Alumni Award winner 2017 Arie Setiadi Moerwanto about his career

25 October 2017

The 2017 IHE Delft Alumni Award has been presented to Dr. Arie Setiadi Moerwanto. Currently the Director General of Highway Engineering at the Ministry of Public Works and Housing in Indonesia, he is the first alumnus from Asia to receive this award. Dr. Moerwanto started his career with the Ministry of Public Works and Housing in Indonesia in 1986. Since then he has held numerous influential positions at the Ministry that demonstrate a record of professionalism, ingenuity and a commitment to progress for his country.

Building a career

In 1988 while working for the Research Centre for Water Resources in Indonesia, Dr. Moerwanto took an opportunity to further his studies and came to IHE Delft. With the support of a Nuffic scholarship, he originally came for an 11-month specialised programme in Experimental and Computational Hydraulics (now, known as Hydroinformatics). Having passed with distinction, he continued by pursuing an MSc with a scholarship from the Laminga Foundation. “At that time I learned a lot about teamwork, about discipline, about culture,” he said. He also explained that opportunities to visit projects in the field gave him not only a theoretical understanding, but the basis for how to implement engineering solutions. He later earned a PhD in river morphology from the University of Wollongong in Australia, where coincidentally, his advisor was also an alumnus of IHE Delft.

Some of what Dr. Moerwanto learned at IHE Delft directly impacted his career success early on. “Since I did my MSc on experimental and computational hydraulics, I had the chance to check all of the designs by means of physical modeling in the laboratory,” he said. “At the time I checked more than 60 % of the designs of the barrages and dams and the design of irrigation systems. This was a big opportunity for me, not only in one province, but dealing with almost all projects across Indonesia, so I was lucky.”

In 1988 there was also a special course at IHE for the Ministry of Public Works staff and participants came from provinces throughout Indonesia. Dr. Moerwanto added that, due to the large Indonesian cohort of students he studied with, if you were good it quickly spread through this network and soon the whole of Indonesia knew about it. In his case, his reputation for being good opened many doors.

Accepting challenges

Not afraid of a challenge, Dr. Moerwanto eventually became the Director for Water Resource Management. He explained that it was a difficult adjustment, because of his specialisation in river morphology and hydraulics. “When I moved to this position I had the responsibility for water management,” he said. “It was quite different because I had to identify what was the potential of the water resources in Indonesia and find the strategies to manage it.”

One of the challenges that impacts water management strategy in Indonesia is geography, Dr. Moerwanto explained. “Indonesia is very big, made up of many big and small islands, but 57.5% of the population lives in Java,” he said. And he noted that the Government’s former transmigration scheme, an attempt at easing overpopulation by relocating people to less populated areas, was not the solution. “Of course it’s easier to force our population to follow the programme of transmigration, you go to Kalimantan or Sumatra, but nowadays you cannot do that,” he said. “People have to move voluntarily.”

These days, in addition to creating a strategy on how to optimise water resources, communication has become one of the biggest challenges, according to Dr. Moerwanto. “We can schematise and make a simulation in the computer,” he said, “but how to communicate the idea to the people to make it easy to understand, is the challenge, because water is everybody’s business.” He believes that a good engineer or a good manager is one who can make a complicated problem simple to understand.

Most recently, Dr. Moerwanto was presented with a new challenge, as he was appointed Director General of Highways. With regards to the scope of this job, he pointed out that Indonesia is not only Java. “Indonesia has to develop other islands. We always say if there is sugar there will be ants,” he said. “My Minister said one aspect that can trigger the development of an area is connectivity, so I have to develop a new road network to stimulate investors to put money in other parts of the country.” Dr. Moerwanto added that in Java the water potency is critical, but on other islands there is still enough for the population. So although this new role is quite different, in fact he still supports the quest for water security in Indonesia. 

Musings on the past and advice for the future

Though his reason for being at IHE nearly three decades ago was to study, Dr. Moerwanto admitted his love of travel often distracted him. “I was not a diligent student because every free weekend I was traveling,” he said. “I had a scholarship here and I saved some of my money by having very cheap but healthy food so I could travel around Europe.” He noted that it was a good way to learn about culture.

Dr. Moerwanto also reflected on the challenge of completing his final project. “At the time we didn’t have our own computers,” he said. “We had to book a time to use the computers and it was not allowed to use them for more than two hours in a row. And there were only a few computers at that time so you had to work with it. But fortunately in the end I finished it!”

After many years of experience, Dr. Moerwanto offered some advice for new students and young staff. “A degree is not everything, it’s not enough,” he said. “For me, developing a network and knowledge and knowing culture and how to communicate are more important and I got that here at IHE Delft.” He noted that his experience here made it easier to speak with people from other cultures. “IHE Delft offers the environment that is different from other universities in my experience, because the students come from different countries, all over the world, and it’s good.”

Because of his personal experiences, Dr. Moerwanto continues to be a great ambassador for IHE Delft. “It’s a simple thing,” he said. “I always encourage my staff to come here because I got a lot of knowledge here and a network.”

Personal reflections

When asked about his reaction to receiving the alumni award, Dr. Moerwanto said, “I never imagined receiving an award like this and it was a big surprise for me.  It’s a very important honour and once you put it on the web the whole of Indonesia will know! They even wrote a    story about this in the biggest newspaper in Indonesia.”

Dr. Moerwanto reflects that his greatest career achievement so far relates to the strategic plan of water resources development for Indonesia. “Actually we wrote together a book (a team from the Directorate General of Water Resources, Ministry of Public Works and Housing), The Water Footprint of Indonesia. In that book we talk about our water potential and the strategy to achieve water security or resilience in Indonesia,” he said. “I think that’s my biggest achievement because it’s become like the master plan of the country.”

And as for what inspires Dr. Moerwanto, it’s pretty simple. “Actually, my motivation is only to do the best that I can do,” he said. “I never asked for positions or promotions. I never asked and I never refused when I got an assignment. I just do my best.”

This article has been written by Heather Montague - writer and editor.