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How Indonesian communities organise their own social security

Many poor people in Indonesia mainly rely on their family members, neighbours and the local community as a social safety net. One of the forms of aid from the community is called ‘jimpitan’ in Central Java. PhD candidate Ayu Swaningrum researched how this social security system works.

If people from Java fall ill or a family member dies, they receive support from the local community in the form of money or rice. This type of social security started with small quantities of rice being collected. ‘Every household placed a small cup of rice in front of their house’, says Swaningrum. ‘These were collected and then distributed among the needy in the community.’

Jimpitan, particularly in Wonosobo, has been conducted since at least 1950s. It was intended to support the massive program of five-years plan for development in which the rural community development was the most crucial part.  

In recent times the rice has been replaced by a financial contribution. Alongside helping the sick, the money raised also goes towards cheap loans for needy people in the local population. ‘There is little or no interest on these loans’, says Swaningrum. ‘And it’s an easier way to get a loan this way than from the bank. You just ask someone from your own community and there is no complicated paperwork.’

Setting up a business

Jimpitan doesn’t just create a social safety net but also, potentially, can generate employment, Swaningrum explains. ‘The Indonesian economy is for a large part supported by the informal sector. Jimpitan helps people set up their own micro-business. One of the residents I interviewed used it to buy a few ducks, for example. He could then start breeding with them and eventually sell the eggs or the offspring.’ 

Jimpitan also helps preserve the community’s social, economic and cultural values. ‘Jimpitan is sometimes used to fund cultural activities, religious ceremonies, memorials and various activities during public holidays.’

Sharing ‘indigenous knowledge’

This form of social security and support is also found in other areas than Central Java but then with different names. ‘Most parts of Indonesia have a form of jimpitan. In West Java such systems are called “perelek”, and Purwakarta even has an electronic system, “e-perelek”.’ In West Sumatra, it is called ‘bareh saganggam’. Such indigenous forms of social security are also found outside Indonesia, for instance in the Philippines, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Liberia.

‘These kinds of practices and the knowledge on which they are based are gaining more recognition from academics and development workers, but the general public is not yet aware of it’, says Swaningrum. She sees it as her task to share this kind of ‘indigenous knowledge’ and hopes to start work as a lecturer.

Text: Tom Janssen
Photo: Unsplash

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