By: Julia Kalmirah, Regional Manager, Papua And West Papua Office.

Written on an afternoon in the Hamadi Beach-Jayapura, 18 October 2020.

Spanning an area of more than 40 million hectares, Papua is the last frontier for Indonesia's tropical forests, which is home to great biodiversity and mineral resources. Papua’s vast natural resources have attracted investors, tropical forest experts, researchers, national institutions and international institutions. Political and human rights struggles have always been a part of Papua since its reincorporation into Indonesia by the Dutch in 1963. These two issues are often the dominant force in media coverage on Papua.

Located near Sumatra, Papua is divided into the two provinces of Papua and West Papua. The Papua Province is further divided into the seven customary areas of Mamta, Saereri, Animha, La Pago, Mee Pago, Domberai and Bomberai with a total population of 5.7 million. More than 270 indigenous Papuan tribes are spread across these seven customary areas. Such demographic and geographical condition is one of the reasons why Papua's nature has remained relatively untouched.

It's been three years since I joined WRI Indonesia. A memorable moment from my early days with WRI Indonesia was a brief conversation with Mr. Koni, the Director of WRI Indonesia. "Does WRI have any specific agenda that I have to address in Papua?" I asked before leaving for Papua. "Ask WRI Indonesia's people to be more militant and make sure to keep a low profile in the development of WRI Indonesia there," Mr. Koni said in a short and casual message.

In the first two months, I met many people from senior activists to local governments, university representatives, traditional leaders and religious leaders. I then decided to run WRI Indonesia's operations from Manokwari, West Papua, a simple provincial city. Around that time, we were preparing for the International Conference on Biodiversity and Ecotourism (ICBE) in October 2018, which involved many Papuans as well as national and international stakeholders.

Several key aspects that have been addressed by WRI Indonesia in Papua are:

1. Cooperation with universities

Early on in WRI Indonesia's work in Papua, we began to draft a memorandum of understanding with different stakeholders, including working with the University of Papua (UNIPA) in the procurement of our office. We had our own reason for the decision to choose a university for our office. From the beginning, the vision was for WRI Indonesia as a research institution to collaborate with universities. WRI Indonesia had little prior experience gathering data/information or conducting studies in Papua, so this collaboration was key to enable mutual support and capacity building.

In addition to UNIPA, we have also collaborated with the Cendrawasih University (UNCEN) and the Ottow Geissler University. A few WRI Indonesia’s programs that were directly focused on the universities, such as the development and strengthening of UNIPA and UNCEN as the Center for Geospatial Information Infrastructure Development (PPIIG), became our entry point for conducting joint activities with these universities. Both UNCEN and Ottow Geissler have provided a workspace for WRI Indonesia’s team in Jayapura.

WRI Indonesia's support in Papua includes improving university accreditation, especially in research and service. We are currently focusing on trainings, joint research and technical assistance for producing scientific papers that are publishable in accredited national and international journals. We also provide discussion spaces, including by inviting speakers to provide public lectures or open discussions through the Tanah Papua Learning Circle.

2. Cooperation with the government

To formalize cooperation with the government, WRI Indonesia has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the local governments of two provinces. This Memorandum of Understanding serves as a foundation for WRI Indonesia’s involvement in the local governments’ programs, including as a technical team for matters that are relevant to WRI Indonesia's work.

From our interactions with the local governments, both provincial and district governments, we are grateful to see that the local governments see WRI Indonesia’s excellent human resources and quality technical assistance, including for field activities, trainings, and research.

3. Cooperation with Civil Society Organizations

Building openness and trust with civil society organizations is a part of our work in Papua. Once we have established relationships with the local governments and universities, we began to approach institutions in Papua and West Papua. We explained WRI Indonesia’s goals in Papua and future cooperation opportunities.

We designed our programs neither as an intermediary institution nor to provide grants. Our approach is to work together to design and implement the programs because we believe that collaboration is essential to making an impact. We are part of the civil society organizations that work in and for Papua.

4. Establishing a solid working team

When we began to build a working team in Papua, WRI Indonesia’s team consisted of only two people. Currently, more than 30 people from various backgrounds have joined WRI in Papua, both in Papua and West Papua. Our goal is not just to carry out activities according to WRI Indonesia's working plan, but to further explore and gain knowledge for a better understanding of Papua.

The desire to learn, willingness to spend time to establish a relationship, and flexibility in the work contract is vital for WRI Indonesia’s Papua team in maintaining collaboration.

Those are the four key aspects of WRI Indonesia’s development in Papua. After more than three years, we are glad for the excellent cooperation with various stakeholders. This sense of acceptance and cooperation provides WRI Indonesia with the strength to maintain our accountability in Papua.