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FEATURE STORYMarch 8, 2022

Creating a Sustainable Tomorrow in Indonesia: Najelaa Shihab

Najelaa Shihab is an Initiator at All the Students All the Teachers

For International Women’s Day 2022, we’re talking with women leaders across East Asia and the Pacific who are advancing gender equality today to help create a more sustainable future for all. Najelaa Shihab is the founder of Semua Murid Semua Guru (All the Students All the Teachers), an education movement network that aims to accelerate the access to education, improve the quality of education, and achieve education equality for all students in Indonesia.
How did you get into the Semua Murid Semua Guru network platform? What inspired you?

I believe the betterment of education should be everyone’s mission, not just for those who work as teachers and youth who are still in a classroom, so this is why I initiated Semua Murid Semua Guru network. Based on various data, Indonesia’s education ecosystem is in a state of emergency. It is impossible to push for reform without the collaboration of multiple stakeholders, including communities, educational organizations, corporations, media, and the government. There are too many misconceptions in our education, too few scalable best practices, and to fight this, we need more agents of change – people who continue to innovate, integrating various efforts through continuous collaboration.

If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?           
The outdoors, blue, and books. 
This year's International Women’s Day theme is “Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.” In your eyes, what is the intersection between climate change and gender equality? What do you see as the role of education to strengthen this intersection?

Education is a bridge to the future that should nurture students’ competency to solve complex issues. We are fortunate that the younger generation now has more awareness about these two issues, but educators and adults are responsible for empowering the youth’s ability to act. Becoming a great role model is always essential, but engaging in meaningful reflection together (regardless of how tough the conversation is) has proven to be one of the best ways to discover solutions about things that can happen every day. The more people see that raising a family, building a school community, and of course, developing a nation, requires contextualization and demands the involvement of all ages and genders, the higher our chances are to deal with the environmental crisis.

How do you feel about climate change, and what needs to change? What do you see as the role of education to support those changes?

Climate change requires individuals that have a thorough understanding to act, be able to facilitate, and to lead changes. Education is the battleground as well as the training field where we ensure that this problem is not merely the issue of environmental activists, but a problem for everyone that is going to be solved based on scientific evidence, with empathy and broad-mindedness to our planet and the world. A special theme or subject and short-term campaign in a certain grade level won’t be enough. The sustainability values -- interlinked across disciplines, connected to our multiple roles as spiritual beings, democratic citizens, and caretakers of our biodiversity, need to be embedded in daily teaching and parenting, curriculum, and policies.

What have been the biggest lessons you have learned as a change-maker?
We will not make it if we don’t over-clarify aspiration – which is explaining and discussing the purpose of what we are doing. I have also learned that engaging coalitions – though it might be very lengthy at the initial stage – will advance the cause further. Listening to the counterarguments, finding common grounds and relentlessly evaluating our collective impacts are the keys to accelerate movement.
What do you think needs to be done to ensure more women end up in leadership positions in Indonesia?

We will need more parents who believe their daughters can make it to the top. More brothers and husbands who are supporting the women in the family. And lastly, more women support women. 

What do you enjoy most about your work? 
Learning from the students, getting valuable feedback from fellow educators, spending hours working with and being inspired by the volunteers. 
Do you have any advice for young women who aspire to become change-makers like you?
Believing in yourself is not enough. No one is going to be able to have all the answers and enough energy without believing in other women, men, or anyone that is ready to go through this marathon journey together. Be self-reliant but always choose your circle wisely, expect challenges but always appreciate small victories.

What can we do better to improve or accelerate gender equality in Indonesia? 

Let’s start with increasing trust between multiple stakeholders and stop blaming the victims.

What are your hopes and plans for the future? 

I’m hoping for significant improvement in addressing inequality in education. The pandemic clearly brings long-term consequences that are affecting each and every child. On the other hand, it also brings opportunities to make an important leap that will fine tune our strategies in the future. I will always be the foolish romantic who’s willing to do whatever it takes, putting students first while knowing for sure that most of the things we are working on will only bear fruit beyond our lifetime.

**The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group.


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