IFP Alumni Risnawati Utami at a community meeting in Indonesia

Ford IFP Fellow Risnawati Utami

“The fact that I am difable (differently abled) has been the most powerful spirit in my life. Living with this condition has enabled me to make a difference and contribute to social justice for other difable people. I perceive this condition as a gift from God which becomes a unique strength in my life.” Risnawati Utami, IFP Fellow, Indonesia

Risnawati Utami was affected by polio when she was four years old. Throughout her life, she has had experiences in her home country of Indonesia that opened her eyes to the ways difable people like herself are denied fair treatment. Despite these odds, Risnawati excelled at school and strived to reach her higher education goals. With her intellect as her ally, she was able to study law at Universitas Sebelas Maret, Surakarta in Central Java.

Risnawati’s passionate advocacy for difable health care policies led her to work for an Indonesian NGO that promotes rights and access for medical services. In 2004, she won a fellowship through the Ford International Fellowships Program (IFP) to study health policy and management at Brandeis University in the U.S. While at Brandeis, Risnawati established a relationship with an international NGO striving for difable rights, and helped to bring more than 3,000 wheelchairs for difable children and adults to Indonesia.

Upon her return to Indonesia with her newfound knowledge gained at Brandeis, Risnawati established an NGO called Ohana, a Hawaiian word that means brotherhood, which is also an acronym for Organisasi Handicap Nusantara (The Archipelago Difable Association). Along with Ohana’s co-founder, IFP Fellow Buyung Ridwan Tanjung, Risnawati fights for children’s and difable women’s rights, while advocating for better policies for human rights and public services at the House of Representatives.In her advocacy work, Risnawati created the provincial regulation on the protection and fulfillment of the rights of persons with disabilities through the Governor’s Office in both Yogyakarta Province and Bali. One of her biggest achievements is the ratification of CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) in Indonesia. In addition, Risnawati is widely respected and known for single-handedly producing thousands of affordable wheelchairs from a modest home industry in the city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia with only few dollars as a seed donation.

In addition to her work on difable rights, Risnawati is a guest lecturer at the University of Gajah Mada, where she teaches reproductive health and universal design.