A tale of multinational academic journey, Indonesia’s leading fintech startup, and a floating hospital

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Dr. Amiruddin has multiple academic degrees, over 25 years of banking experience, co-founded a leading fintech startup Investree, and co-founded a floating hospital for the underserved in Indonesia’s remote areas. He believes that life is about a series of events and choices; and so is his. Read his story from how he started in Pekanbaru, received multiple scholarships to study abroad, earned the ‘doctor’ in front of his name, to building a successful venture and foundation to help the less fortunates.

“Alangkah mengerikannya menjadi tua dengan kenangan masa muda yang hanya berisi kemacetan jalan, ketakutan datang terlambat ke kantor, tugas tugas rutin yang tidak menggugah semangat dan kehidupan seperti mesin, yang hanya akan berakhir dengan pensiun tidak seberapa – (Seno Gumira Ajidarma).

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Life is about a series of events and choices. Every day you have to make the choices and whatever choices you made would shape your life. Sometimes the choice is made for you, yet oftentimes they are not. My ex Japanese boss told me if you have 2 choices, choose what is good for you (or your company) though it may be hard.

I would share my story about my schooling days abroad in a more details.

I was born and raised in Pekanbaru till I was 17 years old, a small provincial town in Central Sumatera. I was an overachiever by many standards, not to brag, but academics came easy for me. I always topped my school in primary (SDN9), secondary (SMPN4) and high school (SMAN1). As a kid, however, I was an extremely shy and an awkward, socially.

I was selected to be Paskibraka Nasional 1984. I never forgot the experience. I never was on a flight beforehand, never stayed in a hotel, and it was my first time to Jakarta. This was among experiences that shaped my life. It was truly Indonesia in a melting pot in a utopian Desa Bahagia. The first time I met Agus Harianto from East Java, when we competed to be Lurah (and I won!). We met again 32 years later. I will tell you further later.

When I got back to Pekanbaru after Paskibraka, I got another life-changing experience opportunity. I was selected to attend UWC Atlantic College (UWC AC) in the UK with a full scholarship. I could have stayed and finished my high school in Pekanbaru, and aimed for reputable state-universities but I chose to UWC though it meant I had to do another year of high school.

UWC AC is a two year IB Diploma international boarding school in a 13th century castle that aimed to promote international understanding. UWC AC challenged and grew me as a person. It was a boarding school 170 students in one cohort from 90 nationalities. You had to like people at UWC as you would be in a dorm 24/7 with 3 other people from different nationalities. We studied towards IB Diploma. UWC AC was one the pioneer of IB. As with many Indonesian students then, I took mostly sciences subjects and Maths (I wish I had taken subjects that really interested me then). But academics did not seem to be the center of the experience at AC. Yes, we had to study hard, but non-academic life was more the focus. Students had to join one of the community services, one sport and one arts/culture/music activities. During Fridays or weekend, many prominent speakers came. During my time, UN Secretary General and a winner of Nobel in Physics in particle physic came to give a speech. For a 16-17 years old, it was an amazing exposure that widened my perspectives. Needless to say, I came back as a changed person.

After UWC AC, a few UK universities offered me a place however I did not have any money or scholarships. Sadly, I had to go back to Indonesia. It took a year to get the IB diploma recognized to sit down for the university entrance exam then. It was a forced gap year. I was sad and disappointed that somehow I was in ‘nowhere land’ especially to my parents who had high hopes in me. I managed to work for 3 months in an architecture firm in Singapore, and then spent the year preparing for state university entrance exams in Bandung. I always wanted to go to ITB, the name and the campus was just inspiring. But I failed. That humbled me as I felt I was an over-achiever. Fortunately, I got into civil engineering degree at UNPAR.

I still harbored the dream to study abroad. Coming from a poor family that means I had to hunt for scholarships. After 3 semesters, I saw in Kompas an announcement for a Witteveen Dekker Indonesian scholarship to study economics at Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. The foundation was set up by prominent Indonesians: Radius Prawiro, Arifin Siregar, Kwik Kian Gie, and Prof Witteveen (MD of IMF) and Prof Dekker (Chairman of Philips). I was chosen along with 2 other friends. We had to study Dutch language for 9 months as the degree is in Dutch. What is interesting is scholars are required to join a Dutch student fraternity. It was a completely different sub-culture for me, yet I was glad I joined Rotterdamsch Studenten Corps (het Corps), an all-male student society.  As a result, I do feel I got to understand about the Dutch people better and it forced me to acquire the language faster.

I knew I had to try to finish my degree as soon as possible as I was already 22 years old when I started. I lost 4 years in between (I should have been 1986 high school graduates, but I graduated 1987, plus one gap year, so I joined UNPAR 1988, and I had done 3 semesters civil engineering but then I chose to give it all up and start new at Erasmus in 1990). Despite the new language, and the high academic standards, I was so focused and managed to finish in 4 years which was a record for Indonesian students then (only 6% of the whole cohorts of economics students would finish in 4 years). However, I did feel I focused too much on my academics then.

Sixteen years after my first degree at Erasmus, I decided I pursue a part time Doctorate in Business Administration from University of Western Australia-Business School in 2010. I had always wanted to become a teacher, and I thought once I retire I would teach to keep myself engaged. I completed my DBA in 5 years in 2015 December (including one year preparation stage called Master in Business Research). My dissertation delved into the link between political connections and firm performance in Indonesia. It was a lonely journey doing a doctorate, I enjoyed it tremendously, my sons said I was weird as I like studying.

What did I learn from all the academics journey? Two things: they taught me how to think logically, rationally and in a structured way asking the why and how, and it provided me networks-lifelong friends. All my jobs, apart from the first one at British Gas, due to the networks I obtained during schools. Artificial Intelligence may outsmart us in the memorization parts as Jack Ma said, but to be able to think creatively, ethically, humans would prevail, we are clever-er. And we have relationships between human, deep human, you need to nurture that.

After Erasmus, I went to London to work for British Gas (1994-1995), joined Bakrie Finance (1995-1998), AAA Securities-Head of Investment Banking (1998-2005), Deutsche Bank-Singapore as Co-Head of Capital Market & Treasury Solutions for Indonesia (2006-2011), Nomura Singapore as Head of Investment Banking for Indonesia (2011-2014), SMBC Singapore as Head of Wealth Management for Indonesia (2016-2017). I spent 12 years in Singapore to work, 5 years in Holland, 3 years in the UK to study or close to 20 years total abroad or 40% of my life. I decided to go back to Indonesia in 2018, now my 3 sons are in the UK and US studying. Again, I had to choose, and it is an easy choice, Indonesia is home.

We can discuss my professional works as a senior banker in a separate story. But I want to share two things: my fintech start-up called Investree and a Ksatria Airlangga floating hospital.

Screen Shot 2019-11-23 at 22.43.05Investree is now the leading fintech lending in Indonesia focusing on SMEs B2B marketplace lending. Little did we know then in 2015 when I set it up with other co-founders and 5 employees that we could facilitate 4 trillion rupiah loans to SMEs and close to 180 employees in 4 years. In that fateful October 2015, I had chosen to take plunge into the start-up world at the age of 48. And it has been the best 4 years of my life. Investree’s mission is simple, we want to use technology and data for more access to finance for the SMEs.  We want to contribute to solve the financial inclusion issue. Now we bring the platform to Thailand and Philippines as we see similar “missing middle” credit gaps to SMEs.

With Agus. Photo by author.
With Agus, my co-founder and long time friend. Photo by author.

If you recalled Agus Harianto, after 32 years thru social media, we got reconnected end of 2016. I did not know that the past 10 years he has dedicated his life to help people in remote islands in Seram, Maluku, Papua. He is a surgeon based in Tulehu and got his PTT in Werinama, a remote island 12 hours from Ambon. I was so touched with his story. He said his dream is to have a floating hospital with operating theaters on board so we come to people in remote islands. Again, in that fateful November 2016, we met again in Makassar for the first time after 32 years, and we paid a visit to Daeng Ngamba, a traditional phinisi builder. We made the choice to put 100mn deposits, though we did not know where rest of 800mn would come from. All we had was faith and conviction. The community of alumni of Airlangga University where Agus came from then embraced it. I’m happy to say in the last 2 years, the Ksatria Airlangga floating hospital has helped close to 15,000 people for free including probably 2,000 surgeries in more than 40 remote islands especially eastern seaboard of Indonesia.

Coverage on Dr Amir's
Coverage on Ksatria Airlangga foundation at Jawa Pos, 10 November 2019.

Some people questioned the sustainability of the projects but I was reminded of a few things: “always help people, you may be the only one who does” and “do the least what you can do now, because the least you can do might turn out the be the most significant for others” – Lucielle Hanane Tarejad as quoted by TP Rachmat, and last: to be compassionate is good, but to act on it is better. Please do think of others when you start working, don’t get yourself buried with sales target and next career only. Create your own story. “It’s your roads, and yours alone, others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you” (Rumi).

I have too much to tell but there’s too little time and space. I hope you all success in whatever choices you make, and “may your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears (Nelson Mandela). And my one final advice: do make mistakes, learnt from it, time is a kind friend, it will mature you if you make mistakes. You may not be able to connect the dots going forward as Steve Jobs said but have faith and conviction, make a choice what is good for you, not necessarily the most convenient ones.

And remember to live a truly happy and purposeful life. Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible – (Dalai Lama).

 

 

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Amiruddin
Dr Amiruddin is the co-founder and commissioner of Investree, Indonesia’s leading lending fintech focusing on SMEs. He has over 25 years of banking experience and is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for education, social entrepreneurship, and philantrophy. He also co-founded and sits at the board of Ksatria Airlangga Foundation. He earned his post-graduate and doctorate degrees in business administration at University of Western Australia; and his bachelor plus other post-graduate degree at Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.