I hadn't worn shoes in nearly a month. I'm not used to shoes anymore. This is probably the only IFC office I know of where you work barefoot. Staff and visitors alike leave their shoes at the front door before coming inside, sometimes hopping while trying to undo their laces.
But on this day, shoes were necessary. Ambassador Bill Farmer of Australia came to visit Banda Aceh. Australia is our sole donor, and he wanted to have a first-hand look at how their taxpayers' money is being spent. To our delight, his very first stop after arriving was the Investor Outreach Office (IOO), which is being set up by the provincial government to provide support services to investors. The IOO provides investors with information about investment opportunities, helps them get licenses and permits, links them to prospective partners, and connects them to anyone they need to meet. After some thought, I decided to put on a tie as well.
The Ambassador arrived with a number of AusAID staff and was shown around by Pak Chan, who manages the IOO. Pak Faisal from the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency was also there to meet him. There were a few brief speeches, including a very well-worded statement by the Ambassador about the importance of...
investment in Aceh. I forgot about my feet for a moment, thinking that the Ambassador's speech would be great for our marketing materials. IFC is providing advisory services to the IOO. This is the first investment promotion agency in Indonesia in which
promotion efforts are separated from regulatory functions. In many countries, the same government agency in charge of investment regulation is also responsible for promoting investment. This has never worked as far as I know - too many conflicts of interest. Separating these functions is something new here and is attracting attention from other Indonesian provinces.
After the IOO visit there was more to be done, and the shoes stayed on. The team leaders from Australian-funded programs were invited to a luncheon with the Ambassador and Irwandi Yusuf, the newly-elected Governor of Aceh. The Governor has a better story than Arnold Schwarzenegger: born in the Bireuen district of Aceh (where IFC has a shrimp farming project), he was trained as a veterinarian in the United States. He then became a leading figure in the Free Aceh Movement. He was in prison when the tsunami struck, and escaped. Two years later, he’s the first elected governor of Aceh. Now he is committed to building Aceh’s economy and has done a lot to send a new message: Aceh is open for business. We hope that this message will get much wider coverage when the IOO is formally launched in April.
At the end of the day, I kicked off my shoes, pleased with the day's events. I'm not sure how I'll ever adapt to the shoe-wearing culture again, but that is a challenge for another day.