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Transgender entrepreneurs build businesses in Indonesia

Coaching is helping transgender people in Indonesia overcome discrimination and make a success of their small businesses.

Feature | Jakarta, Indonesia | 01 September 2021
Lenny Sugiharto outside her restaurant in Jakarta
JAKARTA, Indonesia (ILO news) - Over the years, Lenny Sugiharto has tried, and failed, several times to realize her dream of running a successful small business of her own. The same goes for Arumce Mariska with her fashion business. 

“Our problem is lack of business knowledge and self-confidence to reach out to a larger market and get connected with other entrepreneurs. As a result, we tend to focus on our own community and are unable to sustain our businesses,” said Arumce.

Arumce Mariska with her ready-to-wear business
Like other transgender people in Indonesia, Lenny and Arumce have experienced social discrimination both in their lives and in the job market.

An ILO study from 2016 revealed that only 10 percent of Indonesian transgender people worked in the formal economy. Often unable to access employment or public services and facilities, many in the transgender community live precarious lives in which their health and physical security are threatened.

The lockdowns and business closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have made the transgender community in Indonesia even less economically secure. This prompted the ILO to step up its support with business coaching.

In 2020, Lenny and Arumce along with 50 other small-scale entrepreneurs, were selected to take part in a coaching programme run by the ILO’s HIV/AIDS Programme in the World of Work in Indonesia project, funded by UNAIDS and GED ILO/AIDS.

The programme provided transgender-run start-ups with the basic skills and knowledge they need to boost their businesses. It also linked them to existing small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Early Dewi Nuriana, the ILO’s programme officer on HIV prevention, explained: “Building links with other local entrepreneurs is an important step towards creating a more supportive and respectful environment for the transgender community, and for breaking down the many barriers it faces as they tend to do business within their own communities and have no access to interact with other entrepreneurs.”

For eight weeks, the participants attended a series of online workshops where they learned to draw up business plans, select potential venues, assess start-up and operating costs, and set prices. Twelve participants, including Lenny and Arumce, also received weekly individual coaching and business visits.

Lenny settled on consolidating her small restaurant in Jakarta, where she serves home-cooked meals to her customers. She also used the knowledge gained from the programme to obtain financial support and early in 2021, three months after completing her course, was welcoming customers to her new restaurant, Warung Makcik, in the Matraman area of East Jakarta. Within a few weeks, her menu of local dishes was attracting business worth US$20–50 (between 200,000 and 500,000 Indonesian rupiah) per day.

“I feel a new spirit after having the intensive coaching. I am more confident about starting the business and am motivated to learn,” she said. Using techniques shared during the coaching, Lenny has been testing and adding new menu items, which are also available via an online application.

Meanwhile Arumce has participated in online bazaars, promoting and expanding her ready-to-wear fashion and scarf business. In addition to digital marketing, she learned to transform her shibori tie-dye creations into premium products by using a natural, organic colouring instead of synthetic colouring. She also started bookkeeping and improved her customer service.

“My sales are now increasing, and I am able to expand my business, reaching our customers outside Yogyakarta through online marketing,” she said.

“With transgender entrepreneurs as business role models, we hope to promote equal employment opportunities, and to share good practices that could be replicated by other transgender communities,“ said Ms Nuriana.

For further information please contact

Early Dewi Nuriana
Project Coordinator
HIV/AIDS Programme in the World of Work in Indonesia
Email