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Gojek CEO resigns to join Indonesia's new cabinet; named education minister

Nadiem Makarim ©Gojek

Nadiem Makarim was confirmed as Indonesia's education and culture minister and will become "a passive shareholder" in Gojek  

UPDATE: Nadiem Makarim was confirmed as Indonesia's Minister for Education, Culture, and Higher Education on Wednesday. In his announcement, President Jokowi said Nadiem will “create significant breakthroughs in human resource development, preparing work-ready students,” and that he will “link and match education with the industry.” Separately, a Gojek spokesman told media Nadiem will become a "passive shareholder" in Gojek, with "no role within the business and no influence on the company."

Gojek's CEO and co-founder Nadiem Makarim has resigned from the ride-hailing company he started to join Indonesia’s new cabinet of ministers. The company's president Andre Soelistyo and co-founder Kevin Aluwi will take over as co-CEOs.

"It is confirmed that I have resigned from Gojek, and I am no longer involved [with the company]," Makarim said, as quoted by Indonesian news website Kumparan. "As of today, I have no role or authority in Gojek." 

Indonesian media reported on Monday that Makarim made an appearance at the Indonesian presidential palace in the morning. He was wearing a white shirt and black pants, attire associated with Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

Other notable figures called up to the palace today include former Constitutional Court judge Mahfud MD, former CEO of NET.TV Wishnutama and Jokowi campaign manager Erick Thohir. Mahfud has said the full cabinet will be announced Wednesday.

Born in April 1984, Makarim co-founded Gojek in 2010 as a call center for motorcycle taxis, known as “ojeks” in Indonesia. He briefly left the company in his co-founders’ care to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School, where he was classmates with Anthony Tan, co-founder of Southeast Asia's other ride-hailing giant Grab. After earning his MBA, Makarim returned to Indonesia, where he led Gojek to become the country's first unicorn.

Lauded by Jokowi  

This is not the first time Makarim has been associated with Jokowi. In 2018, Makarim was widely reported to be a potential candidate for head of Jokowi’s campaign team. The position was instead given to Thohir, Chairman and founder of Mahaka Group, a publicly listed media conglomerate.

Jokowi recently attended the launch of Gojek’s Vietnamese subsidiary, Go-Viet, and applauded the company for taking Indonesian tech abroad. "This means our homegrown technology is being accepted in other countries," said Jokowi. "Later they should expand to Thailand, the Philippines and other countries. I must give [Gojek] two thumbs up."

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In 2017, Makarim was invited to attend a closed-door meeting to discuss developments in education and talent in the digital age. Adamas Belva Syah, co-founder of edtech startup Ruangguru, was also invited. The presence of the two entrepreneurs at the meeting was announced by Jokowi in a Facebook post.

Pro-startups, -digital economy 

Gojek rose to prominence at the same time as Jokowi, around 2014–2015. The company enjoyed positive publicity from the president and became an exemplar for other Indonesian startups.

When the Ministry for Transportation tried to ban online ride-hailing services in December 2015, Jokowi came to their aid, arguing that these services exist because there is real need. The ban was reversed within days.

During his first term, Jokowi strongly embraced the new digital economy and the rise of startups. In 2015, he established the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf) to support the arts, entrepreneurship and other creative industries. His first term saw the rise of five homegrown unicorns: Gojek, e-commerce platforms Tokopedia and Bukalapak, online travel agent Traveloka and e-wallet service OVO.

Now in the second and final term of his presidency, Jokowi seeks to deliver on his promises: infrastructure projects, economic and human resource development, mending political fractures, among others. Startups and investors alike are seeking regulatory stability and clarity.

While Makarim's exact role has yet to be revealed, he is rumored to be a choice for Minister of Education and Culture due to his success in running Gojek and fostering local talent at his former company. Young businesspeople such as Wishnutama and Thohir are expected to inject vitality into Indonesia's bureaucracy. Wishnutama has said he will likely be assisting in "improving Indonesia's capability to compete on the world stage and increasing our foreign exchange reserves."

Edited by Wendy Lovinger

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