Janice Widjaja and Nadine Siregar are two of the minds behind Generation Girl, a non-profit based in Jakarta that introduces young Indonesian girls to subjects within STEM (ie: web programming, UI/UX design, and robotics). Generation Girl would offer these classes twice a year during the holidays for no cost. The Holiday Clubs teach high school girls, called “Rookies”, one STEM topic per week. The “Mentors” who teach these classes are university students and fresh graduates. The program attracts girls with varying experience from all backgrounds, some even travel from other cities to take part in the program.
Though drawn by a mutual desire to educate the next generation of Indonesian girls, Janice and Nadine have different experiences and inspirations. Janice, a finance graduate from Bentley University, did not explore the sciences even though it was something she was interested in. She thought there was a pre-destined path: study business and continue family business. Nadine, an engineer by trade and Boston University graduate who started her career in Gojek, noticed a lack of women leaders in the tech industry.
Apart from exposing their students to subjects in the STEM field, the curriculum also focuses on teaching soft skills and fostering a sense of community by inviting speakers to the program* and allowing rookies to participate repeatedly. Both founders believe that building a community is essential for a long-lasting and significant impact.
Earlier this year they started a program called Electives where university students and young professionals participate in classes held on a Saturday. Their ultimate goal is to help increase the number of Indonesian women role models and leaders.
In this conversation, we also discussed topics ranging from the challenges in building credibility to the societal pressure many Indonesian girls experience.
Note: The holiday club runs for the duration of the school holiday, but each topic is taught in one-week modules
Can you tell me about your background and motivation before starting Generation Girl?
Nadine: We started it as a passion project among our friends. We all come from the startup world. We realized there weren’t enough women leaders in Indonesia, especially in the STEM area of the startup industry. We decided to do something about it. Our main event is called the “holiday club” where we introduce high school students to STEM and soft skills– we focus on problem solving, critical thinking, communication, compassion and building confidence.
Janice: When I was in high school, I thought I didn’t need to explore the sciences because I will eventually work for my family business, which was an unfortunate way of thinking. I don’t want other girls to think that just because they come from a certain background, they have limited options. By focusing on STEM, I am giving myself the chance to learn something new. I see it as a second chance of getting into a field I am interested in.
How do you think schools and companies can do better to encourage more girls to pursue the STEM field?
Janice: I think schools and companies fail to create a long lasting impact. That is why we want to create a community, so our students can stay engaged, interested and curious. (If you only have one event), the girls can forget once they go back to their daily lives because they might live in a place where (they don’t have much support). A one-time event is not influential. We want our program to be continuously challenging.
STEM is thought to be difficult. Why should girls give it a chance?
Nadine: A big misconception is that we’re trying to drive these girls to STEM fields. Even though we introduce them to topics in STEM, what we’re doing is just exposing them and teaching foundational skills. These skills are transferable to any field. If they participate in our programs and do not like to enjoy it, that’s fine because the role model they get to work with and the foundational critical thinking they learn is something they can bring to whatever field they choose. As for why STEM, there are incorrect stereotypes on who goes into and succeed in the field. As an engineer myself, I believe diversity is important.
How do you measure the success of your program?
Janice: Since we want the girls to be interested, a full intermediate class is a reward for us (since it means they come back after the introductory class). Having volunteers who are interested in volunteering again is also rewarding. This means we successfully created a program suitable for them and have successfully created the next step for them to be involved in the field.
What were some of the challenges you faced in establishing Generation Girl?
Nadine: Branding was initially a really big challenge because nobody knew who we were. We first strengthened our brand to appeal to our target audience. We did a lot of off-line events by going to schools and marketing our programs there, and were also active on social media to market our cause. Every new brand goes through this struggle.
Can you expand on how you managed to overcome the challenge in establishing your brand then?
Nadine: We showed the girls we cared. It was a lot of tough work. I flew back to Jakarta every week (I was living in Singapore at that time) to be physically present, to show the girls they knew we were there. Our pilot program was when the fire kind of started. We had a lot of sponsors like Gojek and Tokopedia. The fact we were partnering with those companies helped establish our credibility. It’s really difficult to show something that is not a tangible idea. The first 6 months were tough.
What’s the most important advice someone has told you or learned during the course of your life?
Nadine: Having a supportive team was really important because when I was in Singapore, I was the only one doing this full time. I felt very alone. Having a co-founder like Janice on board full time has been the most help I could possibly have. Knowing someone is there with me and struggling with me in the transition is really helpful.
Janice: No one said it directly but when I started working with a lot of successful people, I realized a lot of them learned by doing. Keep moving forward and don’t worry too much about the details. There are people who are perfectionists and want to plan everything before starting. If you become a perfectionist who keeps planning without executing the idea, that’s where your progress stops.
What is your vision for the next generation of Indonesian girls?
Janice: The most important thing for me is to go against the social norms. Even though I live in a city like Jakarta, it is still hard for me to go against the social norms. Common norms are girls should get married by whatever age, get a husband of a certain trait. These are simple social norms that aren’t explicitly said or written down but it feels like an unspoken agreement between everyone in Jakarta. I can’t imagine how hard it is for girls who live in a remote traditional village. For the future of Indonesian girls, I hope the social norms are less powerful over time. I hope they become more powerful than these social norms.
What kind of impact do you want to have on girls who take part in Generation Girl?
Nadine: We’d love to help them within our Generation Girl community and to become future female role models. We’d like to present female role models supporting each other but also we’d love to not only impact women but also men. We’d like to see how the perception of how men see women change as well. Impact wise- we’d love to see not just women getting involved but more male championing women as well.