July 21, 2015

Code for Bandung: Civic Engagement in the Digital Age

While leading a roundtable discussion at a Supporting Civil Society event before his 2013 United Nations General Assembly speech, President Obama remarked that one of the United States’ gifts is “trying to set an example of how active citizens can make a country stronger.” Pandu Kartika Putra, a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program exchange alumnus from Indonesia, would agree with the President’s statement. During his 2009-2010 exchange, Pandu observed the benefit of active civic engagement in the United States. 

When Pandu returned home, he wanted to combine his newfound knowledge about the importance of civic engagement with his technical expertise in computer programming, but wondered how he would find funding for a meaningful project linking the two seemingly unrelated fields. As an alumnus of a U.S. government-sponsored exchange program, he knew that he had access to a myriad of exclusive resources, including the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF), the U.S. Department of State’s annual competition for alumni. Through AEIF, alumni around the world are able to fund creative public service projects. In 2014, Pandu entered the AEIF competition. More than 1,000 project concepts were submitted, but his outstanding project, “Code for Bandung,” was one of 66 winning AEIF projects selected to receive a grant of up to $25,000. 

The “Code for Bandung” mobile application project is threefold. First, working with the mayor’s office, Pandu trained government officials to convert data to a format that complies with open data policies. Secondly, in meetings with academics and community activists, Pandu outlined the many ways open data can encourage civic participation and listened to feedback and suggestions from the community.  Using the new open data, and crowd-sourced ideas from the community, Pandu and a team of talented developers are creating mobile apps that will help improve the delivery of government services in the city of Bandung.  “Code for Bandung” is not Pandu’s first or only open data initiative. With assistance from fellow alumni members of the YES Kennedy Lugar Alumni Association, Pandu hosted the “Bandung Open Data Summit and Challenge.” During the event, alumni considered their respective skills and devised a plan for how they can work together to encourage civic participation and improve their city.  

When asked about how his exchange influenced his professional goals, Pandu said, “Ultimately, the experience has given me purpose to keep moving forward in my life, mainly to give to others and my community.” To date, Pandu has focused on launching local initiatives in Bandung.  But, impressed with Pandu’s innovation and dedication, the mayor of Bandung, Ridwan Kamil, wants to share Pandu’s ideas with mayors around the world. True to the philosophy of open data, Pandu is eager to share his ideas and learn from anyone in the international community, particularly those who are using technology at the municipal level.  

Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Pandu Kartika Putra is this month’s outstanding alumnus, and his work will be recognized throughout July on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official website which serves more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.