Ririn Haryani and Kelly Dombroski
Arisan is a rotating credit system that has been present in Indonesia for over one hundred years. In contemporary times, arisan involves a regular meeting of a consistent group whereby each member contributes an equal amount of money or goods each meeting, and whereby a draw is held allowing one member to receive the combined sum of contributions. This rotates around the group until everyone has won. It is customary that the winner from the last round will provide the venue and snacks for the coming arisan round.
The practice is believed to have originally come from China through trade activities with the Orang Asli (indigenous Indonesians), even before the era of Western colonialism. The practice went through an acculturation process with local traditions and customs of helping each other, known as gotong royong. This means that arisan is more than economic exchange for the members. Arisan provides a social platform for community to both save money and gather regularly. Trust is an important element of arisan: all members need to finish the round, so that every person gets a turn taking home the pot of money. There is no legal agreement in place among the members, but the practice works through social sanctions: being isolated from the community events is always a threat for those who fail to follow the rule.
Before an arisan group begins, it is decided among the members on how many winners per round, the timeline from weekly to monthly and how much per person should contribute equally. This practice requires the members to attend the meetings regularly, for this is when the lottery is drawn and the funds collected for another round. It therefore works to consolidate social bonds since each member must be involved and present for each regular round. In Indonesia, local communities draw on their strong social bonds when difficult occasions arise, such as sudden financial burdens following a family member’s death or accident. As long as agreed by all parties, the winners of arisan are allowed to give their winning turn to the members most in need, and they will continue joining the draw for another round. This allows people in need to access an immediate financial support with no interest, as would be charged with other forms of loan.
Arisan meeting are also often used for government promotional or socialisation programmes, including social and health programmes such as immunizations, family planning and poverty alleviation with no additional cost to the local government. Where arisan groups are not present, the local government must incur extra costs to gather people, costs borne by the already strained local government budget. Such costs would normally include a meeting venue, snacks and sometimes local transport reimbursement. However, since the arisan winner of the previous round provides hospitality in the form of food and venue, there is no such additional cost associated to programme socialization. This type of socialization has been popular among government institutions, due to its effectiveness and cost efficiency.
Due to arisan’s flexibility, nowadays the draws are not necessarily only cash, but may include specific arisan groups for buying motorcycles or household equipment to permanent water sanitation facilities such as toilets. For most communities in remote areas of Indonesia, upgrading from shallow pit latrines to improved latrines or toilets requires an extended period of saving. Several organisations and informal community groups have been using arisan as a tool to shorten the waiting period for toilet installation. As long as the amount of money collected from the household is affordable, it can be used to buy standardized equipment with no additional labour cost. This is because the members will provide the labour support to build each of the toilets free of charge, with expert consultation from the supporting organisations.
For example, Dukuh Sebatang, located in Kulon Progo District, is one of the poorest villages in Yogyakarta Province. There, local people have begun to use arisan to improve their sanitary facilities with the support from the National Lembaga Pengelola Dana Pendidikan (LPDP) scholarship graduates in the province. Collected monthly, the contribution is around 3 NZD from 56 households on a 5 month timeline (with monthly draws). Along with improved toilets, the group also encourages the community to continue maintain healthy sanitation practices by conducting community health training at the same time. In April 2015, the goal of 56 toilet installed had been exceeded, with 58 toilets installed using this system.*
In our view, the use of arisan to achieve local development goals can be read in two ways. On the one hand, we might read it as governments outsourcing their work to communities and ‘co-opting’ community groups to achieve their own socialisation goals. But on the other hand, we could read this as a postdevelopment project whereby government, non-government, and traditional organisations collaborate to start with what is already available on the ground and to multiply possible changes through contributing assistance to community-led initiatives (see Dombroski 2015 for a discussion of postdevelopment in practice).
*The programme organisers Indonesia Menyapa have indicated that they will do monitoring and evaluation for 2 years to ensure the sustainability of the programme including whether they utilize and maintain the hygiene of toilets, however, we have not managed to find their latest evaluation reports online. Ririn and I will visit the programme or a similar one in May 2018 as part of our ongoing collaboration.
Ardener, S. (1964). The Comparative Study of Rotating Credit Associations. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 94(2), 201-229. doi:10.2307/2844382
Dombroski, Kelly. 2015. “Multiplying Possibilities: A postdevelopment approach to hygiene and sanitation in Northwest China.” Asia Pacific Viewpoint 56 (3):321-334. doi: 10.1111/apv.12078.
Geertz, C. (1962). The Rotating Credit Association: A “Middle Rung” in Development. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 10(3), 241-263. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.canterbury.ac.nz/stable/1151976