Female Forward
"We all have a responsibility to sort the mess we made"

#FemaleForward International Ambassador from Indonesia, Vania Santoso
#FemaleForward International Ambassador from Indonesia, Vania Santoso © FNF South East and East Asia

#FemaleForward: What are the most pressing concerns in your country now? How do these impact current trends globally?

Vania Santoso:

1. Access to meaningful participation. There is a disparity between those living in the heart of the city and rural areas, although it is still in the same city. There surely is another bigger gap for those coming from outer cities, be it in terms of access to information, access to internet connection, and others that contribute to the capacity building of young people.

2. Collaboration implementation across sector (Academic-Business-Civil Society Organisation-Government). There was this personal experience keep happening when I brought my tumbler or food container, aiming to buy beverage or food using my containers instead of their plastic ones. They rejected my request, because either that plastic cup is the way they measure the ingredient (so they need to pour it to that plastic first to then moving it to my tumbler, which is useless as they are going to throw it away); or the plastic container is one of the indicators of the sales quantity being calculated (so they still have to give it away to me).

This shows every stakeholder is responsible to make systemic change happens.


#FemaleForward: What circumstances led you to become who you are now? Is this profession a childhood dream for you?

Vania Santoso: My 15-year work on climate action has all started from personal experiences, classified into three main issues: awareness, sustainability, and the root cause.

First, in the 2000s, flood went into my house, although my house is in such a big city of Surabaya. That flood was triggered by people’s ignorance of the environment. Thus, I started co-founding AV Peduli, a youth-led environmental club with my older sister, Agnes Santoso in 2005 to be the platform for young people raising awareness on the environment which in 2006 established as a registered foundation.

Second, the environmental issue was not as booming as now. It was hard for us to do fundraising to ensure our social projects running well. We often got rejected every time we asked for sponsorship from corporates. Thus, we decided to join the Volvo Adventure in 2007, the international environmental competition by Volvo Car and United Nations Environment Programme. Long story short, our innovative home-waste management project was then selected as the first prize winner, received USD 10,000 grant. That was such a blessing, but also a big reminder that we need to make a sustainable plan especially on financial because we cannot rely on competitions only.

Third, the issue of waste management in Indonesia is quite shifting. Many activists and waste banks work on upcycling and downcycling, yet only a few could sell it. Again, it is mainly because of a lack of awareness. Therefore, I focused more on creating innovation on upcycling for using art for education. The objective is not to reduce waste (because reducing waste needs to start from reducing), but really to address the root cause: mindset-shifting.


#FemaleForward: What are the challenges in your field of work, particularly for a woman? Are there specific issues today that make your job more taxing?

Vania Santoso: I think I faced the challenge more because of my age back then. I was doubted and underestimated as I started my work when I was 12. Yet as time goes by, the track record of what I have done is available, so it is easier to convince people, and even better they give respect. It is such a privilege.

However, I admit sometimes sexist humor or stigma exists, such as catcalling while bringing this and that for exhibition preparation, or simply a statement like, “Ah you are woman, why would you play with such a dirty waste,” – which I believe, every human has the same right and responsibility to deal with waste, which is our leftover.

Vania Santoso with her products, heySTARTIC, received INACRAFT AWARD 2015

Vania Santoso with her products, heySTARTIC, received INACRAFT AWARD 2015

#FemaleForward: What motivates you to continue what you are doing in spite of the trials?

Vania Santoso:

1. Emotional attachment: “Look at this glass-rack for our upcycled-products display. This is (bought) because of the waste (from heySTARTIC’s order)!” while showing her new glass-rack at her house. This kind of sincere appreciation coming from people we empower at heySTARTIC is priceless. Their self-confidence is built, and they are proud to be able to produce not only innovative products but also marketable ones that support their financial management.

2. More to come: One recent relatable example: because of what I have been doing, I am now featured here as #FemaleForward Ambassador Indonesia, getting connected to you all like my new circle, it’s my honor! I am forever grateful that I have met inspiring role models who I adore that now become my mentor, I have kept paying it forward to share what I have learned to other mentees, I have collaborated with other artisans, and yes, I believe there are still many more to come - to move things forward, further.


#FemaleForward: What do women bring to the table of leadership? What is the most important value for you?

Vania Santoso: This depends on every single individual. People say that men are about logic, while women are more into emotion. However, I believe that might happen in reverse too.

The most important value that women (and men) bring to the table of leadership is really, to give the best based on empathy and knowledge: to lead not by fear, but by being considerate to understand what multi-roles to play.

When I was 18 years old, I got a call from MarkPlus Inc. (an Indonesian marketing consultant company). It said I was chosen as “O”ptimist W-O-M-E-N Champion, along with other women leaders representing other letters. This is memorable because then I realized and believe that women are about: Well-being, Optimism, Multi-tasking, Entrepreneur, and Networker – all-important values in leadership mindset to implement as well.


#FemaleForward: What could be done to address the gender gap? As individual members of society, what actions can be made to achieve parity?

Vania Santoso: To not give our own judgment. It is way better to provide the opportunity for both genders and let them decide. In heySTARTIC, people tend to think that this only involves midwives in the production, which in fact, we have both craftsmen and craftswomen. Even, the craftsmen are somehow more expert in terms of sewing!

As individual members, we can always start from ourselves, start from now, and start from the little things to remind one another about the importance of this. If there is sexist humor, we have to be brave to speak up, confronting immediately instead of mumbling behind after the person left. Sometimes, people need a reminder too as they might be not aware of what they are talking about.

When it comes to the environment, every action counts!

Vania Santoso
Vania Santoso, founder of heySTARTIC

#FemaleForward: Women and children are the most vulnerable in disasters. How do we ensure that they are protected when calamities strike?

Vania Santoso: I believe that education is one of the powerful keys for us to unlock more potential, also to communicate our message. Same case with protection, we have to make sure there are more people aware that women and children are the most vulnerable in disasters – which is scientifically true. As everyone is an educator, we can help to spread the words about this.

The foundational works are building the public awareness so they can hand-in-hand helping women and children as the priority when calamities strike; While at the same time, building the capacities of women and adolescent to help the younger children because they are not just object to be protected, but also subject to protect themselves.


#FemaleForward: The most prominent climate activist now is a (young) woman. How does this heighten the awareness on the advocacy of environmental protection?

Vania Santoso: Take it as an advantage, a privilege: “(Young) woman has done the real thing. What about you?” – to empower fellow women that women can contribute, as well as to challenge men to take action at their capacities. When it comes to the environment, every action counts!

Product heySTARTIC, upcycled from cement bags

Product heySTARTIC, upcycled from cement bags

#FemaleForward: In your show, what formats do you employ to raise awareness and engage more people in the issue of climate change?

Vania Santoso: Through the tagline “Artistic outside, ethical inside” of heySTARTIC, we promote three pillars:

  1. Sustainable Fashion: heySTARTIC makes the innovation for upcycling to be more fashionable so people (especially Indonesians) are no longer underestimating upcycled products. Instead, they can be proud of, and at the same time, be willing to transform from fast-fashion into an ethical one.
  2. Art for Education: Saving the world can be fun! It does not necessarily need a rocket-science innovation, but a relatable education for daily life. Thus, heySTARTIC often conducts environmental workshop for public that they can implement.
  3. Circular Economy: We want systemic change, not climate change! heySTARTIC partners with corporates to collect both their unused and used waste and manage it to be useful products, especially for the corporates’ needs.


#FemaleForward: What are your program’s success indicators?

Vania Santoso: As a strong believer of triple-bottom line of people, profit, and planet, we use this parameter in our impact measurement.