Conference on “Millennial Disruptions: Understanding the role of Indonesian Millennials in shaping a rapidly changing world”

This webinar conference serves as a platform for interactive and intellectually stimulating dialogue and debate on the multi-faceted challenges impacting the millennial generation, as well as their potential to powerfully influence the future trajectory of Indonesia’s overall social, cultural, economic, and political development.


15-16 August 2022, Monday – Tuesday – The webinar conference on Millennial Disruptions: Understanding the role of Indonesian millennials in shaping a rapidly changing world, jointly organised by ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and the Research Center for Society and Culture, Indonesian National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), was held virtually from 15 August 2022 to 16 August 2022. A total of 329 participants attended the two-day event.

The conference broadly covered six main themes, (1) Defining and Debating Millennials: Demography, Worldview, and Consciousness, (2) How Indonesia’s Millennials are Changing Politics in Indonesia, (3) How Indonesia’s Millennials are Changing the Economy and Business in Indonesia, (4) Millennials in Culture and Heritage, (5) Millennials’ Art and Artists and (6) Millennials’ Religious Engagement. These themes were discussed among 25 speakers and 6 moderators.

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Download programme and speakers bios.

Mr Choi Shing Kwok delivered his Welcome Remarks. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Choi Shing Kwok (Director and Chief Executive Officer of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) kicked off the conference by expressing appreciation for BRIN’s active collaboration with ISEAS over the years. Mr Choi noted that the conference provided a timely opportunity to reflect on the role Indonesian millennials would play in the trajectory of Indonesia’s development. The millennial generation is an important age group as they would be moving into the prime of their careers, taking up key leadership positions, and influencing the direction of the country in various spheres. Mr Choi said there was a need to understand the key issues influencing this age group in order to allow better inclusion of their opinions for the advancement of the country. Mr Choi concluded his welcome remarks by wishing all Indonesians an early Happy Independence Day on August 17th.   

Dr Laksana Tri Handoko delivered his Welcome Remarks. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Laksana Tri Handoko (Chairman, Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN)) welcomed the audience and expressed his appreciation for being invited to this conference. Dr Handoko noted that ISEAS and BRIN had many productive collaborations, including the 2021 Digital Disruptions Conference, book launches at BRIN office in Jakarta, several co-authored publications, as well as the upcoming Conference on the New Capital which will be taking place later this year. Dr Handoko agreed with Mr Choi that Indonesia’s millennials would play a crucial role in the development of the country –noting that they had already boosted entrepreneurship and innovation in the business, political and social sectors. Dr Handoko also highlighted the challenges faced by millennials, as they were often seen as an age group that took for granted the democracy and economic stability they enjoyed during their growing years. Dr Handoko believed it would be crucial to understand how this generation viewed key political issues in the country. He concluded his remarks by wishing all participants fruitful discussions.

Panel 1: Defining and Debating Millennials: Demography, Worldview, and Consciousness

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The first session on Defining and Debating Indonesian Millennials was moderated by Ms Lee Sue-Ann (ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute). Ms Meirina Ayumi Malamassam (Australian National University-BRIN) presented on the topic of generational differences in the life-course trajectories of Indonesian millennials compared with their older cohorts. Through their data analysis, their research showed that the 25-year-old millennials had shown higher levels of education attainment, labour market participation and migration compared to their older cohorts. In addition, as well as delayed age for their first marriage.

Mr Wisnu Fadila, Mr Mugia Bayu Rahardja (Research Center for Population, BRIN), and Mr Indra Murty Surbakti (National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN)) investigated how the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of millennials can influence their decision to co-live with their parents in Indonesia. Using data from the 2020 Indonesia National Socioeconomic Survey, their research found that millennials who stayed with their parents tended to have higher financial stability and maturity. Females are more likely to co-live with their parents and multigenerational living arrangements were observed to be quite common among most Asian families. Apart from that, living with parents was found to be beneficial to at least one party, be it millennials or their parents. As such, there is a close association between the millennial’s living arrangements with socioeconomic and demographic factors in the Indonesian context.

Ms Irin Oktafiani (Australian National University) highlighted the challenges of Indonesian millennials as the ‘sandwich generation’ and elaborated on how cultural values, in the form of Javanese culture, influenced the priorities and sense of responsibility among Indonesians in the sandwich generation. Using social media data, her research found that women were most likely to be in this situation as compared to men and they tended to have roles that are overloaded with multiple duties. Despite that, the sandwich generation still portrayed strong Javanese culture where the idea of respecting senior members of the family is ingrained in their daily behaviours. Her research also found that most sandwiched millennials are facing issues related to monetary and mental health. At the same time, they are also using social media platforms to help spread positive stories and share their experiences on how to handle being a sandwich generation. Ms Okatfiani believed that millennials were using social media as a platform to provide encouragement and support to other millennials facing the same situation.

The Q&A discussion focused on the aspirations and worldviews of Indonesian millennials. A key takeaway from the discussion was that Indonesian millennials were generally still fairly traditional in their values and that cultural norms still dominated their priorities and life choices. The panellists did not think that Indonesian millennials were likely to fully embrace Western liberal values notwithstanding the effects of globalization and the role of social media. Panellists observed that Indonesian millennials were still strongly nationalistic, however many were also too preoccupied with bread-and-butter issues to be very engaged in politics or political activism.

Panel 2: How Indonesia’s Millennials are Changing Politics in Indonesia

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Thung Ju Lan (Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN)) moderated this session. Mr Made Supriatma (ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) started his presentation on “A Tale of Two Movements: Indonesian Millennials’ Attempt to Change the Politics of the Country,” by setting the background for social movements in Indonesia, noting how these movements seldom disrupted the current political system. However, the rise of the ‘212 movement’, ‘#BaliTolakReklamasi’, and ‘#ReformasidiKorupsi’ in the post-New Order era had brought forth a new generation of social movements. In his research, Mr Made observed that these movements were mostly run by millennials, and they actively used online media to mobilise the masses. This in turn provoked similar retaliation from the current government which used their own cyber armies as a counteract. This trend of social movements could form new narratives that could have a role to play in Indonesia’s political future. 

Dr Muhammad Fajar (Institute of Advanced Research (IFAR)-Indonesian Catholic University Atmajaya) and Ms An Nisa Tri Astuti (Kolektif Kajian Aksi dan Mobilisasi (Koalisi)) kicked off their presentation on the impact of progressive youth organisations (PYO) on Indonesia’s political scene. Through a series of surveys and semi-structured interviews, their research found that most PYO tended to focus on gender equality and political education as key topics, and they are mainly institutionalised. However, at least 45% of them did not have a status and they have limited networks in other provinces, making it challenging for these organisations to make real impact on the government. These progressive youth organisations also tend to focus more on sharing the same goals and pushing for new changes, instead of mobilising large masses.

Dr Kurniawati Hastuti Dewi (Research Center for Politics, BRIN) began her presentation by illustrating new trends in the political sphere of Indonesia. Using five political leaders as case studies, her research found that most of the political parties were utilising the narrative of young leaders as well as their youth groups for most of their political campaigns. Apart from that, these young leaders were observed to be linked to political dynasties and used these connections to increase their electability. Dr Kurniawati also highlighted that these young leaders did not have distinct campaigns and leadership narratives, and emphasized populist programmes in their election campaigns instead of new innovative programmes. Dr Kurniawati believed it would be questionable whether this group of millennial leaders could bring about new hope for the country’s future development and democratization.

The Q&A discussion focused on millennials’ attitudes toward Indonesia’s political landscape. There were general concerns about the impact of cyber armies or cyber activists on millennials, and that the spread of propaganda and strong political messages could influence voting behaviours. The panellists also noted that dynastic politics could take a dominant hold in the future of Indonesia’s political landscape, given the current profile of young millennial leaders. Nonetheless, the panellists believed that millennials also have their own sense of agency and would be able to assess the type of political leaders they would like to see for Indonesia’s political future.

Panel 3: How Indonesia’s Millennials are Changing the Economy and Business in Indonesia

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The third session was moderated by Dr Maria Monica Wihardja (ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute). Dr Ibrahim Khoilul Rohman (Indonesia Financial Group Progress (IFG Progress)) began the presentation by explaining how the millennials in Indonesia managed and decided which financial products to own within their capacity. Using survey data and regression modelling, his research highlighted significant relationships between age and financial awareness, with Gen Y being more familiar with financial products such as bonds, mutual funds, cryptocurrency, etc. He also observed that while Gen Y had higher awareness of financial products, they preferred to own low-risk products. Gen Z, on the other hand, were well-versed with information on financial products due to technology, making them more inclined to purchase higher-risk financial products. Dr Rohman believed that young people in Indonesia are generally quite knowledgeable about financial products and would purchase suitable products based on their own needs.

Ms Diana Sari and Ms C. Suprapti Dwi Takariani (Research Center for Society and Culture, BRIN) began the second presentation by illustrating the challenges and opportunities for Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the digital economy. Using a quantitative research approach and data from MSMEs in the West Bandung regency, her research found that the digital competencies in MSMEs across generational groups were at the moderate level and the lowest competency level was on content creation and knowledge. Baby boomers and Gen X also demonstrated low competency toward technical operation and there would be a need to improve their ability to use digital devices and media. Across the generational groups, Ms Diana Sari believed that there is still a general need to improve the digital competencies of MSMEs for them to be more ready to take part in the future digital economy era.

Dr Bhirawa Anoraga (Indonesian International Islamic University (UIII)) described the development of the Indonesian crowdfunding scene and how it had shaped Indonesian philanthropy. Using interviews with Kitabisa’s founders as well as participatory observations, his research showed that crowdfunding aided in making the philanthropy sector more inclusive. The millennial generation also used social media to promote inter-faith harmony in Indonesia, mainly because there is a rampant spread of hate speech and growing religious tensions on this platform. Their engagement with crowdfunding helped to inspire Muslim NGOs to be more inclusive in their outreach. Dr Anoraga, therefore, believed that while youths are commonly assumed to be more immersed in consumerism and self-development, they are a generation that is not apolitical and in fact, actively engaged in socio-political and religious issues in the country.

The Q&A session focused primarily on the future progression of digitalisation in this current generation where millennials are already exposed to the benefits of digital technology. Panellists believed that as much as millennials are well exposed to information related to digital products, this trend is uneven, and more measures would need to be put in place to close the gaps. This could come in the form of training programmes that can aid in improving digital competencies. At the same time, risks and challenges could arise with new knowledge and precautionary measures need to be taken to safeguard millennials from potential future problems.

Panel 4: Millennials in Culture and Heritage

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Kicking off the second day of the webinar conference, Dr Lilis Mulyani (Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN)) opened the fourth panel of the conference. Mr Iim Imadudin (Research Center for Prehistoric and Historical Archaeology, BRIN) presented the first paper on the city’s historical memories in Bandung and how the local millennials are the guardians of heritage preservation, focusing on aleut and momotoran communities. Their research found that visiting historical sites around the city over weekends and retelling stories of their collective memory of the city are among the initiatives that could generate people’s interest in heritage. Supported by the local government, these millennial groups also used digital intelligence to expand participation in broader society.

In the second presentation, Dr Lily Yulianti Farid (Monash University), Mr Bagus Arya (ITP Markandeya Bali), and Mr Wildhan Burhanuddin (Muhammadiyah University Makassar)introduced their case studies of BASAibu Wiki, a digital platform that connects millennials to public issues and cultural heritage using indigenous language, in South Sulawesi (BASAsulsel) and Bali (BASAbali Wiki). Looking at one of their activities of language contest called Wikithon, they found that millennials were driven by the opportunities that Wikithon has offered in applying their linguistic expertise in daily life. Besides getting cash prizes, they had an opportunity to network with the government and local & international public. However, their research also found that indigenous languages are still less prestigious among millennials as compared to Bahasa Indonesia and English.

The last presentation from Dr Rouli Manalu (Universitas Diponegoro) covered the discourse of sustainable fashion in Indonesia that is increasingly popular among millennials and Gen-Z. From this research, Dr Manalu found a distinct difference between entrepreneurial endeavor vs moral endeavor in sustainable fashion industry. While the first one emphasizes sales/exchange events, the latter emphasizes raising awareness. Finally, she argued that the multiformity understandings and practices of sustainable fashion in her study reflect how global notion regarding the environment is translated into many different forms of activities and by individuals who were inspired to practice them.

The Q&A session covered the ways in which millennials preserve culture and heritage. The key takeaway of the session was that millennials have shared inspiration from local culture and heritage and embraced them in various ways and activities, including through the promotion in social media and digital devices and by creating a new sustainable culture. Discussing specific issues related to their respective research, the panellists also covered the prospects of a grassroots historical community and the migration, different activity formats in engaging millennials in language preservation in Bali and Sulawesi, and how to keep the retail price for sustainable fashion affordable for common Indonesians.

Panel 5: Millennials’ Art and Artists

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The second panel of Day 2 was moderated by Dr Riri Kusumarani (Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN)). Mr Chabib Duta Hapsoro (National University of Singapore) began by laying out the practice of participatory art by two Indonesian artists with their respective works: Moelyono (1957, during President Soeharto period) with “Kesenian Unit Desa” and Anang Saptoto (2021, during President Joko Widodo period) with “Panen Apa Hari Ini.” He argued that the art practice of both artists was naturally participatory and represented an alternative in their respective political periods. In terms of discourse, Mr Hapsoro found that the concept of participatory aesthetics that came from local scholars in the 1970s and 1980s had stopped, despite the continuous practice of participatory art by local artists. Finally, Mr Hapsoro also believed that while the local participatory art practices in Indonesia are in line with its theoretical concept, they may still be distanced from the global art discourse of participatory aesthetics.

In the second presentation of the panel, Mr Genardi Atmadiredja and Mr Arief Hartanto (Research Center for Society and Culture, BRIN) explored the Non-Fungible Token (NFT) phenomenon among Indonesian millennial artists. Through a phenomenological approach, their research looked at how millennial artists respond to NFT technology and the impact of NFT on the artists’ creation process. They found that millennial creators are eager to adopt NFT technology due to high profitability despite concerns about security and unstable cryptocurrency prices. As such, Mr Atmadiredja and Mr Hartanto believed that NFT had become a new method for artists to produce and distribute art, while also creating an inclusive space for people to enjoy art.

The Q&A session focused on discussing the art sphere across different time periods. One of the key takeaways was that Indonesian artists were never far behind the recent trends of the artistic approach. Both papers used Claire Bishop’s relational aesthetic concept to explain the relations of artists and their social context through participatory art. In this case, both the physical and digital artwork has engaged participation from the community to create and enjoy arts. As compared to the previous generations, Indonesian millennials embraced the freedom of speech and digitalization to showcase their artworks.

Panel 6: Millennials’ Religious Engagement

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Norshahril Saat (ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) wrapped up the two-day conference by chairing the last session on millennials’ religious engagement. Mr Rudy Harisyah Alam (Research Center for Religious Harmony, BRIN) presented a comparative study of religiosity and religious tolerance among Gen Y (millennial) and Gen Z in Indonesia. Using survey data with 3,200 respondents, his research found that millennials’ level of religiosity, in terms of their willingness to coexist with neighbors of other religions, was higher than Gen Z, meaning that the younger generations are more tolerant than the older ones. While the findings indicated that both generations displayed a high level of religiosity, only half of the respondents are willing to promote tolerance in education for future generations. Mr Alam acknowledged that the relationship between religiosity and religious social tolerance varied according to analytical measures, hence the attempt to contribute to conducting more research on scholarly discourse regarding its relationships.

Next, Mr Fuji Riang Prastowo (Universitas Gadjah Mada) presented his paper on the study of Indonesian millennials who learn Buddhism as an alternative to managing their mental health. In this case, Buddhism has become an option for millennials to ensure their mental health by joining meditation, yoga, veganism, and other Buddhist lifestyles. Using phenomenology-based ethnography of non-Buddhist people who study Buddhism in Yogyakarta, Mr Prastowo explored the way millennials interpret spiritual identity in their transitions to adulthood and the way they negotiate their values and practices due to religious disaffiliation. His research found that Indonesian millennials interpret spiritual identity as a process of searching for meaning and purpose in life. Such interpretation was illustrated in the way they conduct intra-personal dialogue and adopt conversion.

Mr Hamzah Fanzuri (Heidelberg University) began the third presentation on public spaces and performative piety among Indonesian urban Muslim millennials. Although discussion on public spaces was outdated for some people, Mr Fanzuri elaborated its growing importance in Indonesia as public spaces are now being seen as spaces capable of leading public opinion. For instance, he asserted how the urban middle-class used public and digital space to promote their Islamic narratives. For instance, Mr Fanzuri highlighted a recent feature of performative Islam in the hijrah movement which has seized public attention and gained many followers. Finally, he believed that urbanized Indonesian Muslims have perceived public space as a strategic contestation arena for their performative piety and new expression of Indonesian Islam.

The last paper of the day was on the emerging trends of cryptocurrency among Indonesian millennial Muslims and the Islamic regulations surrounding this phenomenon. Mr Harun Arrasyid and Mr Endi Aulia Garadian (UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta) began by illustrating how bitcoin and cryptocurrencies were banned by the Muslim clerics (MUI) in Indonesia through fatwas, yet still gaining popularity and getting a significant increase in investors. They highlighted the popularity of cryptocurrencies among many urban Muslims, including the televangelist preacher Yusuf Mansur and his daughter Wirda Mansur. Through their analysis of Telegram data, Mr Arrasyid and Mr Garadian found that some millennials obey the fatwa and some others perceived it as a formality and can be negotiated. While those who obeyed the haram fatwa have posed sharia-compliant discourses, the latter has attempted to negotiate the fatwas by reinterpreting the phenomenon with alternative fiqh perspectives. Finally, both speakers concluded that the Indonesian millennials had negotiated their religious values over rational choices, such as the profitability of crypto during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Q&A session covered a range of topics and panellists discussed the various perspectives millennials could take towards religions in this current generation. A general concern pointed out during the discussion would be the degree of tolerance of this millennial generation toward intra-and inter-religious pluralism and religious pluralism, given the changing social and political landscape. Even though there has been increased acceptance and innovations in practising religions within Indonesia, there were still contestation between conservative religious paradigm and current popularism ideologies. Despite that, the panellists believed that millennials are increasingly exercising their own agency in negotiating their ideas of religions in the current generation, and more research would need to be done to see the effects of such re-negotiation.