A better use for smartphones in Makassar

A small neighborhood in South Sulawesi is showing the way on how to communicate, mediate and thrive.

A better use for smartphones in Makassar AFP Photo/Adek Berry

The Lette neighborhood in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi Province, was for a long time stereotyped as a second-class community of rough, uneducated troublemakers who were frequently involved in violent communal conflicts. In 2013, Alauddin State Islamic University in Makassar (Uinam), in collaboration with a local nongovernmental organization, the Institute for Community Advocacy and Education (Lapar), and with support from the Canadian-assisted SILE Project at Indonesia’s Directorate General of Islamic Education, introduced the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) approach to empowering local Indonesian communities.

The main principles of this approach are that “nobody has nothing” (everybody has different sorts of assets) and that it is the community that must lead its own development. As a result of asset mapping done by the Lette community, its members realized that one of the assets they possessed was youth groups. And most young people use smartphones and social media to communicate, albeit mostly for entertainment. After community discussions, it was decided that smartphones and social media could be used to develop community media to change the negative stereotypes of Lette.

The reason Lette chose community media as a vehicle to change stereotypes was because it gave marginalized people space to raise their voices to counter, or at least supplement, the mainstream media. As they participate in decisions that affect them, the publicity they create becomes a tool that is informative and educational. Community media is a forum in which any and all voices can be heard and to which anyone can contribute.

Before interested members of the Lette community developed their community media, they received training in community journalism. After that, they received coaching from Lapar and Uinam staff on using smartphones and social media to develop the program. Lette’s community media has been running since the latter half of 2015. It has become a channel for the community to participate in its own development, helping to begin the transformation of Lette from a “passive” community to one that demonstrates active citizenship. In this case, community media has become a model for civic education, voicing citizens’ rights, disseminating information, influencing public policy, and monitoring and controlling development.


Lette is an urban neighborhood in the Mariso subdistrict of Makassar. Its population was more than 9,300 as of last year, according to the Makassar Statistics Bureau, mostly Muslims but with some Christians, and equally divided between men and women.

Most of the adult population works in the informal sector, including as fishermen, pedicab drivers and bricklayers. The rest work as laborers, teachers and civil servants, while some are jobless. Among Lette households, 775 are classified as poor. Most adults have only completed elementary school or junior high school. The population is crowded into some 15 hectares of land, and households are administratively divided into 26 neighborhoods grouped into five larger units, or rukun warga. Looking at the five rukun warga over the last one and a half years, to late 2016, number five is the poorest, the most crowded and most vulnerable to conflict.

At the time the SILE Project began its community engagement work in Lette in 2012, it was an unsafe slum area and a locus for occasional violent communal conflict. The community’s reputation suffered. The situation in Lette attracted the attention of Alauddin State Islamic University, Lapar and the SILE Project, which have worked collaboratively to empower the community using the Asset-Based Community Development approach. This is a community-driven development approach, the main principle of which is that everyone has assets, strengths and capabilities that can be mobilized for community empowerment and betterment. ABCD is an approach for community empowerment that provides principles and tools that can be applied by a community to find and mobilize its assets. Building community capacity to identify and mobilize its assets to achieve its vision for the future is an important first step.

Applying ABCD in Lette started with mapping power relations among various local actors using the power cube analysis as a tool. The objective was to identify the key actors in the community who would become members of the “core group” of facilitators, mobilizers and internal agents of change. This group is also expected to help ensure the sustainability of initiatives when external assistance (from Uinam and Lapar, for example) ends.

After the core group was established, the next step was to build its capacity in various areas. SILE, via a working group of Uinam and Lapar staff, trained community members in basic concepts and the tools of the ABCD approach: peace-building, advocacy, skills for facilitating public forums and so forth. ABCD was the first training program ever introduced to the community, to open its eyes to often unrecognized or unappreciated assets and potential among its members. It was also an important way to build confidence and mitigate the impact of negative stereotypes about Lette.

After training, core group members conducted community asset mapping. They identified individual assets (skills, talents and passions); formal and informal associations and organizations (youth groups, prayer groups); physical assets (buildings, infrastructure, waterways); economic assets (shops, small enterprises, home industries, capital goods); and cultural assets (stories, traditions, art performances, strong values). Having identified such a long list of potential assets, community

members then discussed what they wanted to be changed and what activities should be undertaken to achieve their desired future. To discuss these issues, Lette’s core group held community meetings attended by a range of stakeholders including women and youth. They came up with an agreed vision to change the image of Lette from “troublemakers” to that of a friendly, positive and active community.

The community then reviewed the assets it had that would help achieve its vision. They found that youth groups were one of the assets that could be mobilized to reach their vision. Most of the youth are educated, use smartphones and have an abundance of talent and energy. Further meetings, facilitated by the Uinam-Lapar working group, discussed and identified possible activities that could contribute to the desired change. All parties agreed to develop community media using smartphones as a key element of their action plan. They did this because they wanted to give people inside and outside the community a better understanding of what Lette was really about.

Community media and smartphones

As the fourth pillar of democracy, the media plays a significant role in amplifying the voices of residents, “controlling” the government and critiquing public services. Unfortunately, some of Indonesia’s mainstream media operate at the whim of their owners. There has been a significant shift from broadcasting the voices of ordinary citizens, to speaking on behalf of political and business elites.

As such, citizen journalism and community media appear to be an attractive alternative. This essay argues that citizen journalism and community media are a new or alternative media for Indonesia, because they employ or modify communication practices and social arrangements of information and communication technologies to alter dominant, expected or accepted ways of reporting on society, culture and politics. In the case of the Lette community, citizen journalism and community media are being used as a social instrument for discussing society, culture and politics. Community media have also created online communities, such as www.seputarsulawesi.com, and have developed as social movements, an alternative to staterun and conglomerate-run media. Community media within the Lette initiative has the same definition as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco, definition of community media: “an independent, civil society-based media that operates for social benefit and nonprofit.”

The process of developing community media in Lette began with building the capacity of youth groups who wanted to be citizen reporters. Uinam’s Communications and Journalism Department collaborated with Lapar to hold citizen journalism training for these youth. From this training, the youth groups learned about the philosophy and functions of community journalism, and learned how to write and create news stories, photo essays, and audio and video programs using smartphones. The training was done both in the classroom and in the field. At the end of the training, participants

discussed how to implement their action plan to develop community media. What kind of community media did they want to develop? Did they want to develop a printed newsletter, community radio or online media? The result of the discussion was an agreement to develop online community media. They chose online media because it is cheaper and also can reach more people across the boundaries of the community.

Lapar offered to let the group use its website, www.seputarsulawesi.com, as a home for the online community media that Lette’s youth groups wanted to develop. All the participants agreed, and as a follow-up they developed “Line groups.” These groups have become vehicles for communication between the editor of seputarsulawesi.com and new citizen journalists. After getting the news sent through Line via smartphones, the editor of seputarsulawesi.com quickly learns about items the reporters wish to pursue. He will then do some crosschecking, and if the news is valid, he will edit it and upload it to Lette’s community news site housed in seputarsulawesi.com. This is also a site for alumni of the training to exchange news, pictures and videos. Lette community members can then access the news from their smartphones by clicking on seputarsulawesi.com. Up to 7,000 people visit this site each day.

As citizen journalists, alumni have provided their community (and places beyond) with general news, reports of cultural events and important community activities, disaster information, information from community leaders, and news on the state of public service delivery. Some recent examples of news items include the Becak Carnaval, which is the local celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, road conditions in Lette, any recent fires or emergencies, and neighborhood organization activities. Because it is housed by seputarsulawesi.com, the news from Lette can be accessed not only by the neighborhood’s citizens but also by the website’s other readers.

The effectiveness of community media

Community media in Lette is quite effective in disseminating information and promoting a positive image. For example, after homes were destroyed by fire in December 2015 and citizen reporters sent the news to seputarsulawesi.com, Lette received tremendous support from other communities. People came to help, give donations and express concern.

Another interesting impact occurred when news about cultural events such as the Becak Carnaval was posted. The number of visitors was much higher than in previous years. Also, Lette’s experiment in developing neighborhood forums to undertake local development activities became widely known after news was posted on the website.

Community media in Lette means a lot for the community’s transformation. It helps citizens reframe the way they look at themselves, from a problem-based to an asset-based way of thinking. The “second-class” community has become more confident, and its members are channeling their positive energy toward becoming friendly, peaceful and active citizens. Community media plays several roles for the Lette community:

• As a public sphere in which community members can express themselves. Community media in Lette gives residents the opportunity to disseminate information about activities in their communities as well as their ideas. Stories about cultural events have been widely published.

• Participating in development. Lette has used community media as a vehicle for citizens to more actively participate in development by providing reports about infrastructure and social conditions, and through reporting on irregularities in government or private projects. They monitor and control the implementation of projects, and use media to speak up about their assets and how policy makers can improve development and social justice.

• Influencing public policy. Lette has used community media to share activities and innovations such as the neighborhood forums, which will continue the role of the original “core group” in identifying and mobilizing community assets.

• Advocating for their rights and interests. The alumni of the citizen journalism training have become citizen reporters not only for their own community media, but also for other existing media. Now their voices can reach far more people, and they can advocate for their community’s interests.

• Civic education. Community media has been used as a public sphere and vehicle to practice democratic governance. The unpleasant feelings the community experienced over outsiders’ negative stereotypes of Lette are being countered in positive ways. Hidden conflicts have been handled by talking, campaigning and trying to make other communities better understand Lette. It is also a media for internal discussions among community members. They don’t use violence or guns anymore. Internally, community media is used to disseminate information about government programs, and also about good values that should be promoted in society.


There are several types of electronic community media. There are community radio broadcasts, television, Internet and mobile phones. Community radio broadcasts were the most popular at the time of a 2009 Unesco study. In Lette, however, the Internet and mobile phones are the main tools for community media. In the Indonesian context, this alternative media is new at the community level. It is a response to the new technological environment for mobilizing a younger generation born in the digital era. It is easier, faster and cheaper than developing community radio broadcasts. This is also an environmentally friendly media. Community media in Lette does not just encourage citizen participation but also provides civic education. This is a breakthrough.

Youth groups in Lette that use smartphones convey their actualizing citizenship through social media via Facebook, Instagram,

WhatsApp and BBM groups. Community media helps them transform themselves from actualizing citizenship to becoming active citizens. Now they not only express their feelings and upload their own pictures but also share their ideas, participate in development, advocate for change, share ideas and undertake positive campaigning to encourage participation in social work, and promote peace and citizen participation in public forums. Community media in Lette is not only a vehicle for increasing citizen participation but also a vehicle for civic education.


As increasing numbers of young Indonesians have sought to master the smartphone as a tool to express and actualize themselves, community media in Lette has been born. This media has given them the opportunity to explore their identities and talents. They can also share their values and concerns, as well as to encourage citizen participation. Community media is also helping Lette transform its image.

Community media in Lette has also proved that it can be used for civic education. Users make use of it to talk and communicate. Conflict and unpleasant situations are handled via dialogue and communication, rather than with violence. The community has succeeded in advocating for and getting attention from the local government, as indicated by the increasing numbers of community proposals and action plans acted upon.

Finally, we must note that the capacity to facilitate local communities in developing community media for the purpose of furthering democratic governance in Indonesia has been strengthened both at Uinam and Lapar. This approach will undoubtedly be sustained and replicated, and further helped by the recent publication of a training manual on citizen journalism, based on the training program developed for the youth of Makassar’s Lette neighborhood.

M Iqbal Arsyad is a community media activist with the Institute for Community Advocacy and Education.

M Iqbal Arsyad is a community media activist with the Institute for Community Advocacy and Education.

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