Touched by the power of kindness

Kusnadi Salim has never forgotten the support he received at Monash. Now he wants to return the favour.

BY LARISSA DUBECKI

Kusnadi Salim’s second year as an international student enrolled in a Monash Bachelor of Business was marred by the arrival of the Asian financial crisis. The economic meltdown badly affected his family’s business, to the point where it was doubted whether the Jakarta-born, Singaporeraised undergraduate would be able to finish his course. 

“I remember so clearly the kindness of my lecturers… how they all looked out for me at a very difficult and vulnerable time,” recalls Kusnadi, now 39. “They were extremely empathetic and gave me so much help it really touched my heart.” 

These days, as a director and chief financial officer with independent Indonesian power producer P.T. Pusaka Jaya Palu Power, Kusnadi is at the forefront of energy provision in a country where millions in the eastern parts of the archipelago still have no reliable access to electricity. 

Before the coal-fired power plant arrived in the city of Palu, on the island of Sulawesi, residents had electricity for only six hours a day. Now they mostly enjoy 24-hour power. 

The company isn’t immune to the cause of renewables, however. It’s looking at using discarded coconut husks as a biomass fuel in isolated parts of Indonesia. “It’s a waste product, people throw it away,” Kusnadi says. “You take the kernels and burn it. It’s almost as effective as coal, although we cannot build at a massive capacity.” 

The company is also investigating the use of solar power, at the behest of its Taiwanese lender. “They’re eager for us to look at solar photovoltaic (PV) energy,” he says. “The interest in solar is growing in the country, usually driven by US and European companies. It’s slow, but it’s growing.” 

P.T. Pusaka Jaya Palu Power is actively looking at taking on Monash interns, inspired by a recent alumni event held at Jakarta’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel. 

“I saw [President and Vice-Chancellor] Margaret Gardner and we were talking about how we, as alumni, can give back to Monash, including internship programs,” Kusnadi says. “I think it’s something worthy to pursue. 

“It’s that same spirit my teachers at Monash showed me, which in turn inspires me to think about how, through my current job, we can always contribute further, from providing a reliable 24- hour electricity supply, to simply volunteering English teaching in the nearby school, and to providing basic medical services to women and children through our own on-site clinic.”