On December 4th 2019, Specialisterne Foundation organised the inaugural Autism Advantage Luncheon Indonesia in Jakarta. We would like to thank all 80+ participants – self-advocates, parents, NGOs, academicians, government representatives, companies, teachers, educators and practitioners – for taking the time to join us, even travelling to Jakarta from different parts of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia among other places.
As an NGO associated with the UN Department of Global Communications, our aim with arranging regional luncheons, such as in Jakarta, is to support the work of the United Nations to promote human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals. Specialisterne Foundations’s particular focus is SDG 8, target 5: “By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.
The Autism Advantage Luncheon Indonesia was organised by Specialisterne Foundation and hosted by Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia with financial support from Brunel.
Some of the key take-aways from the Autism Advantage Luncheon Indonesia were:
  • Interest in the Autism Advantage Luncheon Indonesia was extraordinary. A range of stakeholders representing the Indonesian government, universities, practitioners, educators, parents, self-advocates, companies, business associations and NGOs came together during the event and had the chance to hear about each others’ perspectives.
  • Speakers noted the challenges autistic and neurodivergent persons face in Indonesia in terms of access to education and employment. The main drivers of these challenges were identified to be a lack of awareness, as well as cultural and social stigma towards persons with disabilities in Indonesian society – which is especially a major problem across rural areas of the country.
  • Being a multi-cultural country with a large youth population, Indonesia faces a number of challenges, as well as opportunities. We discussed some of the opportunities in terms of triggering a large-scale attitudinal shift towards persons with disabilities by educating young people about the topic and empowering them to be a part of solution. 
  • The government of Indonesia was well-represented at the event. Aside from the speakers, Mr. Sunarman Sukamto from the Executive Office of the President of the Republic of Indonesia, who is among the President’s advisors, also participated in the luncheon and contributed to discussions on creating an inclusive society and labour market in Indonesia.
  • Following the luncheon, Specialisterne Foundation hosted a workshop for further discussion on how to apply the autism advantage in the Indonesian context.
A big thank you to all the speakers for sharing their perspectives, knowledge and expertise:
Autism Advantage Luncheon Opening
Mr. Thorkil Sonne, Specialisterne Foundation
Welcome by the host – Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia
Dr. Ms. Angela Suryani – Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia Dept. of Psychology
Prof. Mr. Irwanto – Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia Dept. of Psychology
Perspectives Indonesia: ​Education and Employment Status
Ms. Sumitra Pasupathy – Ashoka
Mr. Tendy Gunawan – International Labour Organization
Mr. Margowiyono – Government of Indonesia Ministry of Social Affairs
Mr. Natrio Catra Yososha – PT Baraya Niaga Jaya
International Perspectives: Business Transformation for Inclusive Growth
Professor Mr. Robert Austin, Ivey Business School (video)
Key-note: The Elimination of Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation
Mr. Muhammad Farhan, DPR RI House of Representatives
Table discussions: Barriers and solutions to inclusion of autistic people in the labour market
Closing remarks
Mr. Thorkil Sonne, Specialisterne Foundation

During the Autism Advantage Luncheon in Jakarta, Professor Robert Austin from Ivey Business School kindly joined us with a video and shared findings from his research on the autism advantage and the benefits of neurodiversity employment programs. Below is the video with Indonesian subtitles and an excerpt from his speech.
“My name is Rob Austin, and I’m a business school professor at Ivey Business School in Canada. I’m also the co-author of “Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage,” a Harvard Business Review article published in 2017. It’s been my great honor to document and study this important social movement since about 2006, when I co-authored the first Harvard Business School case study on Specialisterne.

My research over the past decade suggests that companies that seek the autism advantage really do achieve competitive advantages. This is
not just about doing good for the community – that matters, of course – but if you are company considering starting a neurodiversity employment program, you should do it not just for that reason, but also because it’s very good business.
We’re still researching, trying to understand best practices in this area. But at this stage, there are three

major areas of benefit that we can report.

1. First, neurodiversity employment programs help companies access maximum talent to help them prevail in innovation-based competition. Many companies struggle to find enough talent in many crucial areas, such as analytics, cybersecurity, and quality assurance. These areas tend to overlap with the abilities of neurodiverse job candidates. In this day and age, we cannot afford to leave important talent un-accessed. The companies that realize this, and develop programs to broaden how they think about what constitutes talent, will likely win in the future. In innovation-based competition, companies need new, original ideas, and they need to be able to recognize new and different kinds of value. To do this they need people who think differently. They need people who are “outliers.” Neurodiversity employment programs are a very good way to accomplish this.

2. Second, one consistent finding in our research is that when we design organizational solutions for people on the autism spectrum, or for others who are neurodiverse, a large percentage of what we design usually turns out to benefit all employees. In other words, though you may start out thinking you are accommodating a special need of a particular category of employee, what become apparent after a while is that you are building capabilities for the whole firm, by making everyone better at what they are doing.

3. Third, we see very consistently that when companies implement neurodiversity employment programs, it makes all employees feel good about their work and the company. Everyone wants their work to be meaningful, and neurodiversity employment programs make people think their work is meaningful. In many cases, we see this factor supercharging the efforts of all employees, inspiring many to go the extra mile on behalf of the company.”

Photos: Indri Ardika