“You don’t know what you’ll love doing until you explore and explore.”
Founder | Javara
On growing consciously, practicing what you preach, and advice for young Indonesians.
Somewhere in a bustling Japanese city, delicate hands scatter a dash of Krayan salt, harvested from northern Kalimantan, over warm fish and rice. In Switzerland, a knife glazes creamy organic cashew butter from Flores over freshly baked bread, and in America, a bowl of Menthik Susu, a milky white rice grain native to Yogyakarta, carefully rinsed and cooked, awaits hungry mouths for supper.
Each of these ingredients stem from the wellspring that is Javara, a company spearheading the awareness and revival of organic artisanal Indonesian food products throughout the world.
At the helm of this endeavor sits a resolute and determined social entrepreneur in Helianti Hilman – a woman keen on showcasing the stories and behind the archipelago’s indigenous farmers and their way of life.
One can ponder the audacity and ambition behind a company with such a vision; working closely with some 50,000 farmers to craft more than 600 products is no easy feat. But growth at this scale, by her own admission, shouldn’t be done for the sake of it.
Equally merited for Javara’s success is a deeply rooted sense of responsibility to improve the livelihoods of the smallholder organic farmers they work with. By paying them more, providing technological assistance and quality control, and celebrating their stories on their products, Javara’s model effectively helps to preserve their native indigenous food heritage.
Such is why Helianti was recognized as a Forbes Indonesia Global Rising Star 2014 and awarded the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award by the Schwab Foundation in the ensuing year.
Manusia was invited to interview some of the speakers of Southeast Asia’s leading culinary event, the Ubud Food Festival where we had a short interview with Helianti. A calm and thoughtful woman, she fondly reflects on what true ambition means, the endearing moment that spurred her on to growth, and reveals the habit that has helped her the most over the years.
One would imagine the amount of ambition needed for Javara to grow as big as it is today. Was ambition something you’ve always had?
Good question! It’s something I have never really reflected on, and honestly, I never thought this would end up being my passion as I grew up. I’m not an agronomist or a food technologist – I was a lawyer before doing any of this. I don’t think this ambition was something I had from the beginning.
I was privileged to grow up around a coffee plantation in a very remote area, so all this travelling to remote places and meeting young farmers was not something new to me when I started.
I was also raised by a strong-willed mother who had strong social interests – she was the first social entrepreneur I knew, and I think that’s something I inherited in my DNA!
“I don’t think this ambition was something I had from the beginning.”
But I think Javara is growing organically – it’s not about simply growing “big” for the sake of it. A lot of times when our investors asked for a business plan, I tell them, “What business plan?”
When it comes down to it, it’s about truly discovering ways to serve farmers better, and give customers with healthier options.
“It’s not about simply growing “big” for the sake of it.”
If ambition wasn’t something you had at the beginning, was there a moment that changed you or gave you the inspiration to grow?
Something that definitely influenced our growth happened when my parents passed away. The time between their deaths was very short, and before they passed, they wrote me a long love letter that basically was about Javara. One of the biggest messages of the letter was them telling me “We love what you do, but if you keep it small, it will blow away like dust.” Simply put, Javara won’t have a systemic impact.
Their mandate was not in making Javara “big”, but in creating a philosophy, and business models that would change the current system.
If Javara is too small, few people will notice, appreciate and adopt our system. So we grow big to get people to see that this is a better way of doing business, and has a social impact for the producers as well.
How has Javara changed you over the years? What has become more important to you? What has become less important?
Personally, to be exposed to farmers who carry indigenous wisdom and knowledge about healthy consumption as well as a diversity of ingredients and indigenous food relationships, changed the way I saw food and our food systems.
That’s something I passed down to my son, who I had after Javara. It’s been a privilege for me to go through this journey because I can take this understanding that I have and pass down the experience to my son. As he grows up at this moment, I already am seeing the impact of that.
Secondly, I think I was trying so hard create a success story and send that message out to inspire people, but now I understand that I need to share my failures as well, so that others may prepare.
“Now I understand that I need to share my failures as well, so that others may prepare.”
When you’re on a journey like mine, it’s not always pretty, and there are a lot of consequences. Indonesia, being an archipelago is hard to travel through, especially outside of Java where there is little development. The disparity is huge.
I believe it’s important for people to know that it’s OK to fail sometimes. You’ll be alright – as long as you keep true to your integrity in your actions. That understanding is very important.
“You’ll be alright – as long as you keep true to your integrity in your actions.”
What are some of the specific habits that you’ve developed over the years that have helped you?
I became really interested in collecting seeds for any edible plants and herbs in all my travels over the years. From that, I developed my family’s food diversity garden in an effort to understand the ingredients more.
What I’m trying to allude to is that you can’t tell people what to do unless you understand it, and are doing it yourself.
Find balance in walking the walk, and talking the talk. I think that’s the habit that I’ve grown into. Any time I want to share something to people, I have to reflect and ask “Am I doing it myself? And do I have the integrity to talk about it?” It’s about representing what you talk about.
“You can’t tell people what to do unless you understand it, and are doing it yourself.”
What advice would you give to young Indonesians?
It’s important for us to explore the world. Just see as much as possible. As far as we know, you only live once, so, it’s important for any young person to just go out there and explore the options before really deciding which direction you want to focus on. You don’t know what you’ll love doing until you explore and explore.
If you would like to get in contact with Helianti, you can do so at :
If you would like to know more about Javara, visit :