Chasing a crazy dream

Alumni Close-Up: Sara Dhewanto, MBA ’02

By Matthew Biddle

Sara Dhewanto’s blood runs UB blue. 

Dhewanto, MBA ’02, first came to Buffalo from Indonesia when her parents, Asmir and Irid Farida Agoes, attended UB for grad school. Irid would later earn her doctorate from UB, and Dhewanto’s brother, Pasha Agoes, completed his bachelor’s and is working toward his PhD here.

So, when Dhewanto and her husband, Hario, decided to pursue their MBAs, they naturally selected the School of Management. Soon after arriving, they found community with other Indonesian expats around Buffalo—relationships that became critical when they had their first baby.

“We knew every Indonesian in Buffalo—the community is that close-knit,” she says. “Having that support system enabled us to complete the program with a newborn.”

Dhewanto credits the Career Resource Center for the connection that led to her first post-MBA job, and her MBA for providing the financial skills she needed to succeed. After graduating in 2002, Dhewanto joined ExxonMobil as a financial analyst and was eventually promoted to manager of its Treasury Department in Indonesia, charged with minimizing risk and overseeing every transaction in the country.

After a decade with the oil giant, however, Dhewanto realized something: “I thought, ‘It’s been a good 10 years, but is this what I want to do for another 20 years?’ No, I wanted to make a difference and do something for my country.”

Dhewanto joined the Millennium Challenge Account–Indonesia, an organization created by a $600 million grant from the U.S. government to reduce poverty and invest in community health. As chief financial officer, Dhewanto worked to ensure that every dollar was dispersed appropriately to beneficiaries.

“That was incredibly difficult because around three-quarters of Indonesians don’t have bank accounts, so you can’t just transfer the money,” she says. “The only way we could actually get the money to people was to have my staff carry around loads of cash in luggage and distribute it in envelopes, one by one. How ridiculous is that?”

She knew there had to be a better way—and quit her job to create it. With Hario, Dhewanto co-founded duithape, which enables clients to efficiently and safely make payments to unbanked individuals. For the charity Dompet Dhuafa, for example, duithape helped distribute food in the form of grocery vouchers to thousands of Indonesians.

“We adapt our technology to those we serve,” Dhewanto explains. “All people need to do is go to one of the 2,700 stores that work with us and show their ID, and the store’s system can confirm they have an e-voucher. They can choose whatever food they want, when they need it, just a few hundred feet from where they live.”

Since launching five years ago, duithape has won the U.S. State Department’s 2019 GIST APEC Catalyst Pitch Competition and represented Asia at the 2020 Seedstars World Competition. For the first three quarters of 2020, Dhewanto estimates the startup helped clients reach more than 68,000 people, for an economic impact of more than $1.2 million (about 17.9 billion Indonesian rupiah).

“We have a pretty crazy dream—changing the world,” Dhewanto says. “The government and other companies have tried to do this for years, and they have all failed. But, if we do succeed, we actually get to impact people’s lives and make a difference. That’s something worth fighting for.”