Developing Papua II: A Social Development Perspective

Papua -
Papua -

You cannot expect development programs implemented in Papua will give a fruitful impact if there is no Papuan involved in the process. As locals, Papuans are the ones who understand the most about their needs, capacities, and goals. This is the idea of social development, that is to “put people first” in the development. Any programs undertaken shall prioritize the safety and prosperity of the people involved, particularly the target group.

Without putting people as the top priority, development may go into a very different direction. A good intention to develop Papua may not benefit those who need development the most, therefore: the expected better life does not come as a result. To prevent such thing from happening, Papuans must be involved in their own development. As a part of civil society, they have to work with the government and nongovernmental organizations to develop their own society.

Social development, in general, is in line with the concept of democracy which is highly valued in Indonesia. The attempt to develop the social life has been taking place in Papua—in some ways. Learn about the implementation of social development in the “Black Pearl” land below.

Public Participation


Public participation is an important part of social development. A society in which its members can participate in the public matters indicates that the respective society has been socially developed to some extent.

In Papua, the participation has been undertaken in some forms. The most notable one is likely Noken, which is still used by Papuans during the election. Different from one-man-one-vote which is used widely in Indonesia, Noken is a traditional system on how many tribes in Papua participate in public matters, including the election. By choosing the legislative and executive using the system, Papuans have agreed with the programs offered by the respective candidate.

Public participation in Papua is not limited to an election. During the decision-making, for instance, during the dialog between civil society and government, Papuans also participate. There is a deliberate discussion (musyawarah) to reach a consensus (mufakat) about the matter being discussed. Through this process, Papuans can voice their aspirations about their needs, expectations, or suggestions.

Community Empowerment


Empowerment programs are a form of social development which has been implemented in Papua. In 2017, the local government has focused their investment on pro-empowerment sectors. Through the investment, Papuans are encouraged to do their own business or manage their own land and forest. The empowerment programs were held to give them more knowledge about how to perform such business or management.

Another form of empowerment program available in Papua is women empowerment. In a society where men are frequently regarded as a bread-winner, women empowerment in Papua aims for more inclusive society. Just like men, women can be a part of development or other public matters.

The empowerment programs, which are typically in the form of socialization or informal education, facilitate Papuan women to access more information and knowledge. Many times, such program also trains women to explore their potentials and skills. Non-governmental organizations which have an interest in women empowerment are the ones which often hold such program in Papua.

Informal and Formal Institutions

Papua -
Papua –

In the long term, the result of social development is expected to reflect on the informal institutions existing in the respective society. For instance, if Papuan women have been through empowerment programs and implemented the knowledge they get from the program in their daily lives, the change of their relationships with men in their society is expected to change. There shall be no more or at least less discrimination against them.

An informal institution is often difficult to observe. Since it has a form of custom, how to prove that there is a change in informal institution is frequently known by the Papuans themselves. To make the change more visible, it also takes years, which explains why social development is an unending process. Papuans have to continue developing their society just like any other people in the different regions.

Formal institutions, on the other hand, is more apparent. In Papua, fortunately, the formal institutions to some extent have shown support for social development. How the government policy allows Noken to be used in Papua instead of usual voting system is a perfect example of this. The policy, which is a formal institution, is an obvious support for social development—participation—according to Papuans’ own custom.

Generally, stakeholders have been trying to promote social development in Papua, even though the expected ends can only be observed slowly and gradually in the future. The key to a successful social development is the involvement of the locals, which has been undertaken at this point. If the development programs continue encouraging public involvement, along with making an effort to make public participation more effective, it is likely that social development in Papua continues showing some significant progress.