Sati Rasuanto was the co-founder and managing director of Endeavor Indonesia, which gives high-impact entrepreneurs the tools to thrive. The mother of two looks ever forward, constantly on the lookout for things to build and ways to give back to the world.
by Tisha Alvarez
Whether she’s sitting in a café for an interview, attending a workshop with other Endeavor fellows, or speaking onstage in front of a big crowd, one thing remains the same for Sati Rasuanto: At some point, she won’t have any shoes on.
“Even when I host Endeavor events—big ones with, like, 2,500 people—I would be barefoot onstage. I wouldn’t realize it. I just…take them off!” she says with a laugh. “I don’t know why I hate shoes. When my board was finding my replacement, they said, ‘It’s really hard to fill your shoes.’ And I said, ‘No shoes!’”
Rasuanto is referring to a post she vacated in April 2019. The 41-year-old served as managing director of Endeavor Indonesia, an organization she co-founded to support a network of high-impact entrepreneurs. At the time of this interview, she was on sabbatical, after having been with Endeavor for seven years. It was a role she took on after stints as a financial consultant, as an energy specialist/operations officer at the World Bank, and as part of the staff of the Minister of Investment in Indonesia.
It was Rasuanto’s time in government that opened the doors of Endeavor for her. In 2011, the minister had a guest named Cindy Ko from Endeavor’s head office in New York, and she and Rasuanto sat down to talk about the organization’s viability in Indonesia.
“The conversation with me evolved around 1) Do you think Indonesia is the right place to have something like this, given that at the time, an entrepreneurial ecosystem didn’t exist really? And 2) Do you think there are seasoned entrepreneurs and business leaders who would like to be the patron of this initiative to start with?” recalls Rasuanto.
Her answer to both questions was yes. And so, she helped connect Ko with people who might be able to help her further explore the idea. A few months later, Ko met with Rasuanto again, this time to say that they had decided that Indonesia was indeed a good place for Endeavor to launch. But, she added, “we should actually get somebody to want to start it here. And we think it should be you.”
Although it was an interesting proposition, the timing was a little off—Rasuanto was about to leave Indonesia to spend six months in the U.S. as a Yale World Fellow. “I actually recommended a few people to her and then I went off to the U.S.,” she says. “Around September, October, Cindy called me again and said, ‘I think we want to wait for you if you are open to it.’” Rasuanto made the commute from the Yale campus to Endeavor’s New York office a few times to meet the founder and get to know more about the organization. The visits confirmed that Endeavor was a good fit for Indonesia.
According to Rasuanto, there was virtually no entrepreneurial ecosystem in her home country back in 2012. Many companies were just offshoots of bigger conglomerates controlled by the wealthy few. There weren’t many self-made entrepreneurs—less than 1% in a country with a population of 250 million. And many startups didn’t make it past the third or even the first year. Rasuanto envisioned Endeavor Indonesia to be an organization to help fledgling businesses that had impact-driven—rather than profit-driven—founders, enabling them to scale up from their start-up phase.
Had Endeavor Indonesia come calling at an earlier time, Rasuanto may not have decided to take it on. But because it came at the heels of her time at Yale, she was more receptive to the role. She explains, “Before Yale, I really believed that one person cannot do much. So, whenever I work or pick a project, I really believed in the power of leveraging a platform. So, I worked in the government or in the World Bank. I worked on things that were big-scale so that me [as] one person can, like, hop on that platform and sort of amplify whatever it is that I’m doing that way.”
But the Yale fellowship exposed her to inspiring individuals who were creating change on their own, such as the opposition leader against Russian President Vladimir Putin or someone who organized rallies against then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. “That sort of gave me the confidence to say, ‘Oh, I as one person can do something in a smaller organization and still have an impact that is bigger than one times one,” she says.
The EI Impact
In the following years, Rasuanto went on to join two more fellowships that helped her become a more well-rounded leader: the Kauffman fellowship in 2014, which was geared mainly towards investors in tech companies and, to an extent, ecosystem builders like Rasuanto; and, in 2017, the Equity Initiative (EI).
While the Yale fellowship made her feel more empowered as an individual, the EI fellowship allowed Rasuanto to see herself as a different kind of leader. She already had an understanding of how transformational a fellowship could be, but EI came at a time when Rasuanto was exploring health entrepreneurship, which was in its nascent stages in Indonesia. “How great would it be, right, if entrepreneurship is actually used to improve the human development index, means, education, and health? Yet the number of companies working on this issue, you could count by hands,” she says.
Another barrier to industry growth was that entrepreneurs in the health space needed a certain degree of knowledge and expertise—whether they were doctors, nurses, or community health workers—to be able to properly solve problems and address issues. Rasuanto admits that prior to becoming an EI fellow, she didn’t know much about health equity beyond its textbook definition. “So, I walked into [EI] thinking that I want to foster more health entrepreneurs. I had no idea how to do that so let me just do this right and meet a lot of people who are working in this space,” she says.
Another factor that made EI especially interesting to Rasuanto was its Southeast Asian roots, as she wanted to get a clearer picture of the situation across the region. She reflects, “I always saw myself as an Indonesian girl. So, every time there was an opportunity to work outside Indonesia or for a non-Indonesian cause, I go, ‘Hmm, not sure.’ I didn’t even realize it was because I was so nationalistic in my Indonesian identity. I just thought I wasn’t interested enough.”
She continues, “But one of the things we were exposed to within this program is that we saw, at a grassroots level, different equity problems. Sometimes in health but also not in health. We saw it in Manila, we saw it in Laos, in India, in different places, even in the U.S.” That experience made her realize that suffering is suffering everywhere, and that helping people in other countries is no different from helping people in Indonesia.
“I now see myself more as a truly global-slash-Southeast-Asian person that can actually make a difference not just in Indonesia but anywhere else too, if needed. I think that’s a huge shift for me, personally, in addition to learning all the technical stuff about health and health equity,” she shares.
Endeavor Indonesia has helped change the entrepreneurial landscape in Indonesia over the past seven years, through programs and events like “speed mentorship,” featuring leaders of the biggest multinational companies in the country. But the organization hasn’t just helped the entrepreneurs; it has also awakened an entrepreneurial spirit in the mentors (some have gone on to start their own businesses) and in Rasuanto herself.
“I think I have the entrepreneur’s bug. I’ve always loved building things in all of the jobs I took on,” she says. Her next phase? “I think it’s going to be in the start-up space. It is likely to be a technology company. I think that’s what’s next. And hopefully, it’s a technology company that actually helps the country,” she reveals.
As with her previous sabbatical, she has been using this time to “break down her identity,” which she finds quite healing “because then you know what sticks” beyond any of the pomp and benefits of what her previous role offered. When considering her options, she finds the balance between doing what she’s good at and being able to fulfill her responsibilities at home. And she also remembers the words of wisdom of her late father, who cautioned against becoming someone who simply used her head and hands to work, but not her heart.
Ultimately, she is guided by her desire to be a net contributor. “I want to contribute more than I consume. I feel like the world has given me a lot, so I also need to contribute a lot,” she says.
Whatever Rasuanto chooses to do next, she’ll go into it with arms and heart wide open—and, very likely, no shoes on her feet.
Since the COVID 19 pandemic, Sati through her new startup has worked on solutions with government to help ensure aid reaches the right small businesses and individuals in a streamlined manner. Her startup, VIDA (Verified Identity for all), aims to provide reliable and swift identity verification to ensure that transactions are safe for all the parties involved, enhancing data privacy & enabling financial inclusion.