More of Everything Thanks To Changing Faces

I’ll be talking about my experience in Honolulu, Hawaii this 30 August 2019 during the WomenBizSENSE monthly meeting from 2pm to 5pm. It’s for women only though as it IS our women entrepreneur association meeting.

I could’ve done this talk on my own but I wanted to bring the benefits and exclusivity to the association that I co-founded. It will be free for WomenBizSENSE members but RM30 per person for everyone else.

I had the idea to conduct a sharing session even when I was in Hawaii as friends started asking me about the programme (after they saw my photos and updates on Facebook). I’m the sort of person who likes to maximize my time and I knew a one-on-one sharing was out of the question. I know, I could be having lunches and teas till 2025 if I did this on a personal basis.

I even told Liz (the Changing Faces programme coordinator) that I would be doing this. And as my StrengthsFinder analysis revealed, I’m the kind of person who would walk her talk just because she can and wants to!

If you’re curious, my top 5 themes from StrengthsFinder are: Strategic, Maximizer, Focus, Achiever and Relator. You can read about each of the 34 different strengths here.

After I did this analysis, I am now a lot more comfortable being who I am. I am just living up to what my strengths are! In the past I’ve done DISC profiling, LEONARD profiling, etc. but this particular analysis of who I am and what I am made of makes me appreciate the person that I am. Now I know why I’m me.

I decided that I would like to share my experience but more than that, to encourage more women to apply for the Changing Faces programme when it reopens in 2020. I learned so much and had such a life-changing experience that I want other Malaysian women to have the same experience too.

Daily classes from 8am to 5pm at the East West Center building on the Manoa campus.

Throughout the 2 weeks in Hawaii, the 16 of us had excellent lecturers such as:

Dr Susan Madsen, Professor of Organizational Leadership Orin R. Woodbury Professorship in Leadership and Ethics who taught the what, why and who of leadership particularly focusing on women, confidence and identity.

Professor John Barkai who taught us about the art of negotiation (which incidentally is one of my favourite topics). You can get more readings and materials about this topic at his link.

Judith Mills-Wong from the University of Hawaii who gave us a sped-up version of accounting fundamentals and financial modelling especially from the entrepreneur’s view (through her class I am now interested to pick up a book she recommended on finance for non-finance people).

Scott Paul, President and CEO of the Kleenco Group, Hawaii’s leading locally-owned professional facilities cleaning, janitorial, and building maintenance companies who taught us strategic planning for our businesses.

We were hosted at a dinner reception at the local community college.

They weren’t the only ones either.

Outside of class, we had the privilege of meeting Hawaii’s entrepreneurs and social innovators. We met the good people of the island of Oahu such as YWCA president, Noriko Namiki and her team who are helping incarcerated women get back into society again through their various programmes such as Dress for Success and Launch My Business.

Vietnam meets The Philippines – Ha Tu and Norhani – two of the spunkiest women I know

We also flew to the island of Maui for two days to hear from more innovators such as Pacific Biodiesel and Maui Economic Board. We also got to hear from non-profits such as IMUA Family Services (serving children with developmental issues) and for-profits like Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm (focusing on agrotourism and working with other businesses to grow the tourism sector and create products using their lavender in jams, balms, art, food and more).

Noho me ka hau’oli – “Be happy”.

These were just the tip of the iceberg of people we met.

The East-West Center that ran the Changing Faces programme also thoughtfully paired us up with our host mentors based on our action plan and interests.

I was thrilled to be paired with Dr Kathleen Kozak, a doctor who hosted her own radio show on Hawaii Public Radio.

But here’s the thing: I learnt about the concept of ‘closing the loop‘.

Much as we learnt from our host mentors, we were expected to do the same for the 40 high school girls who were in the Next Generation Service Project. They came from different high schools and as part of our programme, we had to plan and conduct a session with the Hawaiian girls and provide inspiration to them in the short time we spent together. And I met two teenaged Malaysian girls – Zoe and Kassandra – who were pleased to tell me about their Milo dinosaur and roti tisu (they spend their summer break back here where their mum is from).

Spending our morning at the Sacred Hearts Academy with 40 gals

My two mentees, Hunter-Bailey and Mahina, were gorgeous as most Hawaiian girls go. Exotic with smooth and tanned skin. Totally island girls! They were also interested to know about Malaysia, what I did, how I ended up doing what I’m doing.

Hunter-Bailey and Mahina from Sacred Hearts Academy, Honolulu

We met some of them two days later at Gals With Lei which was a conference to bring the women of our programme together with the local women and local girls for inspiration, leadership and ideas. During the conference, all of us Changing Faces participants had to be involved too. (Click this for the photos.)

I was tasked to moderate a panel of experienced women who had served on boards – I was excited but nervous too! You would be if you knew these power ladies of Hawaii – Crystal Rose of Hawaiian Airlines, Michele Saito of Alexander & Baldwin, Barbara Tanabe of Bank of Hawaii and Fiona Ey (my friend from the programme but also the chair of Apia International School from Samoa).

I wore my baju kurung because I felt I had to show my Malaysian side while being a moderator!

I had so many ideas to bring back home and so many new friends made.

With my China friend, Drolma who has so much of inner strength. I told her she was like a rock in a storm.

But I also felt that this solo trip of mine (I did 30 hours of travel each way with long stopovers at Narita) had broken some of my own internal fears about a lot of things. I feel less self-conscious than the day I left Penang.

Ever since I announced to the world and the Changing Faces gals that I was going to create my podcast, I had more confidence and energy than before. I received a lot of encouragement from my posse in Hawaii and their notes of “yes, I want to know when the first episode is out” to “please interview East Asia women too” made me contemplate that the journey isn’t as lonely or as frightening as it sounds.

I kept saying, there’s something magical about the land that’s Hawaii (which by the way is made up of many islands). It simply rejuvenated me and gave me a chance to explore and discover who I was inside. Taking the StrengthsFinder made things clear to me; now I know how to use my strengths to further fuel my own personal growth and stop being apologetic for who I am.

The cool, quiet mornings walking to class amidst banyan trees hundreds of years old made me ruminate on the wisdom of the past and how fortunate I was to be there at that point in time. Immensely grateful. Absolutely mahalo.

Meeting my Penang friend, Swe Ee and Saliza Abdullah from KL. Saliza was invited back to speak at Gals With Lei as she was one of the successful women from the 2016 Changing Faces cohort. It was so cool to meet fellow Malaysians on foreign soil!

“We are all meant to be here.” I had announced this simply and in a sage manner to my friend, Tina when we were in Maui. She stared at me knowingly. I mean, what stars/fate/karma had to align to bring 16 women from all over the Asia Pacific to be in Honolulu! We had to fly hundreds of hours and thousands of kilometres, fight jetlag and overcome all kinds of hurdles to get to Hawaii.

One person didn’t make it – she couldn’t get her US visa. Jaruza, my Sri Lankan friend, stood her ground after being rejected for her visa and got it at the last minute after a second try but her visa was only valid for 3 months! (This makes me feel lucky as I got my visa in less than 5 minutes at the US Embassy in KL although the online form process was terribly tedious!)

Kulia i ka nu’u – Strive to reach the highest.

We felt like a mini United Nations – we were women from Fiji, Samoa, Malaysia, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Vietnam, The Philippines, Northern Mariana, America, China. Bound by entrepreneurship and wanting to effect change in our own communities, we sat through each other’s action plan presentations and cheered each other on. They inspired me and moved me to tears! Such brave and beautiful women doing fantabulous things in their society back home. So proud to call them my audacious sistas.

At Makua beach, Oahu. We had spent the day touring the western side of Oahu island and listening to Lala Nuss’ stories of Hawaii (Lala is in blue, behind me).

We again sat through the reworked versions on the final day. I saw such dramatic improvements in the way we spoke, thought and planned our action plans and knew that the Hawaii effect was working! It’s still in me, many days after I’ve come home. It’s like a spirit of the ancient land has seeped into my bones.

Kahuna Nui Hale Kealohalani Makua   
Love all you see, including yourself.” 

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