A dream for many in the army of overseas domestic workers in Hong Kong is to scrimp together enough of their meager salaries to start a small business when they return home. Indonesia’s biggest bank is offering a helping hand toward achieving that goal to the 170,000 or so maids from the southeast Asian nation now working in the city.

Since launching its entrepreneurship program in 2011, we have educated about 6,000 people, Sipakko Nainggolan, an assistant vice president at PT Bank Mandiri, said in an interview in Hong Kong. About 150 of the program’s graduates have started their own businesses, including salons, shops, restaurants and farms, he said.

Sipakko Nainggolan, assistant Vice President at PT Bank Mandiri (Persero) Tbk Photo: Asia Times
Sipakko Nainggolan, assistant Vice President at PT Bank Mandiri (Persero) Tbk Photo: Asia Times

Once overseas workers achieve their initial goals, such as clearing debt or buying a family home, it can be all too easy to lose focus, Nainggolan said. Saving quickly turns to consumption. The course helps to keep them focused on extracting a long-term benefit from their time abroad, he said.

“We try to change their mindsets from spending money to saving money,” he said. “We teach them how to open a small business.”

Indonesian maids_handicraft01
Indonesian families can make handicrafts and ship them to foreign customers. Photo: Asia Times

Bank Mandiri’s annual courses offers 600 domestic workers free lessons in financial planning, entrepreneurship and product marketing in one-day classes spread over seven weeks at the Grand Harbour Hotel in Causeway Bay. The lender, which has two branches in Hong Kong, also subsidizes smaller study groups spread out across six districts.

“They can learn about make-up, computing, Mandarin and handicraft,” Nainggolan said. 

Indonesian maids_makeup
Hair-setting and make-up are big businesses in Indonesia. Photo: Asia Times

During a two-day visit to Hong Kong in late April, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told about 5,000 of his compatriots that they were a key component of the country’s economy, while the investment they made in better education for their children would see many grow up to become skilled professionals such as nurses, engineers and bankers.

Indonesians working abroad send home more than US$9 billion each year, according to the World Bank.