University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra, Associate Professor Minako Sakai has received the 2023 Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture's prestigious Anugerah Kebudayaan Indonesia (AKI), Indonesian Culture Award for her work as a foreign scholar who has made outstanding contributions to the study of Indonesia’s culture and society.

The annual AKI Indonesian Culture Award is usually granted to Indonesian citizens however some years a category is added for international scholars who have made a significant contribution to the study of Indonesian culture and society.

Associate Professor Sakai received the award from the Indonesian Minister of Education, Culture, Research and Science, Mr Nadiem Anwar Makarim, at a ceremony held at the Grand Sahid Jaya, Jakarta on 27 October, 2023. The event was held as the highlight of National Culture Week in Indonesia.

Associate Professor Sakai said she was honoured to have been endorsed by the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, H.E. Dr Siswo Pramono, and that receiving the prestigious award and the recognition from the Indonesian Government is a career highlight.

“A large part of my academic career has been focussed on Indonesia, and I have collaborated extensively with Indonesian scholars and have a deep affiliation with Indonesian communities. I’ve also supervised PhD theses on Indonesian society, so to receive this Award from the Indonesian Government means an incredible amount to me,” Associate Professor Sakai said.

“For over 20 years I have researched and written about how local knowledge and culture can be used in modernising Indonesian society, and I’ve long had an interest in examining the impact of Islamisation among middle-class Muslims in Indonesia with a focus on Islamic microfinance, women’s entrepreneurship and community empowerment.”

Associate Professor Sakai teaches in Indonesian Studies and supervises research students in Southeast Asian Social Inquiry at UNSW Canberra and is also the Deputy Head of School (Research).  

She has been taking undergraduate students to Indonesia to study Indonesian language and culture at Gadjah Mada University every year together with her colleagues in Indonesian Studies, funded by the DFAT New Columbo Plan grants.  

“People-to-people engagement is the foundation of genuine bilateral relations. Our students gain so much in a short period of time in Indonesia and they always want to learn more about Indonesia and are eager to return. They become very passionate about studying about Indonesia after the trip,” Associate Professor Sakai said.

Associate Professor Sakai has built strong ties with Indonesia through her research and teaching, including collaborative research partnerships with the State Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta, The University of Indonesia, Gadjah Mada University and the Airlangga University.

For over two decades she has been contributing to the direction of Islamic studies by offering anthropological perspectives, and it is this contribution that has seen her serve on the editorial board for the Asia Pacific Anthropology and Studia Islamika.

Associate Professor Sakai’s earlier research explored the impact of Islamisation upon ethnic identity among Malay-language speaking Gumay people of South Sumatra in Indonesia.

She has previously taken up research fellowships with the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU College of Asia and Pacific, Cornell University, State Islamic University Jakarta, and the National University of Singapore. She also holds a PhD in anthropology from the Australian National University.

She has written and edited seven books on social change and the role of Islam in Indonesian society and has delivered keynote speeches in dozens of international conferences that focus on religion, community and local development issues in Indonesia. Her latest book is titled Women Entrepreneurs and Business Empowerment in Muslim Countries.

Associate Professor Sakai’s latest research is focused on the impact of the digital economy in rural development policies - especially on women and the disadvantaged - in Indonesia. She will present a keynote address in an annual conference of ICONIST at State Islamic University, Jakarta on 6 November. 2023.

Minako Sakai