April 28, 2023

Akbar Kurniawan, a recent college graduate from the Special Region of Yogyakarta in Indonesia, completed the Aspire Leaders Program (ALP) and received an Aspire Community Action Award (CAA) in 2022. Reflecting on his journey so far, Kurniawan tells the story of following his dreams and rising above challenges to uplift his community.

During his first days studying at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), he was asked to describe his goals for the future and mentioned his desire to travel abroad.

As he progressed through his degree in Agricultural Expansion and Communication, he sought opportunities to make this goal a reality. He first applied to his university’s student exchange program with high hopes; however, he faced disappointment and was not accepted. 

“For the first time, I failed,” he said. 

This experience made him believe that he didn’t “deserve this dream.” However, he reflected and persevered to prove to himself and his family that he could achieve his goal.

The following year, Kurniawan re-applied to the exchange program and successfully received funding to travel to South Korea. 

“As a Muslim, it [was] really hard for me to live in a non-Muslim country. I had to adapt a lot of my values and traditions [from Indonesia] to adjust,” Kurniawan recalled. “[I understood that] I don’t have to judge other people. We are diverse [and] different – but we can still work and live harmoniously.”

These insights shaped his life when he returned to Indonesia and spurred the idea for his Community Action Award-winning project. 

Upon returning home, Kurniawan took on the role of Community Relations Coordinator at Indonesia Communications. Through this job, he worked with several NGOs on various projects. 

During this time, he also heard about the Aspire Leaders Program (ALP) and as a first-generation student from a low-income family, he applied with the wish to grow his inventory of international learning experiences and to embrace diversity. 

“I am a person who loves to listen to people’s stories,” he said. 

Upon completing the ALP, Kurniawan wanted to apply his understanding of diversity and inclusivity to reduce inequalities. He took the opportunity to apply for the Community Action Awards (CAA) as an ALP alumnus for his initiative,The Mula Sasmita Project, which roughly translates to “The Beginning of Sign [Language].”

The Evolution of his Community Action Award-Winning Project 

When working with a particular NGO, SIGAB Indonesia, while acting as the Community Relations Coordinator for Indonesia Communications, his eyes were opened to the discrimination people with disabilities face – especially those with hearing impairments.

“Deaf people still lack access,” Kurniawan explained. “In a public area, [they] still need sign language interpreters and don’t have much freedom to go to [such places].”

The Mula Sasmita Project tackles this issue by providing sign language training to the entire community, so they are equipped to support the Deaf community in their communication.

After winning the CAA, Kurniawan started to bring The Mula Sasmita Project to life by working with SIGAB Indonesia and the government. He gathered evidence from speaking to members of the local Deaf community, who shared the difficulties of connecting with and gaining acceptance from those around them.

Leading a project of this nature comes with some challenges and Kurniawan continues to seek guidance from Aspire alumni and staff, including 2021 Community Action Award Winner, Zarek Martínez from Mexico.

“Sometimes, I feel like I can’t do it. I overthink the future,” Kurniawan shared. “The one thing I learned is to just do it and not think too much.” 

Kurniawan suggests others not be afraid to embark on a journey of social entrepreneurship and apply for the CAA if they get the opportunity. He was not sure about this at first but feels grateful he made this decision to challenge himself and make a difference in his community. 

He feels excited and hopeful about the future of The Mula Sasmita Project as he actively searches for his next adventure. 

Akbar Kurniawan Works Toward his Future Goals With Support From Aspire

Prior to joining the Aspire Leaders Program, he did not think about pursuing graduate school. However, now, he is planning to work towards a master’s in development studies.

Kurniawan continues to benefit from the Aspire alumni programs and wants to encourage others in Indonesia to apply.

“You have a chance to learn a lot from this program,” he shared. “I got a lot of insight from this program. I learned how to handle people [and] have good communication.” 

In a deeper explanation, he compared his experience to an empty glass being filled with water.

As a glass fills up with each drop of water, Kurniawan believes learning experiences like those provided by the ALP fill his glass – and ultimately enrich his life.

When he is not working, he loves reading and pursuing his musical interests. His favorite book is The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel, as it taught him how to save money and handle finances. In terms of music, he enjoys singing, playing the guitar, and listening to country music. His favorite country music artists include Luke Combs and Dan + Shay. 

“People don’t know much about country music here. I hope I have the opportunity to go to one of their concerts,” Kurniawan shared excitedly.

To Akbar Kurniawan, his journey intertwines with the people around him. His relentless pursuit of knowledge and continual passion for listening to the stories of others has propelled him forward. Looking ahead, he hopes to continue seeing the world through new perspectives and gathering and supporting diverse groups of people along the way.


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