Looking for a New Path
JASON TEDJASUKMANA Jakarta
People: Eschewing the allure of the modern world, the Badui cling
to their spiritual way of life
Believing in one god is mandatory in indonesia, but most people follow
a smorgasbord of faiths: folk superstition, Hindu philosophy, the strictures
of the holy Koran. Is there room for a new creed that offers the joys
of "recontextualization" and gives devotees tips on how to "look beyond
the content of their life to the context?"
Apparently so, because a phenomenon called AsiaWorks has taken Jakarta
by storm. Among the capital's bourgeoisie, the self-help group has become
a buzzword. Tycoons, film stars and fashion models attend its seminars
(at $250 a pop). Astra president Teddy Rachmat credits the group's "trainings"
with his return to the top slot at Indonesia's largest car manufacturer,
after a two-year absence. "I have more fun in my life now," he says. "In
the past it was not fun going to work. Now I take it lightly."
Based in Hong Kong, AsiaWorks was founded in 1993 by American Chris Gentry,
a veteran of other personal-development groups like Outward Bound and
Life Dynamics. Since then enthusiastic graduates have spread AsiaWorks
across the region. Some 5,000 Malaysians have signed up, and 5,000 others
have enrolled in Taiwan. In Indonesia, where the group has operated since
1997, more than 3,000 people have registered for AsiaWorks' programs,
which purport to teach the values of commitment, responsibility and giving.
Sessions start by asking participants to fill out a form disclosing their
fears and personal problems; they are then guided through exercises designed
to produce the typical 12-step goal of self-discovery. Southeast Asia
director Mark Hemstedt attributes AsiaWorks' success in Indonesia to a
"crisis of integrity" among the country's Elites. "It's not just about
business," says Thessia Saleh, country manager for Indonesia. "It's about
bringing back the faith that Indonesia can once again be powerful."
Hemstedt, a former Unilever executive in Britain, bridles at the suggestion
that he's promoting a cult. "Cults are things people join," he says. "You
don't join AsiaWorks. It is a full training company." Yet detractors say
the group focuses too much on "self-help"for itself. Once hooked,
participants are encouraged to sign up friends and are given recruitment
goals and a "buddy" to make sure those goals are met. Sagar Mirpuri, 25,
a textile importer, enrolled his whole family and found himself dedicating
more time to AsiaWorks than to his business. He called it quits after
a year in the group. "Whether it's good or bad, they are playing with
people's minds," he says.
Write to TIME at email@example.com
From Sapporo to Surabaya Home | TIME Asia Features Home
TIME Asia home