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New Colombo Plan

Anton Lucanus, Indonesia 2015

As an undergraduate student of Human Biology at the University of Western Australia, Anton Lucanus intended to return to Australia to study medicine after completing his New Colombo Plan (NCP) Scholarship in Indonesia in 2015.

But an NCP internship placement at a molecular biology laboratory in Jakarta brought a seismic shift in life direction.

Today, Anton is the Founder and CEO of Neliti, a digital library software that powers over 1,000 university libraries across Indonesia, hosts more than 300,000 academic research papers, and attracts more than 12 million website visitors monthly.

And it was during his NCP placement at the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology in Jakarta that the platform was founded in early 2015.
 

Image of Anton performing laboratory work in a white coat.
Anton performing laboratory work at the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology in 2015. Credit: Anton Lucanus

“The NCP supported overseas studies in Molecular and Developmental Biology at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, where the classes were taught entirely in Indonesian. After my studies, I took off to find an internship placement that was aligned with my field of study,” Anton says.

“At the time, the NCP had great connections in business and industry, but finding a placement in science wasn’t easy. I ended up at the Eijkman Institute.

“Eijkman turned out to be life changing.”

Established in 1888, the institute is named after Dutch scientist Christiaan Eijkman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1929 for his work at the institute, which demonstrated that beriberi is caused by a dietary deficiency in vitamin B1.

“At Eijkman I was part of the Emerging Virus Research Unit, which was a newly formed team of scientists tasked with discovering new viruses in Indonesia. We focused on examining areas with high likelihood of zoonotic transmission, which is the spread of diseases from animals to humans,” Anton explains.

“Our lab had amassed a wealth of vital data, but there was no efficient method to share this information with the broader scientific community.

“While I was there, we discovered the first cases of the Zika and West Nile viruses in Indonesia. My colleagues would be out and about in wet markets and hospitals right across the Indonesian archipelago, collecting blood samples to measure the incidence of viruses such as Dengue, Chikungunya, and anything yet to be found in the country, like Ebola.

“We occasionally published the work in peer-reviewed journals, but that process took six to twelve months for the research to be made public.

“I proposed that the work should be made available online sooner so that it can be accessed by local and international health authorities. I therefore built Neliti as a small repository for my laboratory only, to upload our data publicly so that other researchers and health professionals can find it online and make use of it.”
 

Anton in a panel with the Neliti team at an Indonesian university.
The Neliti team collaborating with an Indonesian university that uses Neliti software in April 2023. Credit: Anton Lucanus

Channelling a personal hobby in web design and development, Anton built a digital library of all data produced by his laboratory, for the first time providing easy access to its yet-to-be-published research. He called it Neliti (meaning ‘To Research’ in Indonesian).

Anton recalls how the site’s usership grew organically, with increasing numbers of users accessing its papers, and other laboratories making requests to build similar websites for their own research.

In the broader context of Indonesia’s academic industry, Anton describes how each of the country’s 4,000 higher education institutions were required to publish and store all their research, resulting in millions of papers housed in different databases across the country.

Driven by a mission to make this knowledge more accessible, Anton reached out to the National Library of Indonesia toward the end of his NCP scholarship in early 2016.

He received an encouraging response from Pak Joko Santoso, the head of the library’s Digital Transformation Department.

“Pak Joko recognised the value of the Neliti concept and provided office space and a grant for the project.

“That enabled me to hire a technical team to hone the website and its functionality so that we could build an entire self-service content management system, meaning each institution could create their own website instead of requiring me to build it for them one-by-one” Anton explained.

Now headquartered in Singapore and with a global team of developers, Neliti is making an important impact on Indonesia’s academic landscape and is starting to see pockets of users in countries facing similar challenges to Indonesia - Malaysia, Vietnam, Uzbekistan and more.

Anton says his NCP scholarship experience led to one of the most dramatic changes in his life path.
 

Portrait of Anton Lucanus with Singapore buildings in the background.
Anton Lucanus in Singapore, where he now resides eight years on from his New Colombo Plan Scholarship. Credit: Anton Lucanus

“I think being part of a program that brings together Australia’s ambitious, creative and internationally-minded youth does change the way you look at things, it opens your eyes to what you might do to bring about change and contribute to social good,” he says.

“I am still in touch with many fellow NCP alumni, and this network has been important in fostering relationships with universities and research communities around the world.

“For me, the NCP experience was a melting pot where science, business, education and Indonesia all collided and Neliti was the result.”

In Anton’s journey, the NCP proved to be the vital bridge between undergraduate study to a fulfilling career in tech entrepreneurship.

“Nowadays I’m based in Singapore, where I focus on expanding Neliti and also angel investing into other startups in the science, health and pharma space.

"I still enjoy frequent business trips to Indonesia, where I maintain enduring friendships with Pak Joko from the National Library and my former lab mates at Eijkman.”

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