Interviews

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Impact Interview is our initiative where we explore the stories of changemakers and the initiatives they have developed to support sustainable development in Indonesia. This time, we spoke with Miftachur Robani (Mas Ben), Co-Founder and CEO of LindungiHutan

Hi Mas Ben, can you tell us more about LindungiHutan and what problems this organization is trying to tackle?

Hello everyone, I’m Ben, co-founder, CEO of LindungiHutan. LindungiHutan itself was founded in December 2016 in Semarang as a platform that helps individuals and corporate groups to carry out their environmental goals in the form of planting trees.
We help connect them with farmer-planters who are our partners in planting trees. Trees that are planted will be maintained and reported periodically via our website at lindungihutan.com. We bridge these farmers to those parties who are carrying out their environmental activities.
Initially a difficult, long process, we help simplify them – all they need is to just choose the location, choose the date, people can immediately plant according to their needs. The result is not just ceremonious, but we ensure sustainability through the monitoring process.

What is the incentive for companies who partner directly with LindungiHutan apart from making the planting process easier? Can you go deeper into the complexity of the tree planting process

Each company must have an environmental pillar that they believe in – whether they adopt SDGs, ESG or TJSL, which encourages these companies to carry out environmental activities. Meanwhile, carrying out environmental activities yourself, as we know it, is quite a complex process. For example, they have to survey the location and time, learn where their needs can be accommodated in that location. They must also discuss the price of planting services, and engage in this process repeatedly each time they want to plant. At LindungiHutan, we provide a service where with just one click of a button on our website, everything is available – that’s in terms of process efficiency.
Next is about sustainability. As we know, tree planting is nothing new, it has been done from year to year. Once the planting process is complete, and they go home, how do you make sure that the trees planted are sustainable. What do we offer?
We don’t rely on technology, but these tree planting will be sustainable if someone takes care of it. Someone will guard it because there are the local community who live nearby. With this community-based approach, we ensure that the planted trees are well taken care of.
At LindungiHutan, we focus on 5 pillars of values: we offer a process that is easy, sustainable, transparent, flexible and inclusive.
The ease and sustainability is already discussed earlier – transparent here means that we don’t have hide or cover-up any information. Everyone who supports LindungiHutan, our partners, can access the planted tree’s progress via our website. Everyone doesn’t need to log in to know what the results are like.
Then we are flexible, so if people want a special program made just for them, we can adjust. Our final pillar is inclusiveness. Because many platforms or many organizations have exclusivity, only good people can support good things. Meanwhile, people who want to change or have never done this before, have strong barriers. If anyone wants to start doing good, why not start by protecting the forest first. Tomorrow maybe you can support the waste movement, tomorrow maybe you can support fuel sustainability.

What is the process for translating data from farmers in the field so that it is processed into monitoring reports on the LindungiHutan website that can be accessed by partners?

We have a rigorous selection process when selecting our planting partner at LindungiHutan, so it’s not as simple as everyone can be our partner. Additionally we make it a point of emphasis to not look for an empty area to use our planting ground.
In line with our community-based approach, we ensure that the people responsible for planting are the people around our planting are, who actually live there, and are directly affected if the location is not properly maintained.
They must also have a strong track record, have carried out planting previously and can show real and tangible results. We have implemented this selection process to minimize the failure rate.
After visiting the location, we make an agreement on how much the planting services will cost. These costs must include the costs of planting seeds, maintenance and monitoring.
Ideally, the monitoring process comes from them (the farmers) because we have actually prepared a separate application for farmers to update.
But in reality, most of our partners are elderly, 50 years and over, so they are less tech-savvy. In the end, our team still has to come there to help the farmers carry out the monitoring process.
The monitoring results can be seen directly on our website. We show the number of living trees, the number of dead trees, the average diameter, the average tree height and the average carbon uptake – all these figures are automatically available when partners decide to plant through us.
Example of LindungiHutan monitoring data

How did LindungiHutan start and why was its based in Semarang and not a big city like Jakarta?

It’s as simple as we, the founders, all met on campus in Semarang, we have the same alma mater.
The initial concept of LindungiHutan was actually not just like this, we developed LindungiHutan to not only plant trees, but also be able to help pick up trash on the mountain, and to be able to take care of climbing ticketing. But in the end, we decided to focus purely on the tree planting aspect.
We saw the potential for planting trees when we met farmers in Tambakrejo in North Semarang, who to this day are still our mangroves planting partner. They have been planting mangroves for years because their location has been affected by very severe abrasion.
The abrasion is almost 10 cm every year so every 10 years they say, they have to raise the soil by 1 m just so they could still live in it. Feeling the impact of this abrasion, they started planting mangroves.
The question is then why are only students, farmers and companies around the local area are the ones that are planting mangroves?
We , the co-founders coming mostly from IT background just think, if people can order ojeks, order food, order tickets, order goods, shop online – why can’t people help this community online too?
That was the initial concept. Finally we started by helping this group – from there we also learned there are also many other groups like this around Semarang. It also exists in Demak, in Tegal, Brebes, and later we found out that this problem is faced all over Indonesia.
To this day, we finally have around 50 planting partners. Their daily duties, without our help, are already planting trees. Our role here is just to act as a bridge, to escalate their scale – previously only local people came to them, now we bring people from various regions to them.

Now LindungiHutan is active in almost all regions in Indonesia, how many trees have been planted, how many partners you have collaborated with, and how much carbon has been saved?

Up to this day, we have planted 810,000+ trees – though our real target is to plant as many as the population of Indonesia!
We’ve also run ~1000 campaigns, with ~50 partners. What we also want to highlight is the community involvement. Maybe people rarely see this because protecting forests is always measured by the results, namely planting, even though our focus is to invite as many people as possible. So in terms of users, we already have 56,000 users and collaborate with almost ~500 brands.
In our opinion, this is an interesting achievement because it shows that LindungiHutan is trusted by people and brands alike as the go-to place for initiating these tree planting initiatives.
But initially educating and making people believe in this concept is also quite an achievement to be proud of.

When LindungiHutan started back in 2016, people were not as aware of environmental issues. What were the challenges in introducing the LindungiHutan concept to individual and corporate users, as well as communities and farmer growers?

If we talk about LindungiHutan today, of course it’s very easy because we are already well-known. We have also started to see the emergence of new competitors because of the strong momentum.
But back in 2016, this was a challenging time for us.
First, in terms of product – we initially adopted a model similar to KitaBisa, where people could donate. The difference with KitaBisa, we are entrusted by people to plant trees as a donation concept – so it’s very B2C, retail.

Our belief at the start was that people have an innate desire to plant trees. That's actually one of our most flawed beliefs, a person will not plant trees for the sake of doing so. A more accurate statement is that people plant trees because of a reflection of the belief, not the belief itself.

Our farmers plant trees for example to withstand that abrasion disaster. But for other people, planting a tree is a symbol of something. Some people plant trees because they want to celebrate a special day such as Earth Day. People also plant trees because they want to show off their idols. We once had a product called Kado Bumi, where almost all k-pop idol fans planted in LindungiHutan because they wanted to show their idols that they could give something sustainable instead of flower bouquets that become trash.
We also had product bundling program where people could buy a product and plant a tree at the same time. Though it was popular, the produt was difficult to sustain from a business persepctive.
It was only at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 that we had the opportunity to collaborate with one of the big brands, found momentum and finally they became our initial portfolio. People started to know us and our track record started to build.

If asked what the recipe for success in LindungiHutan is, I think these three are the main ones: first, we are committed, second, we are consistent and third, we are patient.

So what does commitment actually mean? If during the second year, we decided that we don’t want to plant trees anymore , let’s do waste management instead because everyone is doing so, LindungiHutan wouldn’t be here today,
The second is consistency – we always stood by the same principle. Maybe if LindungiHutan can’t focus because we believe there’s no money to be made in this space, it will no longer exist.
The third thing is, and this is something that a lot of people don’t have, is patience. It was only in the fourth year that we finally found our momentum because apart from having a solid portfolio, people started being aware of the environmental issues in 2020. Narratives like how the pandemic helped heal our Earth started emerging.
Going back to the question, one of the obstacles is relevance. How do we really understand people’s thought processes when planting trees? Once we know the key or essence, we can translate that essence into products.
The second is scalability. Many people come to us with questions like, “are you planting in Bali or not”, “are you planting in IKN or not”, “are you planting in Papua or not”.
People started coming in with quite specific requests. Previously you only needed to plant trees, now people request if we can calculate impact? Can we involve the local community?

From earlier, you also mentioned various programs such as Kado Bumi. So can you talk about the various programs you currently run in LindungiHutan?

Basically, we literally just plant trees – only the packaging and cover change according to the times.
For example, if we sell burgers, we can package it with various covers such as healthy burgers, Muslim burgers but the essence is still selling burgers.
Because we already know which segment we choose to plant trees, the mainstay of the product is planting trees. In fact, if you ask me, what is my personal ambition that I want to achieve in LindungiHutan?
I just want to tell people my job is planting trees. One day, we were planting with the TNI group (Indonesian National Armed Forces) on Sunday. The TNI asked, “What do you do, sir?” Then I answered, “I plant trees, sir.” “What do you do, sir?” “My job is to plant trees” “No, that’s on Sunday, what about, Monday to Friday, what are you doing?” “Yes, sir, I plant trees for a living”. Maybe to this day, that man would still find what I do hard to believe.
But now I have all kinds of track records, to prove that LindungiHutan can indeed become my full time endeavor.
We have several notable (products) that once supported us, even though they no longer exist today. We once succeeded in merchandise, the name of the product was Tees for Trees, so for every t-shirt purchased we planted 10 trees. Then we developed derivative products such as tote bags, stainless straws and tumblers.
Then we created the Rawat Bumi program, where we carried out simultaneous planting in 100 cities on the occasion of Earth Day.
Now an example of our program is Kado Bumi, the concept is to plant trees to celebrate something, for example you graduate, you get married, your idol has a birthday. We also have CollaboraTree, which is one product, one tree – one of the biggest skincare brands has planted 100,000 trees with us through the program.
Then the last one is Imbangi, which discusses the carbon calculator.

How do you deal with program that actually have commercial have demand from users, but actually as a business to LindungiHutan is not scalable. How do you deal with cases like this?

That’s actually very challenging. Did you know that initially LindungiHutan was deemed not scalable because we were limited by area? True, tree planting is limited, there will be an end to it, this is not a digital product that is infinitely scalable, and also not a primary need that will continue to have high repetition. Actually, in terms of its core, the scalability value is small, but what we have decided to do is obsess over the problem within this limited area. What is the actual problem with planting trees? We really dig into that problem.
I was actually asked to speak about the role of technology in LindungiHutan a while back.
I emphasized that technology is overkill because the real problem we’re trying to tackle in LindungiHutan is not solved with technology, the problems we face should be solved with something real. That is our thesis.
We always see opportunities, we are very customer centric, when it can be duplicated we make it into a product. When it’s just a request in isolated cases, we stop there.
Even if the business we run makes money, there’s still a lot of opinion:
according to many people
according to the TNI
according to several VC (Venture Capital)
according to some friends
They all say “Ben why are you doing this?”

You mentioned that you are connecting with several VCs. Does that mean LindungiHutan is looking to fundraise at the moment?

We are proud to say that to this day we have always been bootstrapped. Our investors are our customers who believe in us. But we always try to validate, look for connections, things that we as people not coming from big cities like Jakarta, have limited access to. The hope is that we can meet people who have insight and network, but money is not the essence of it

Talking about impact - what is the impact for, for example, farmers who have worked directly with LindungiHutan?

One really interesting story was that when I was building LindungiHutan, I met one of Gojek’s top officials. When he was first recruited by Gojek, he was told to follow the ojek driver, and then he was allowed to ask the ojek driver any question. His observation was that after joining Gojek this ojek’s mentality changed – now going to the ATM and entering the mall, before these people wouldn’t even dare.
I see the same thing in LindungiHutan. Of course, in terms of income, they definitely get extra income because we plant at least once a month. But beyond that, in my opinion, is the capacity.
We will invite companies that come from far away, they must be able to receive these guests well, and this demands them to raise their mentality and acknowledge that they matter and are recognized. They will be asked about their struggle, and they will have to be able to speak publicly and as a result their capacity will increase.
We hope that this can continue to be a great platform for our farmer partners – so that they will be proud to have partners like us. When we were a small company they were there, when we grew in size we hope they are still with us – so we aspire to build these kinds of strong relationship with them.

What are your future plans for LindungiHutan so that it can sustain as a business and also grow in terms of impact?

We currently have three things we are working on
One is that we are building an API to make it easier for people to plant trees while making transactions anywhere.
Secondly, we are still developing ESG. Not just planting trees but how to consider the impact on the wider community. For example, discussing seeds and processing forest products, creating ecotourism.
Thirdly, we are developing Imbangi, which focuses on carbon. The current version still focuses on retail carbon calculation but we want to develop the business-oriented version as well.

The last question is specific to you as an entrepreneur, if for example you could speak to your younger self, what advice would you give him when he was building his business?

I do this very often. So I think in LindungiHutan, I started initiatives that I didn’t have the privilege to do back when I was younger. For example, when I was not accepted at campus, I started the LindungiHutan Academy, which has an internship concept. In that program, once a week I share what I would have conveyed to younger me.
I believe I can’t change the old me, but I can give future generations the insight that I gained to this day.
If the scope is only about business, maybe from the start, maybe I will talk about focus. So do what you believe in, believe in what you do. People who are focused have the capacity to be special

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