Institute for Research and Empowerment (IRE) is an organization of academics and social activists that started as a discussion forum, engaging in critical studies and development of alternative thinking. Founded in 1994, IRE’s vision is to become an organization that plays an active role in developing knowledge to influence strategic policies to create a strong state and independent local communities. IRE realizes this vision by developing knowledge through research, capacity building, and publications to encourage the state to undertake pro-poor and gender responsive policy reforms.
In 2019-2020, IRE successfully influenced the 2020-2024 Medium-Term National Development Plan (RPJMN) on issues of poverty, villages and rural areas. Now, in addition to advocating for the synchronization of the RPJMN and the local medium-term development plans (RPJMD), IRE is advocating for village governance and budget to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the constructionism research of village governments and villagers and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic conducted in Sendangagung Village in Sleman Regency, and Karangrejo Village in Magelang Regency, IRE influenced the Village Government Work Plans (Rencana Kerja Pemerintah Desa (RKPDes)) for 2021. Findings of this research became the basis for higher-level advocacy both in the policy design process as well as budget to improve the effectiveness of village development.
Constructionism of Village Governments and Villagers
IRE conducted research on the Constructionism of Village Governments and Villagers and the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic to study the resilience and forms of adaptation of the village government and villagers in facing the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Based on a stocktaking study, IRE found that studies on villages during the pandemic were mostly related to the role of villages in maintaining food availability or security. Therefore, it is necessary to conduct a study to analyze how the village government and village communities view the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This research was carried out in two villages selected based on the diversity of their livelihood bases. Sendangagung Village in Minggir Subdistrict, Sleman Regency, represents a village with a main base of livelihood in the primary sector (agriculture), while Karangrejo Village in Borobudur Subdistrict, Magelang Regency, was chosen because of its base of livelihood in the primary sector (agriculture) and service sector (tourism).
Research in Sendangagung Village found that villages are not immune from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost all sectors in Sendangagung Village: trade, home industry, tourism, agriculture and education, have been severely affected by the pandemic. In spite of this, local communities responded to these impacts with various capacities. Desa Sendangagung shows that the community fosters social resilience by focusing on coping and adapting capacities, the focus of which is not looking too far ahead. The impact of the pandemic is still being dealt with individually. The Village Government is preoccupied with bureaucratic matters in managing the distribution Direct Cash Assistance (BLT) and Village Funds (DD), thus it has not been able to fully exercise the village authority and bridge the needs of its community holistically.
Meanwhile, the research in Karangrejo Village found that workers and actors in the tourism sector experienced a very deep impact due to the pandemic, while farmers and farm laborers did not feel the impact too much, except for chili farmers who were affected by a drastic drop in the selling price. In adapting to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the village government and villagers tend to be very dependent on assistance from various parties, especially from the government. This erodes the social capital of the community to work together in dealing with disasters.
IRE sees a potential emerging in the midst of the pandemic that can increase resilience with interventions at policy and institutional level. First, a potential in the solidarity and initiatives fostered by village women to survive economically. Second, the existence of food sector deemed to be relatively stable in the midst of the pandemic, including processed food industry and production of spices and herbs for traditional medicines. IRE also recommends the facilitation and support for Village-Owned Enterprises (BUMDes) to produce inclusive programs in empowering the community, especially in the tourism sector.
This research produced Village Government Work Plans (RKPDes) for 2021 where village governments allocate a budget for the development of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the food sector which is integrated with the Women Farmers Group (Kelompok Wanita Tani (KWT)) in Sendangagung and Karangrejo Villages. Food potential that can be developed are herbs and spices and processed food. BUMDes also plays a role in providing stalls for MSME and KWT women to be integrated with other BUMDes enterprises in the food sector. As an institution, IRE, together with experts, is involved in designing a marketing road map for MSMEs and KWT businesses.
Advocacy on Strategic Issues
Apart from actively engaging in research at the village level, IRE also deals with technocratic policy issues. IRE tries to link the national, regional and village development planning taking advantage of the Regional Elections (Pilkada) momentum. This is an important momentum because concurrent with the elections, regions must prepare a Medium-Term Regional Development Plan (RPJMD), for which IRE’s research can be relevant as reference for districts or cities. To link the Medium-Term National Development Plan (RPJMN) with the Regional RPJM, IRE plans to conduct research in two regencies, i.e. Gunung Kidul and Sleman. With the pandemic situation, IRE will first try to reach areas close to Yogyakarta Special Region, as access to other areas is still limited.
IRE is analyzing the common themes according to the respective contexts in each region to link the RPJMN to the RPJMD. These include the momentum of RPJMD Technocratic Document preparation; the need to develop synergy between national, regional and village development planning; the need to promote the villages and rural areas issues as regional strategic issues; strengthening the recognition and subsidiarity in village regulation; strengthening the role of guidance and supervision in the RPJMD; and the need to push RPJMD and RPJMDesa to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in villages.
Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI) Support
IRE’s adaptation in advocating for strategic issues such as the RPJMN/RPJMD is important to improve the quality of planning and decision-making at higher levels. KSI supports this adaptation as it is very relevant with the capacity and mission and vision of organizations such as IRE. KSI contributes to this adaptation by providing funding that enables IRE to continue its research, policy advocacy and develop institutional sustainability. KSI’s involvement also builds IRE’s awareness to advocate for policies more systematically through the process of developing program logic, policy tracking, support for evaluation and monitoring, as well as in its role as a critical friend.