Our Transformational Journey Of Authentic Leadership To The Roslin Orphanage

Apr 11, 2018 1 Min Read

Leaderonomics is known for its Talent Acceleration Programme (TAP) which helps organisations accelerate their high-potential talent. Every TAP programme is meticulously crafted and customised for our partner organisations to give them an immersive learning experience.

Juliana Tan Abdullah, Ooi Liang Wu, and Shireen Chow are three of the 15 participants in the Alliance Leaders Programme (ALP), which is a signature programme under the Alliance Bank Leadership Excellence (ABLE) strategic initiative.

The group had recently visited visionary leader Budi Soehardi who runs an orphanage in Kupang, a remote part of West Timor in Indonesia. The once-in-a-lifetime visit helped the participants understand the lessons of leadership and how sustainable communities are built. Read on to find out what they have learnt.

Image | Entrance to orphanage



Where in the world is Kupang? What is this Roslin orphanage? Oh no! We have to speak and teach in Bahasa Indonesia! I hope we survive this trip!

These were the thoughts in our heads before we began our five-day trip to Roslin Orphanage in Kupang, Indonesia.

Roslin Orphanage, or Roslin, is a home run by former pilot Budi Soehardi (affectionately known as Pak Budi) and his co-founder and wife, Peggy Soehardi (or Ibu Peggy).

The orphanage 

Our journey to Kupang began early in the morning, and took almost 12 hours.

The first shock came when we were told that there is no internet connection and hot water at Roslin, our abode for the next five days.

We had imagined an attap roof building in the middle of nowhere surrounded by paddy fields. The reality was nothing near what we imagined.

Roslin is a 10-minute drive from El Tari airport. Lush trees lined the pathway leading to the main dwelling which was surrounded by concrete buildings. A huge bamboo tree stood at the front of the courtyard, occupying almost half of it and providing natural shade from the sun.

This was where we first met the children as young as just babies to 17 years old, and learnt about the beginnings of Roslin.

Roslin is a self-sustaining home for about 100 children. They have vegetable and fruit gardens, and cultivates paddy for both the home’s consumption and for sale.

It is also a school for pre-schoolers, homestay, and weekly food distribution centre for the poor in remote villages.

Image | Pak Budi


The founder

Pak Budi was recognised as a CNN Hero in 2009, so you can say that his reputation precedes him.

We were first introduced at the airport where he had come to meet and greet us. Pak Budi looked like any other Indonesian man in a crowd: a middle-aged man in a batik shirt with grey-frizzled hair that stood like thin wires, his skin darkened by the hot Kupang weather.

We learnt from Pak Budi that he is in the process of building an ‘eco village’, a project that will help him house more abandoned children, teach them academia and living skills, and empower them to sustain themselves later in life.

He is also working on a proposal to build an airport in Oetune which would help bring more development and economic opportunities to the communities receiving his food aid.

How does one man manage all of this? Like the chief executive officer of an organisation, Pak Budi sets his vision and strategies, and makes key decisions.

He works closely with a team of farmers, carers, cooks, and volunteers to help with the day-to-day operations at Roslin. He also leverages on his network of contacts – donors, officials, academicians and professionals for their expertise when needed.

During the course of our stay, we would hear amazing stories of challenges that seemed impossible to resolve, yet was.

As we engaged Pak Budi more, we find that many of his successes were due to his focused vision, commitment, shrewd decisions, and convictions.

The Children 

Many of the children at Roslin were there because of various unfortunate reasons.

Despite their backgrounds, they display a friendly tenderness that is absent in many privileged children today.

The children find joy in the simplest of things in life. This is probably due to the philosophy of Roslin, a place where children learn to live, laugh, and love.

There was also a unique display of togetherness, responsibility and independence in the children. After all, they have been taught from young to take care of themselves and others. It is not an unusual sight to see the older children taking charge and being responsible for the younger children.

One incident stands out:

During one of our sessions with the children, a toddler broke away from his group and wandered around the courtyard. He had the urge to relieve himself but did not know how to convey this. No one helped him. He finally did so near some potted plants. Out of nowhere, a 10-year-old child from another group rushed forward and led the toddler away to clean him up. She returned a few minutes later to clean up the mess.

Such a small, simple act, but one that leaves us with a lesson on profound leadership.

In life, most of us are spectators. We watch events unfold and pass us by. We let others dictate outcomes that affect us, and complain later how things could have been better.

It is humbling indeed to observe someone so young stepping up and taking responsibility for others.

Leadership lessons 

We went to Roslin with the aim of sharing our knowledge, spending time with the children, and contributing in ways that suit the needs of the home.

Little did we know that it would be Roslin, Pak Budi, Ibu Peggy and the little ones who would teach us many great leadership lessons.

  1. Building alliances to improve lives 

As Pak Budi shared his journey and his vision, it dawned on us that Roslin is not just an orphanage.

It is a non-profit organisation with ambitious plans to bring up not only the abandoned children but also the village communities where they came from. It gives families the opportunity to stay together.

An organisation requires a leader to have foresight and seemingly ‘impossible’ goals. Doing so takes strength of a character, underpinned by a strong set of core values.

Values like honesty, integrity, and most of all compassion, shone through in Pak Budi. Staying the course requires him to build alliances to influence and empower those involved to become change agents themselves.

As Roslin became more self-sufficient, jobs are created through farming and construction. Basic amenities are built within the community, to benefit the community.

A rising tide lifts all boats. That is the true measure of good leadership.

  1. Innovate 

Roslin taught us that overcoming obstacles by innovation is not difficult. As leaders, we need to overcome limiting beliefs.

When we cross that hurdle in our minds, nothing is impossible. Persistence and focus are important when attempting to do the ‘impossible’.

How did an airline pilot with zero knowledge in farming change a barren coral land into something fertile?

The short answer? Google.

The long answer? Pak Budi invested his time in fact-finding, learning about soil conditions suitable for plants, and went through a process of trial and error for a year before he saw results.

As Roslin continues to grow, keeping the model sustainable becomes harder. The key to sustainability lies in innovation.

But what is innovation?

To Pak Budi, it is about thinking ahead; selling sea salt as bath salts instead of table salt, growing ‘Nangkadak’ – a cross between jackfruit (nangka) and cempedak – for sale, creating a tourist attraction akin to the famous cherry blossoms of “Jepang” by lining the roads to the larger Roslin Eco Farm, and implementing workarounds such as using rice husks as a base for planting to negate the unfavourable soil conditions.

As world renowned business creativity expert Fredrik Haren will tell you, innovation is merely taking two existing ideas and putting them together to create something “new” for bigger benefits.

As Pak Budi clearly demonstrated, how hard can that be? We were told that innovation does not result in greater competition; it creates new markets.

Look around us and make use of what’s available. When something does not work, look for alternatives. Be flexible. Be open to considering the unconventional as that can sometimes lead to breakthroughs.

  1. Take ownership 

The children of Roslin displayed great levels of responsibility and accountability – leadership qualities that we ought to have.

This says much about the values instilled by Pak Budi and Ibu Peggy in the children they adopt and raise as their own. Case in point: the 10-year-old who took responsibility for the actions of the younger toddler by cleaning up the mess.

We must take ownership for our actions as well as those of our teams. Be responsible for finding solutions to move forward when we hit roadblocks or when things go wrong.

It means the willingness to take charge and make decisions. It also means doing things that are in the best interest of the team and organisation even though there are no immediate rewards.

As leaders, we are ultimately accountable for the outcomes of our own actions as well as the actions of our teams.

The price of greatness is responsibility.

– Winston Churchill

We cannot grow and prosper as leaders until we are willing to step up, take responsibility, and be accountable!

  1. Secure base leadership 

All great success stories come with conflicts and failures. So where does Pak Budi find his strength and belief to succeed?

Professor George Kohlrieser, an international expert on leadership, said that all of us should have a secure base  – or at least we should have one – to get us through the lows in our life’s journey.

Simply said, it is our safety net, to catch us when we fall and help us bounce again. It can be a person, place, event or memory; it is a positive thing that re-energises and puts everything back in perspective.

For Pak Budi, it is his wife Ibu Peggy.

While we did not have the chance to engage Ibu Peggy much during our stay, in the limited time that we had, it was clear from Pak Budi’s body language that Ibu Peggy is his secure base.

In turn, he is the secure base for those around him. As Pak Budi would reiterate over the course of our stay at Roslin, no person is an island and there can be no success if we do not work together.

A leader encourages fellowship and togetherness.

Alliance Bank’s ALP team at Roslin Orphanage

  1. Collaborate 

The Roslin children have camaraderie and an admirable bond of togetherness. If this could be replicated in an organisation, it would result in an incredible high performing team.

Imagine what a team can achieve working together as one cohesive unit towards a common purpose, supporting each other, celebrating victories, reflecting and learning from mistakes to improve further.

Roslin live by the adage of “Togetherness is our Strength”. It is astounding to see how much this philosophy is ingrained and practised by the two founders, as well as by the children who come from different backgrounds.

A team is only as good as its weakest link. It can only be effective if there is a sense of belonging and togetherness, to give members the strength and courage to face challenges.

  1. Develop people 

Even the best talents need to have the right enablers to be successful.

The Roslin children are provided with the basic necessities and education, taught life skills, and exposed to the outside world through the volunteers.

This begs the question, “As leaders, are we providing the right environment to help our people grow and achieve their potential?”


What makes a great leader?

Clearly, it isn’t the clothes one wears.

One does not need any special skill or great achievement to qualify as a leader.

Anyone can be a leader. It is in the little things one does based on personal values and principles, and the positive impact it has on others.

Often, these are not difficult tasks. The challenges lie in breaking our limiting beliefs, getting our hands dirty by doing them, and not being afraid.

There is no holy grail for leadership. Instead, it starts with us. Ask yourself today: What’s stopping you from being a leader?


JULIANA TAN, OOI LIANG WU and SHIREEN CHOW from Alliance Bank are participants of the Alliance Leadership Programme (ALP). We at Leaderonomics wish to congratulate all the participants of the ALP on having successfully completed the Roslin programme module. To learn more about how you can build accelerator programmes for the talent in your organisation, email info@leaderonomics.com

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This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

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