By: Felicia Widjaya
The path to pursuing social impact is not a linear one. For Brurce Mecca, his interest in environmental activism is a gradual process of discovery. With his thick-framed glasses and toothy smile, Brurce gives off a laid-back and friendly first impression. But when he spoke of his work as an analyst at Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), his tone grew increasingly serious as his hands more animated.
Brurce graduated from ITB with an environmental engineering degree. When he received a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree abroad, he applied to Yale University without knowing then that Yale’s environmental science program was one of the most prestigious and competitive schools. The acceptance letter arrived, and Brurce ventured out of his hometown, Bandung, to a small city halfway across the world, New Haven. Yale was Brurce’s first time in the US. His two years there introduced him to like-minded peers who shared his growing passion for social impact.
After graduating from Yale, Brurce chose to root his ambition in a career that advances the interests of marginalized communities in Indonesia. These communities — most of them located in remote areas of the country — are those directly impacted by consequences of climate change. By listening and engaging with their issues, Brurce planted his commitment to promote social good in a cause that is, in his words, larger than himself.
Interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Can you tell us more about environmental activism?
There are different types of environmental movements. Campaign organizations like Greenpeace fall into the category of grassroot movements. There are think tanks (organizations providing advice for environmental problems), such as the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Climate Policy Initiative (CPI). But think tanks are sometimes involved in campaign work too. In my work at CPI, I travel around Indonesia a lot because I have to work with the local governments. Then there are donors, like the World Bank, European Climate Foundation, and others. These foundations allocate money to environmental movements.
What does a typical day look like at CPI?
A typical day includes many meetings with government officials from different ministries to discuss policy problems. I also do a lot of traveling to Kalimantan and Sumba to help local governments with technical stuff such as reforming fiscal policy or helping them switch from timber production to more sustainable production methods.
Have you always been interested in environmental movements since your undergraduate years?
At first I wanted to go to civil engineering because I was interested in development and infrastructure. ITB allowed us to explore during our first year so during that time I learned more about environmental engineering. I learned that every human activity produces excess material. For example, if you build a road, the impact is not just physical in terms of water and air pollution. There are also social impacts such as the displacement of people. The idea “improving people’s lives” can have a negative impact on marginalized people.
So you majored in engineering in college. You were also surrounded by engineers during your undergraduate years. Have you ever faced the dilemma of choosing between personal stability, such as prestige and wealth, versus social impact?
I wasn’t always interested in the idea of social impact. It was a gradual process of discovery. I was an intern at a mining company in college and was involved for a while in a training program by McKinsey, a consulting company. Both experiences didn’t work out for me. I understand how important stability is, but I also realize that “stability” is relative. If you work for private sectors and you have all the money you need, you may not have time for yourself to do something you like. For people who are “financially stable” according to society’s standards, I believe that they have their own struggles too. I chose my own set of struggles and accept the comfort and discomfort that come with it.
Some people are interested in social good while some people aren’t. How would you say your upbringing affects or shapes the way you are today?
Firstly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong if you chase wealth. What people think is right and wrong is relative. Personally, I’m interested in doing something professionally to alleviate people from poverty in a sustainable way. My circle of friends is my support system. They all work in different sectors, but we are all supportive of each other’s work. The idea of people working in non-profits as all good and “angelic” is not true, but the common ground of people working in this sector is that they’re drawn to a cause that’s larger than themselves.
Do you think that caring about social impact is a privilege in itself?
I admit that not everyone has the privilege to care about social impact. There are millions of Indonesians who are just trying to make it to the next day. I would say it’s like a self-perpetuating cycle. To care about social change, you need to be in a comfortable position, socially speaking. In order to bring social justice, you also need to be conscious of where you are in the social ladder.
Would you say your education in America taught you to be more open-minded?
When I was at Yale, I hung out with a lot of people who are interested in environmental justice. They are interested in bringing justice to marginalized communities. From my experience of seeing my friends who are so passionate about such things, it empowers me. But as someone who grew up in Indonesia, different approaches are necessary to make effective changes here. I noticed that in Indonesia, we are more conscious about class. For example, we still call people who are older than us with an honorific. Indonesian society accepts this hierarchy as a default — we embrace this class system. Americans, in my view, try to set the social setting as “classless” as possible, at least in an educational setting. This cultural difference matters if we’re talking about the sociopolitical contexts that shape Indonesian environmentalism. What works in the West will not work the same here. Being in the US gave me the privilege to not fantasize about the Western utopia because fundamentally, our cultures are different.
How would you explain the importance of climate change to people who don’t understand/don’t care?
Most people don’t know, and because they don’t know they don’t care. People only care when they feel the consequences directly — such as flooding and air pollution. So we start by finding relatable examples and keep the topics engaging so they can picture the long-term narrative. It’s unfortunate but Indonesia is one of the countries most affected by climate change.
Did any of your values change in the past year?
Last year, I was half-working, half in school at Yale. A lightbulb moment for me was accepting that after school, I would still be clueless. I was worried because I felt like I was still not aware of reality. Watching people move at a fast pace without knowing their backgrounds feels frustrating. I grew to accept that it’s okay to be clueless. You have your own pace, but just keep walking and take one thing at a time. I will always have questions. I will always wonder how things work, but it drives me to become a better professional and a better self.
This interview is part of our Coming Home series. If you have any further questions or would like to be in touch, feel free to email us at — firstname.lastname@example.org