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Our program department (Empatika Foundation) is a separate entity from our research and training departments (which are managed under PT Empatika), ensuring that our research remains independent. Through the Empatika Foundation, we use data-driven and participatory approaches to build effective programs tailored to community priorities and realities. This builds on our core strength of people-centred research to develop projects that use research insights to meet the needs of these communities.

We do this through participatory processes that support communities to develop their own ideas and solutions to local development challenges. This ‘people-driven design’ approach also builds on our core values of empathy, inclusion and embracing complexity and puts those who are often excluded from programming at the center of design and implementation. Our programming is grounded in the skills of our research department, ensuring a strong understanding of context, and our commitment to working with local organizations, providing rich collaborations and opportunities to learn together.

For several years now, we’ve collaborated with communities to design processes and solutions to help address health issues (e.g. COVID-19 and malaria) and nutrition challenges (e.g. stunting and malnutrition). Our people-driven and community-based programming approach can be applied to many different sectors and we are excited to continue to expand our expertise in this area.

Improving knowledge and promotion around malaria prevention

In the Sumba Barat Daya district in East Nusa Tenggara, our research showed that there seemed to be an underreporting of malaria cases and a lack of knowledge from the community side, along with a lack of proactive engagement from health providers. As one of these insights included that many teenagers (especially boys) had experienced severe headaches, we saw an opportunity for a community-based programming workshop led by youth. For this solutions development process, we worked with eleven teenagers (seven girls and four boys).

To guide the process, we developed a ‘how might we’ challenge statement of 'How might we....develop a community-based process to identify and prioritise ‘at risk’ groups to reduce their malaria risk?'

During the process, the youth designed their own small survey to help better understand malaria and knowledge about malaria in their community. Following a review of the results and further discussion as part of the inspiration phase of the workshop, the group developed a series of ideas. From these possibilities the group decided to prototype and further develop their idea of creating a drama that would help convey information related to malaria (such as its history in their area, their survey findings, symptoms, prevention, and treatment).



Following some initial trialling, the group was invited by the local posyandu to perform their drama and help campaign in some of the local primary and secondary schools. Local health providers and staff from the public health clinic were also invited. The youth group received much positive feedback about the drama and health providers shared that there was potential for scaling up the idea by creating videos based on the group’s drama performance and distributing these through both public and private clinics in the area.

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Parent-friendly development chart and food posters

In a community in the West Bandung district in West Java, a district designated as a high prevalence area for stunting, we found during our research that mothers were aware that many of their children were considered short, or stunted, by health providers or according to the posyandu development charts, but they didn’t understand the problem and mostly just felt stigmatized. Related to this, we found that there was a lack of clear communication from health providers and local health programs to help demonstrate a connection between stunting and poor nutrition.

To explore local solutions to this problem as part of community-based programming, we developed a ‘how might we’ statement of, ‘How can we better address our need to know how our children are growing?’ and identified that there was an opportunity in this community to develop local communication tools to promote healthier nutrition practices and easier/friendlier ways to measure children’s growth progress.

We worked with two groups of mothers in the community to explore and develop communication tools. Following ideation, the groups decided to prototype and further develop two complementary tools: 1) a more parent-friendly development chart which indicated key milestones across different developmental stages, along with 2) daily food consumption posters according to different ages (6-9; 9-12 and 12-24 months) and showing locally-available foods. They tested these tools out in their community.

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These new communication materials were shared with village officials, midwives and health cadre who liked and agreed to support this initiative. The village head agreed to print out hte materials and distribute them to people’s homes. The daily food posters were also posted in some key public areas such as at kiosks and the posyandu. The parent-friendly development chart was also tested by midwives and health cadre at one of the community’s posyandu sessions. Mothers shared that the new development chart did not have much impact at posyandu because of the lecturing style typically employed by health providers and the busy environment, but found them useful to have at home. Mothers felt more empowered that they could track their own babies growth and development, while the charts peaked fathers’ interest in becoming more engaged as well in the development progress of their children. Feedback on the food posters indicated they were simple and easy to understand

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Healthier Play Spaces for Young Children

In a community in the Timor Tengah Utara district on Timor island in East Nusa Tenggara, we found during research on young child nutrition that many mothers mentioned that their babies frequently got sick or would stop gaining weight. From staying in the community, we also saw that animals are an important part of people's lives, but are often encouraged inside homes. We also noticed that many children’s growth charts flattened out at around 5 -7 months of age.

From these insights we initiated a solution development process centered around a ‘how might we’ statement of: ‘How might we... help Babies and Young Children to Play and Get Fed in a Clean and Hygienic Way in The Home?’

Working initially with a group of mothers, the group generated lots of ideas about why their babies get sick, mostly associated with getting dirty. In order to better illustrate how less visible aspects of being ‘dirty’ like germs might be spread around their homes, our researchers had the idea of placing ink on the feet of a baby chick. From this, the group was able to see all of the places in and around this house where the chick was visiting, and importantly, how many of these spaces were also important areas for their babies and children to eat and play.

During the ideation process, the group decided to develop the idea of making a simple fence to place across their doors or verandah that would help keep their babies and toddlers inside while they did chores while also keeping their animals out. To develop this idea into prototypes, we invited fathers to join the process, which also became a great way to get them engaged in the discussion around keeping their children healthy.


One of the interesting insights from this process and the solution the group developed was that it was not actually essential for the mothers (or fathers) to have a good understanding of germs or to be able to explain germs to others. Their own message about the fences was that they help to “prevent our child getting sick often,” and this was effective. The visibility of fences also made others in the community curious and created a lot of discussion.

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