A movement for democracy in Southeast Asia
Hello! Welcome to New Naratif!
This page explains who we are, what we do, and why you should join us.
Who we are
New Naratif is a movement for democracy in Southeast Asia. Our vision is to foster an inclusive Southeast Asia community where all peoples are fully engaging and participating in building democracy. We aim to achieve this by empowering Southeast Asians with the knowledge and skills needed to collectively create a more democratic Southeast Asia.
We are registered in Oxford, UK, and based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
What we do
A common refrain heard across Southeast Asia is the idea that ordinary citizens cannot make a difference. New Naratif was founded in 2017 as a response to the question: “What can I do?”. We build a better Southeast Asia by empowering Southeast Asians with the knowledge and skills they need to address our shared challenges and take collective action.
In a short period of time, New Naratif has produced a wide range of important articles about Southeast Asia in a variety of languages and formats, organised events across four different countries, swayed elections, partnered with a range of local civil society organisations, and grown into a 1,300 strong movement. We’ve made major contributions to the political discourse in Singapore and Malaysia, and brought to light new perspectives in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, among others. For this, we’ve been attacked, threatened, and even had writers and contributors arrested and sent to jail.
How we create change
Positive change needs to be driven by the people of Southeast Asia working together. We build capacity for this through our three step process:
Building a community of like-minded Southeast Asians to engage in collective action for positive change
Providing Southeast Asians with information, in accessible formats and languages, about important issues that we collectively face
Empowering Southeast Asians to create change through our democracy classrooms and other activities.
In this way, we help Southeast Asians collectively build a better Southeast Asia. For more information on our goals and beliefs, read our manifesto:
“In being highly transparent, regularly gathering and learning from its community members in person, and being a trusted watchdog in its coverage, New Naratif is an organization to watch.”— Emily Goligoski, The Membership Puzzle Project
A movement is only as strong as its members. We engage and connect people who want to make Southeast Asia a better place to live. At New Naratif, members can come together to discuss the most important issues facing our communities in a safe, respectful space and practice radical imagination to act collectively for positive change.
Our members have a direct line to our team via Discord and the weekly members-only newsletter. We also host regular online events with members, such as trivia night, documentary screenings and open meetings. If you believe in a more democratic Southeast Asia, join New Naratif as a member today!
New Naratif provides Southeast Asians with information about important issues that we collectively face in accessible formats, such as comics, explainers and podcast episodes. Our stories are translated when possible into multiple languages.
We seek to understand Southeast Asia by conducting research such as The Citizens’ Agenda, which seeks to understand what the people of Southeast Asia consider the most important issues facing our region; and publishing news and research on our region in accessible formats, including multiple languages.
Here are some of our articles which demonstrate what we do:
Publishing original academic research which sheds light on issues, especially issues which governments don’t want reported
- How Malaysia’s Election is Being Rigged / Bagaimana pilihan raya di Malaysia disalah atur explained how the then-Barisan Nasional government was trying to rig the redistricting process ahead of Malaysia’s General Elections
- The Duterte Playbook, which demonstrated how Philippines President Duterte’s rhetoric of “drugs and crime” was a smokescreen for using violence for political control. This strategy dated back to his Mayoralty of Davao City.
- How Discrimination Kills Gay Men in Singapore, in response to the official PAP government statement that LGBTQ individuals do not suffer any negative consequences of the legal ban on gay sex (Section 377A of the Penal Code).
Translating academic research into accessible formats and languages
- The Filipino Catholic Nun as Transnational Feminist (adapted from Mina Roces (2008) The Filipino Catholic Nun as Transnational Feminist, Women’s History Review, 17:1, 57-78, DOI: 10.1080/09612020701447657).
- Foundations laid, Directions Set (adapted from Michael Barr, Singapore: A Modern History (I.B. Tauris, 2019)).
Reporting on an issue from different perspectives across the region, that allow us to tell a more complete story
- How do you interview God? (and Part 2) / Gimana cara mewawancarai Tuhan? (dan Bagian Dua), about an Indonesian who was convicted of blasphemy for asking her neighbourhood mosque to slightly turn down its speakers. Our correspondents in Medan and Jakarta collaborated to produce these articles and incorporate both the local and national perspective to explain the deeper context of the blasphemy charge and conviction.
- Hawker Culture, on both sides of the Causeway / Budaya Penjaja di Sebelah Sini dan Sana Tambak, about food culture in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and what unites the twin capitals of Malaya, done via reporting from a Singaporean and a Malaysian based in the respective cities.
Stories which explore perspectives that no one else will explore and publish
- The Making of a Female ISIS Bomber / Bagaimana ISIS Mencetak Seorang Bomber Perempuan Pertama di Indonesia, an interview with the first female ISIS suicide bomber. She failed and is currently in prison.
- (Podcast) Road To Raqqa Part 1 / Part 2, an interview with an Indonesian who went to Syria to join ISIS and returned.
- (Podcast) Political Agenda: What’s up with Singapore’s Bicentennial?, a discussion with minorities in Singapore who have a different perspective on Singapore’s commemoration of the 200th anniversary of its colonisation in 1819.
Stories which highlight the diversity of Southeast Asia, in the voices of Southeast Asians
- (comic) One Day Out / Satu Hari Tanpa Sembunyi, a story by a closeted gay Muslim woman and her decision to not come out.
- (comic) My Name Is… / (Versi Bahasa Indonesia), a reflection by Iskandar Salim, a Chinese-Indonesian, on names, politics, culture and identity in Indonesia.
- (comic) We Have Always Been Here / Kami Senantiasa Ada Di Sini, a comic on non-binary people and their experiences.
Explainers which illuminate complicated, contested issues to our audience
- Explainer: What Is the MA63? And Why it Is Important to Sabah and Sarawak / Apa itu MA63? Dan Kenapa ia Penting Bagi Sabah dan Sarawak / 什么是MA63？为何对沙巴、砂拉越重要？/ Nama Sempekat MA63? Nama kebuah ia mai reti ti besai ngagai Sabah enggau Sarawak on what restoring the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 will mean, and why it’s important.
- Explainer: What’s going on in West Papua? / Apa yang terjadi di Papua? on the Indonesian occupation of West Papua and its struggle for self-determination.
- Explainer: The Ahmadiyya in Indonesia / Sebuah Pengenalan dengan umat Ahmadiyah Indonesia about one of the most oppressed minority Muslim groups in Indonesia.
- Our ongoing series of political concepts:
- What is Politics? (and why we can’t get away from it)
- Political Power, Authority, and Force
- Why Is the Protection of Minorities Important?
- Toleration, or Living with Disagreement & Difference
- What is Democracy?
“Yet rather than be cowed by the scale of what they face, New Naratif seems energised… It has a relationship with its readers like no one else in the media… It’s an example of the extraordinary level of innovation going on in the [Southeast Asian] region. “—Duncan Greive, The Spinoff
We hold events to empower the people of Southeast Asia by equipping them with all the tools needed to make positive change in their communities and become fully engaged, participatory citizens. Some examples of civic participation activities include:
- Democracy classrooms, where we discuss complicated issues in safe, constructive, environments. Here’s one early example. During the covid-19 crisis, we began holding them online. Here’s a report of our first online Democracy Classroom (with a video of the introduction)!
- Sekolah Democracy is a series of structured democracy classrooms with a syllabus where participants will learn about the basic principles of democracy. Our inaugural Sekolah Democracy focused on democracy principles in the Malaysian context.
- The Citizens’ Agenda is an initiative to survey our community and ask what issues are the most important to you.
- Journalism workshops, to increase capacity for independent journalism across Southeast Asia.
- Here’s a list of recent events, including trivia nights, film screenings, workshops and panels.
- We also take part in workshops, festivals, and other events promoting human rights, freedom of information, and freedom of speech in Southeast Asia, such as Freedom Film Fest, Cooler Lumpur, and Splice Beta; and academic events such as the ASEAN Forum in Sydney and the European Association of Southeast Asian Studies’ biennial conference.
Build solidarity with other Southeast Asians by participating in our upcoming events!
We’ve been recognised for our work, including:
Outstanding online news or feature story
What Happened to Wanchalearm? by Jacob Goldberg, Danielle Keeton-Olsen, Anna Lawattanatrakul, Matt Surrusco and Yiamyut Sutthichaya (in collaboration between New Naratif, Prachatai and VOD)
Excellence in Feature Writing, Regional, Honorable Mention: Medical Waste Collectors
Medical Waste Collectors: Cambodia’s Unseen Front-Line Workers by Gerard Flynn (in collaboration with VOD)
Professional Prize in the “Published Media Piece” Category
Our Financial Model
New Naratif aims to be 100% membership funded. However, only ~30% of our operational costs are funded by members. As such, we rely on grants and donations to keep us running. We are ad-free and do not accept paid content to maintain our organisational independence. If you support our work, please consider becoming a member.
“Yet rather than be cowed by the scale of what they face, New Naratif seems energised… It has a relationship with its readers like no one else in the media… It’s an example of the extraordinary level of innovation going on in the [Southeast Asian] region. “— Duncan Greive, The Spinoff
Advocacy and Best Practice
We also hold open online meetings every 6 months, hosted by Managing Director PJ Thum, to allow all members and anyone interested in New Naratif to ask questions of us. The meetings are usually held online at 8 PM SGT (11 AM GMT).
We do these because if a tiny organisation with no full-time staff and next to no resources can be transparent and accountable, why not governments, multinational corporations, and sovereign wealth funds?
“Let’s try and coin a new label here. Let’s call [these publications] ‘interest transparent’. New Naratif is at the forefront of this thinking.”— Alan Soon, Founder of Splice Media
For more information about our work, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions. You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Join our mailing list to receive updates—newsletters go out every Tuesday. If you’d like to write, draw, or record a video or podcast for us, please pitch us your idea.
If you’d like to be a part of our movement for democracy in Southeast Asia, please join New Naratif today or make a donation!