultural nuances has been essential in tailoring our program to the unique challenges women in Bali face.


2.  The art of community and collaboration

To overcome deeply ingrained cultural practices, collaboration with the community is key. The Matangi Bali Project actively contributes to the growth of the community while seeking input from its members. By acknowledging that societal change is a collective effort, we empower women to step into leadership roles and challenge the status quo.

3.  Setting realistic expectations

Navigating the intricacy of Bali’s patriarchal landscape comes with challenges. Setting realistic expectations has been crucial. Our goal was never about changing millenia-old cultural beliefs. Instead, it has always been about recognizing that men and women are capable of equality and that entrepreneurship is a pursuit open to both genders.

For generations, Balinese culture has embraced the ideals of a circular economy. Amid rapid urbanization and burgeoning tourism, these concepts seem to have been overlooked.

Our goal is to shed light on the untapped economic potential inherent in these principles, fostering a diverse range of economic activities across Bali. The profound impact of COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with the cessation of tourism, has understored the urgency of our mission.

We are steadfast in our commitment to position entrepreneurship as a key catalyst for economic resurgence in Bali. While the path might be bumpy, the commitment to progress remains unwavering.


4. Beyond ‘preaching to the choir’

It’s not enough to preach to the perfect-sounding choir. Instead, we orchestrate concerts, inviting others to listen and sing along.

Choosing to become an entrepreneur is a career path that is often frowned upon by many Balinese. Countless individuals have expressed that it can be a solitary journey, which frequently acts as a barrier to actively participate in climate efforts. This applies even more for mothers, who may only find time for such pursuits once everyone else is asleep.

This can compound issues such as diminished self-esteem, resulting in a lack of competitive drive, especially amidst existing biases against local products and services in a landscape heavily influenced by foreign perspectives on sustainability, often perceived as superior or even ideal.

Creating inclusive spaces where diverse voices are heard and valued is crucial for fostering a supportive environment for women entrepreneurs.


5. Respecting women’s agency

We strive to unlock a path where every woman can chart their own course. Empowering these entrepreneurial spirits goes beyond mere encouragement; it’s about honoring their autonomy and granting them the reins to shape their own stories.

Picture this: women juggling countless responsibilities, squeezed for time, and stretched thin by limited budgets. Yet, amid these challenges, they persist, prioritizing the needs of others while silently battling the stigma of environmental indifference. In the northern reaches of Bali, an economically disadvantaged region where meeting basic needs takes precedence, these women are unfairly scapegoated for their plastic usage, despite it being a convenient and affordable option for them.

And did you know? In the realm of waste management education, it’s the women who consistently bear the brunt of blame, their shoulders weighed down by the burden of societal expectations.

These stories form the basis of our understanding for running this critical project . Our role is simple yet important: to stand beside them, offering support as best as we can, to navigate their entrepreneurial journeys with confidence and resilience.


6. Meeting halfway

By continuously assessing the program’s needs, we ensure that we are making a tangible difference in the lives of women entrepreneurs. The impact goes beyond economic success; it extends to personal transformation, newfound confidence, and a deepened sense of belonging within their community.

At each twist and turn, we encounter multiple challenges. It’s a voyage that demands patience, empathy, and a whole lot of collaboration. Despite these challenges, we remain committed to being responsive and resilient. We’re ready to transform the insights gleaned from the grassroots levels to innovative solutions, ensuring we always meet those we support.

As we embark on the second phase of the program, these learnings will serve as our guiding light, propelling us towards innovative solutions despite gender barriers within the climate sector in Bali.


The Matangi Bali Project

The Matangi Bali Project aims to develop an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to sustainable growth  in Bali.

Our journey in Bali began in 2021, where we extended capacity building support to women climate entrepreneurs, fostering innovative solutions despite gender barriers within the climate sector. Recognizing the limitations of solely empowering one group, we have pivoted our approach to encompass broader participation, encouraging all stakeholders – including men, women, youth, government,  and communities – to embrace and cultivate leadership organically. This effort ensures that diverse voices contribute to sustainable solutions addressing climate change effectively. 

This project is initiated by New Energy Nexus Indonesia as part of the Bali Net Zero Emissions Coalition with CAST Foundation, IESR & WRI Indonesia. Matangi Bali  is supported by ClimateWorks Foundation and ViriyaENB.