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7 Questions with Cynthia Maharani: World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia

S²Cities Project Lead, WRI Indonesia

Cities in the global south have an increasingly young population. Despite their potential to drive growth and development, young people in cities often face numerous challenges, including inadequate access to basic services, lack of opportunities to voice their concerns, and greater exposure to violence and exploitation. 


However, with proper investment and support, these young people can play a crucial role in shaping the future of their cities and countries. By providing them with training, and leadership opportunities, they can become agents of positive change and help to build more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient communities. It’s crucial for governments, development organizations, and the private sector to recognize the significance of empowering youth, and to invest in their potential to drive progress towards a better future.


Since 2015, World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia, has been working with the city government of Jakarta Bandung, Semarang and the province of Bali to improve road safety, air quality, public spaces, and sustainability in cities. In the process, it has strengthened its belief that cities that are designed to be safe for children and young people are cities safe for all. WRI Indonesia is S²Cities’ Local Capacity Building and Youth Safety Innovation Partner in Bandung, Indonesia and is using a systems approach to tap into the potential of youth to drive positive change through capacity building and leadership. 


In this interview, Project Lead Cynthia Maharani talks about WRI Indonesia’s role in working with the youth in Bandung, to identify and map key challenges facing them and working on innovative safety solutions. With 1 year of S²Cities, she also shares her experience in the programme.  



Q.1 City Collab (CCO): What is your organisation’s role in the programme? What is the expected outcome of WRI’s contribution?


Cynthia Maharani (CM): WRI Indonesia is working to improve youth engagement by facilitating dialogue, co-creating, and promoting innovative solutions. We are particularly focused on solutions that will enable youth participation in making Bandung a safe and healthy city.

Through the S²Cities programme, we are supporting the youth, city, and private sector innovations to address safety issues, making cities more livable for everyone.



Q.2 CCO: Could you describe your organisation’s plan of action for its contribution to the S²Cities programme?


CM: We are addressing the concept of safe and sound cities by identifying current safety problems caused by various factors. Our target audience is young people aged 15-24, from diverse socio-economic backgrounds in Bandung. We hope to mitigate these safety problems through our actions.

WRI is partnering with OpenStreet Map Indonesia (POI) to use technology to identify and pinpoint safety concerns as seen by the youth. Additionally, WRI is partnering with ICLEI to foster multi stakeholder engagement and ensure that the proposed solutions are aligned with existing policies and regulations. By collaborating closely with POI and tapping into the creativity and innovative ideas of the youth, WRI is working to achieve its goal of improving safety in Indonesia.

The World Resources Institute’s goal is to bring people together to discuss and develop creative solutions for making cities safer and more livable for everyone, especially young people. 



Q.3 CCO: What is the process that your organisation usually undertakes when conceptualizing and carrying out projects?


CM: At WRI Indonesia, we take a step-by-step approach to ensure that every project is thoroughly planned and executed. We start by looking at the data, then making changes through various approaches, and finally scaling up once we find a solution that works. For example, in the case of S²Cities, we started by establishing a systematic understanding of safety predeterminants in Bandung through engagement with youth in urban areas. With that data, we decided to enhance the level of engagement and increase capacity between youth and municipal administrations across Bandung. This facilitated discussions and knowledge sharing, and provided access to a network of opportunities by the private sector. The hackathon was organised so that young people could come up with solutions to the identified problems and receive mentorship. At the moment, we are working with 2 winners from the first year Hackathon to realize their solutions from concept to reality. Their projects are also evolving based on further data collection and analysis.



Q.4 CCO: What are some notable projects/initiatives that your organisation has undertaken in the past, related to its role at S²Cities?


CM: WRI Indonesia is collaborating with The Jakarta government as part of Cities4Forests to develop Jakarta as a resilient and green city. This includes improving the city’s Open Green Space Masterplan, analyzing the impact of deforestation in nearby forests, and developing communications products and public engagement activities to increase awareness of the importance of inner and nearby forests.

As part of Bloomberg’s Global Road Safety initiative, WRI Indonesia is also providing technical assistance to the Bandung City Government to make pedestrian-friendly city plans and redesign road junctions. One of the intersections we helped Bandung transform is the intersection of Ahmad Yani, Veteran, and Jalan Naripan, which is located in the city center and is an important point for Bandung’s traffic network.



Q.5 CCO: What inspired you to work at this organisation in your current role?


CM: I am passionate about working on project design, specifically with a focus on gender, equity and social inclusion. I believe that everyone should have equal access to the benefits of a project, regardless of their gender or age. I also strive to contribute to institutionalizing gender equity at the national and local level through policy changes.



Q.6 CCO: What do you love about working at your organisation and its process? What excites you the most about the S²Cities programme and what do you look forward to the most?


CM: The WRI provides plenty of opportunities for its staff to take on new challenges, while also providing the necessary support in the form of expertise. S²Cities gives the WRI Indonesia an opportunity to expand its city portfolio, with a focus on bottom-up city planning processes that emphasize youth participation in building safe and sound cities.



Q.7 CCO: Now that the S²Cities programme has completed its first year, how would you like to describe your experience in this journey and what would you like to see ahead of you in the second year? 


CM: The first year of S²Cities implementation gave us a chance to learn and improve. We learned from young people’s perspective how they see the city, what they envision the city to be like, and what solutions they can offer. We learned about the importance of giving them room to grow, providing them the necessary support – not just financial, but seeing them as discussion partners to help them connect the dots and see a bigger picture.




Cynthia Maharani (she/her) is a seasoned social scientist who specializes in forestry policy and governance, gender social inclusion, climate adaptation, and resilience. She currently leads the Gender, Equity, and Social Inclusion Program for WRI Indonesia, overseeing the integration of GESI into the organization’s programs on energy, low carbon and resilient cities, climate, forest, and land use.

Role: Gender, Equity, and Social Inclusion Program Lead, WRI Indonesia




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