Leading An Organisation of Women

An acquaintance asked me to answer a few questions regarding my role in WomenBizSENSE. Since I took the time to do so, I might as well put it here too. I believe in repurposing or reusing content, particularly for different platforms.

From left, Hayzel, me, Josephine and Jin Ting. We were interviewed recently by Guang Ming Daily for their International Women’s Day special feature.

What is your position in the organisation?

I co-founded WomenBizSENSE in 2006 with a friend, Josephine. I was the chairperson from 2012 to 2016 after we were officially registered as an NGO with Registrar of Societies. After that, I stepped down and I am now in the Committee as an advisor, as is Josephine. 

The 2020 WomenBizSENSE Committee

How would you describe your role as a leader in the organisation? 

I would say that it changes with time. When I was the chairperson from 2012 to 2016, I was actively engaging with the members and together with my committee, we would plan events that helped our members in their businesses such as give them more publicity, limelight or just ensure that each member knew each other and they did business with each other. It meant a lot of internal networking and ensuring members are happy.

Now that I am no longer the chairperson, I am freed up to do more external networking either with outside organisations (business and NGOs) and create more connections that the committee can follow up with. In a way, Josephine and I have become “ambassadors” for WomenBizSENSE. 

One of our sessions last year for our mentoring programme.

What motivates you to be in the non-profit sector/ non-governmental organisation?

I didn’t initially start out wanting to be in the NGO arena. WomenBizSENSE started because Josephine and I couldn’t find an organisation that truly met our needs as women in business. We felt that there’s much to be done for women in small businesses. We started without any funding; we literally self-funded the NGO until we started collecting membership fees. However, I am happy to say that over the years, we have grown organically through word-of-mouth and have great visibility in Penang.  

Mentors and mentees of the 2019 business mentoring programme

Can you describe the organisation’s objectives?

WomenBizSENSE is a registered women entrepreneur organization based in Penang, Malaysia. We’re a non-profit organization, run by a team of committed volunteers who comprise women in businesses and we help women entrepreneurs get access to the right resources they need to grow and scale their businesses.

We provide access through entrepreneurship visits and exchanges, expertise sharing, seminars, business opportunity sharing and charity fundraising. Our events are based on our 5 key pillars: Support, Education, Network, Social Responsibility and Entrepreneurship.

And why do you think these areas are equally important for women empowerment?

Women in business need support, education and the power of a network. They also need to realise that business is also a tool for good hence we have a social responsibility as one part of who we are in WomenBizSENSE. We organise social responsibility activities because we know doing good for others is innate in all human beings particularly women. 

Women who run businesses will be financially independent and financial independence is always important for women. When a woman is able to provide for herself and her family through her own resources and business, she is more confident and more empowered. She makes decisions every day as a woman in business. She meets people and gets to use her abilities to help her grow her business. 

Visiting locally owned businesses – this was at Marque de Luxe, one of our sponsors last year.

How does your organisation contribute to the economic sector?

We grow the economy when our members’ businesses grow and prosper. We have strict rules – we will only accept women as members if their businesses are registered with SSM which means their business is legitimate and pays taxes like any good, responsible business. I have seen also how women as employers are inclined to hire other women as employees. So it is a virtuous circle when a woman is a boss!

I have observed that a number of women in their 40s, after having quit their corporate roles, start their own businesses. I’m always excited for them as starting a business no matter how small is one way of being an active economic generator provided they start with the right business foundation. Too many women start out without any support, network or knowledge and this leads to a lot of hardship and struggling which makes them give up too soon!

How does your organisation fit within the Malaysian context generally and Penang specifically?

WomenBizSENSE certainly fits well in the Malaysian context as more and more women are looking to start or run their own businesses. However, they may not have the right support system or resources in terms of network or information and this is where our NGO is perfectly made to fill the gap. 

2019 Christmas Hi-tea for our members and friends at Jazz Hotel

What are the challenges do you have personally (as an individual) and leader in your organisation? 

As with every NGO, all our Committee members are volunteers. I am a volunteer. We volunteer time and energy to organise events (we have monthly events and major events like our anniversary dinner, charity event etc) but not all members are always appreciative of the work and effort and do not always participate or turn up.

I have had the unpleasant task of being on the disciplinary board many years ago to listen to the complaints of members against one specific member for her lack of integrity. As a team, we have had to make the difficult decision to terminate her membership as she was causing a lot of problems for a few members.

I have also had a tough time getting women to step up and lead as chairpersons. It’s not an easy role as the chairperson of WomenBizSENSE gets many invitations to speak by other organisations. She must be seen as an entrepreneur role model with good values and principles. 

Our yearly community event at House of Hope, Air Itam with senior citizens.

Being a woman, do you find any leverage or baggage?

It’s interesting to be a woman in business today. People are generally excited about women entrepreneurs and it can be leverage especially when our NGO is quite well known. I need to be an example to the women I mentor and to uphold the highest integrity in all that we do (especially because Josephine wrote a children’s book teaching integrity!). 

Members participating in an art event at the Special Children’s Centre.

Does Malaysia provide a supportive environment for entrepreneurs generally and women specifically to achieve their full potential?

Malaysia has many programmes for entrepreneurs but not all programmes are useful for us or tailored to what we want. That is why in WomenBizSENSE we took it one step further and created our own business mentoring programme to help our members as well as other women (who may not be our members).

Our signature programme opens once a year and runs for 5 months with pre-qualified mentees having structured training sessions and group mentoring. It is extremely affordable as we don’t intend to make money from this programme; it is simply our way of addressing a gap in the entrepreneurship market after observing our members’ problems and challenges in their businesses. 

Recent CNY potluck party at a member’s house.