By Pamela Chan
Before she was nineteen, Tanah Sullivan had already called five countries home. Born to a Canadian father and an Indonesian mother, Tanah and her brother grew up in environments grounded in belief systems and walks of life that were different from their own.
During their family visits to her mother’s hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia, Tanah would sit next to her grandfather in their mushola ["in-house prayer room" in Bahasa Indonesia] listening to their neighbors and friends recount their personal struggles. Her cross-cultural upbringing, coupled with witnessing firsthand the vast disparity between their lives and her own, fostered in her a deep curiosity about humans. This kickstarted her mission to advocate for those who couldn’t:
“I knew that whatever I did in my career, I had to come back to Indonesia to do something meaningful.”
Not the average career path
Little did Tanah expect her career to take such an unconventional course. Initially set on becoming a diplomat, she dove into foreign service and international development projects for the Canadian and Australian governments respectively, with placements in various countries. After five years in government, and noticing how disconnected policymaking can be from grassroots impact, Tanah knew it was time to move on: “I just felt like I wasn’t doing enough."
Conveniently, she was recommended to apply for a role that covered Australia and various Southeast Asian countries at the World Economic Forum — an international NGO based in Geneva, Switzerland, and most known for its Annual Meeting in Davos. Here, thousands of Fortune 500 CEOs, heads of state, and civil society leaders discuss issues that impact the global, regional, and industry landscape. After four months of grueling interviews and a thirst to live in a country she’d never ventured into before, Tanah packed her bags and headed for the Alps.
“The Forum is second to none as it relates to big sustainability challenges,” she expounds, “This is where I cut my teeth in things like energy transition, combating deforestation, and tackling plastic waste pollution.” Finally getting to work on initiatives in Indonesia, she collaborated with current and next generation leaders from the country, including Gojek leaders Nadiem Makarim and Andre Soelistyo.
While the Forum works at a 30,000-foot level, Tanah wanted to tackle these issues from the ground up instead; her preceding collaborations with Gojek opened this very door. With six years at the Forum under her belt, she hit the road, set up a home base in Jakarta, and stepped into her new role as Gojek’s Group Head of Sustainability.
The torchbearer of sustainability
Tanah’s move couldn’t have happened at a more critical time for Gojek. Rising greenhouse gas emissions, growing poverty rates amidst the pandemic, and a sinking capital to top it off are just some of the colossal obstacles Tanah has taken on with her move to Indonesia.
As one of the leading transport platforms in the region, Gojek cannot afford to turn a blind eye to our carbon footprint or the ramifications of our daily operations to our surrounding communities. Tanah asserts, “We aren’t the main perpetrators of poor air quality. But, if we’re facilitating mobility in cities like Jakarta, then we’re part of the problem, not the solution. We need to ensure Gojek is on the right side of history when future generations look back on what we did or didn’t do.”
In a business context, she defines sustainability as growth with positive environmental and social impact.
“It’s the idea that we can still grow as a company without being a detriment to the environment and people in our communities, since these issues are all interlinked,” she specifies.
As individuals, Tanah believes we have a right to ensure companies are integrating environmental and social considerations into their business practices. She maintains, “Rather than wait for issues like climate change to disrupt our business model and the livelihoods of our partners, why don’t we start taking action and holding ourselves accountable now?”
The Three Zeros: An ambitious & imperative initiative
And Tanah has done just that. Under her leadership, Gojek has released its first annual Sustainability Report on April 30, 2021 — the first to be compiled by a Southeast Asian Internet company in alignment with globally recognized standards. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the report is the Three Zeros Initiative: a company-wide goal to achieve Zero Emissions, Zero Waste, and Zero (socioeconomic) Barriers by 2030.
This report is part of Gojek’s efforts in becoming more transparent with our environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices. Not only will this hold Gojek accountable, but it also keeps our stakeholders and investors up to date on how the company is faring against global and industry standards and peers. “How we do on the ESG front gives us license to operate in the long term, prepares us against future disruptions, and makes up the social contract we have with our communities and markets,” Tanah says, “Business growth and sustainability are no longer exclusive agendas. Rather, they have to be complementary and mutually beneficial.”
Identifying which ESG issues were of most relevance to Gojek was a feat in and of itself, necessitating months of consultations with internal and external stakeholders and cross referencing industry and global best practices. Tanah relates, “This is how we got our top issues of climate change, air quality, packaging waste, diversity & inclusion, driver livelihoods and wellbeing, among others.” Bucketing these issues into common themes, the team came up with The Three Zeros.
Some of the frequent obstacles Tanah fields include shifting stakeholders’ priorities from a six-month OKR (Objectives & Key Results) to a long-term perspective, getting buy-in for climate change issues, and articulating these targets to and for every single function within the company.
With a to-do list that would outstrip any shopping spree receipt, Tanah underscores the importance of knowing when to say no and staying focused: “I’m not going to push for something if it’s not in line with our company’s priorities and future business growth. If I don’t see a clear alignment, or a possible path for alignment, I have to drop it. The energy expended for that exercise could be better spent elsewhere where there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
While it may be tough to see how 2030 goals impact our present ecosystem, Tanah explains its short-term segments will elicit immediate effects. For instance, in efforts to transition to a carbon neutral platform, her team has set up a game plan for our driver-partners to hit a specific electric vehicle (EV) adoption rate: “We’ve been working closely with the Transport team to ensure that our fleet’s conversion to EVs is aligned with our annual carbon emission reduction targets.” Relatedly, the Sustainability team collaborates with the Driver Core team to establish the most appropriate metrics to track Gojek’s impact on driver livelihoods for their Zero Barriers goal.
YOU have a part to play, too
Tanah’s career illustrates that individual actions do matter. Taking her childhood mission to make a difference in her local community, she has since shifted Gojek’s business and operational trajectory and the impact the company will have on the environment and society in the long run.
The two central factors that Tanah posits we should tackle are policy and industry. As both consumers and citizens of the world, we each have the power to speak with our money: choosing which brands we buy from and which leaders will come into power. With the right policies, industry players — including Gojek — can help move the needle on our biggest environmental and social challenges. Tanah notes, “The biggest emitters, like oil and gas, won’t move unless policies require and enable them to do so."
So, the next time you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or downright fearful about the environmental and social issues affecting your community, remember Tanah’s story — the catalyst for change is the one person who takes a stand.
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