Why I Love My Women's Network

One of the events that I am busy with presently is our upcoming hi-tea at Equatorial Hotel. It’s part of something we initiated last year thanks to a suggestion by one of our members, Kim that we should do a gala event and give our ladies a time to shine and have fun and seriously let our hair down.
Last year’s event was quite stressful as we did a lot of things on the fly. It’s understandable because it was our first time organizing a luncheon for 80 women, many of whom were women in business. Despite the stress and mad ticketing sales (we had to sell at least 60 tickets to break even), we pulled it off.
Madness, I said.
This year, we’re doing a hi-tea as a luncheon is too much to manage (and being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on a Saturday morning makes the organizing committee cringe).
But this isn’t about the event.
It’s about having a chance to bring women of all walks of life to meet new friends and learn new stuff while feasting on high tea snacks and tea. Our group is mainly for women who own businesses and sometimes we get requests from those yet to own businesses that they would like to join us too.
This once-a-year luncheon/hi-tea event is meant for this purpose. If you want to buy a ticket or promote your woman-friendly products or services at this event, you can read more here.
Now what struck me today was that technology combined with a network of women with abilities and contacts is a potent combination indeed.
My group, WomenBizSENSE, has a website (managed by yours truly and that is why it gets lots of eyeballs) and we also have our Facebook page.
These days, we’ve upped the ante with our WhatsApp chat group since all of us have our smartphones.
The beauty of communication via these platforms is that things can get done pretty damn fast.
Take today for instance.
Mily sent out a message from her friend to our WhatsApp group. It was a request for 50 units of skipping ropes to help kids exercise more often under a programme initiated by some college students.
Immediately another member, Lisa who owns a spa, offered to sponsor and supply 50 units of the skipping ropes!
Besides the skipping ropes, Mily mentioned that the college students’ also wanted water soluble Vitamin C and sunflower seeds (most likely as nutritional supplements for the kids as well). Everyone in our WhatsApp group wanted to sponsor and get the items!
So that really made me think – the power of a strong and financially capable network of women entrepreneurs can do wonders. We made it possible for some college students to make their health project come true with these sponsorships.
This isn’t of course the only “miracle” and magic of our network.
Whenever we’ve had household needs (need a plumber/need a renovator/need a maid etc.) we’ve looked at asking our own members who are involved in supplying these services or if there are none, we offer helpful contacts.
I am really proud of my women’s network and the kinds of magic we have been able to do for our community. (We managed to get McDonald to sponsor burgers for the children of House of Hope among other things, thanks to the people and wider circles of who we know.)
I have always said I am an accidental entrepreneur. It’s not an easy road to travel as an entrepreneur and it has nothing to do with one’s gender.
But I have observed that being female has its own set of challenges – I don’t have children so I don’t face as many challenges as my friends who have to juggle family, kids and businesses. I don’t have to be the “driver” who picks and drops kids off at school and tuition or worry about activities to occupy them during the school holidays or work around kids’ schedules.
But women entrepreneurs are unique in that we function as women who often feel more emotions than male entrepreneurs.
In that way, I love my women’s network – a powerful network of sisters in business – because it is  also women who are financially capable are the ones who are more likely and more able to help their community.
Now if you’re planning to be in business or want to check us out, buy a ticket or two and join us at our 6 July hi-tea.
I can promise you it’s going to be super duper fun!

All You Need is Belief…and Hope

I’m a big softie.
Actually so’s Nic.
Whenever we hear stories of underprivileged kids, we get pensive.
I was at House of Hope on Saturday with the gals from my WomenBizSENSE group to do our yearly community project. Each year we pick a home to visit. It so happens that this year, we decided to visit House of Hope again.

House of Hope gives children a chance at their future
House of Hope gives children a chance at their future

House of  Hope isn’t an orphanage. It’s a drop-in centre for the kids who live in the Rifle Range area of Air Itam. It also feeds the elderly (they come in with their tiffin carriers to bring cooked food home).
It’s open all week, from 9am to 5pm.
For those not familiar with Penang, Rifle Range was one of the earliest low-cost flats catering to the working class.
House of Hope toy library for play therapy
The toy library with contributed toys

I was there early so I spoke to Olivia, one of the directors. This amiable woman showed me around, explaining what they did.
House of Hope computer room
The computer room with computers contributed by well-wishers.

The first floor has a toy library, a computer room (with old donated PCs) and a therapy room.
House of Hope kids enjoying their lunch
Never knew a burger could mean so much!

“Why therapy?” I ask.
Some of the children have been abused and a therapist comes in regularly to help them. They engage in art to express their feelings. I saw some of the artwork when I was at the House of Hope charity lunch at Parkroyal Hotel about three weeks ago.
The children who did manage to express themselves often drew in dark, sombre colours. One drew himself perched off a tall building, almost at the verge of jumping off. Many of them are poor, with one parent either in prison or come from broken families. Many of their parents are single parents, ekeing out a living by working shifts hence they are not home all day.
Downstairs houses a large space for group activities and a tiny art room. The kids, she tells me, love doing colouring and making handicrafts. They often squeeze into the tiny air-conditioned room. They’re also teaching the children how to grow vegetables like okra.
Okra plants
House of Hope is experimenting by growing vegetables - teaching the kids as well as hopefully giving the adults a chance at supplementing their incomes

“The kids don’t want to go home in the evenings. They still hang around even when we close the centre at 5pm.”
She said that it was very good of us to get McDonalds to sponsor burgers for the kids that Saturday. They had often written to McDonalds but never got any reply.
House of Hope Penang kids
Children will be children...at times boisterous, eager to play and happy for simple things

“Sometimes I pity them. I take them out for dinner before I go home. But sometimes there are like 9 kids in my car. I can’t buy them burgers all the time.”
In fact, she gives them a simple dinner, sometimes roti canai, sometimes rice with dishes. And with plain water. They know they cannot order soft drinks or cold drinks.
They’re happy even with such simple food.
Some of them, says Olivia, don’t dare to go home to an empty flat. There’s nothing to eat at home. They don’t even have a fridge!
Some go to school hungry.
Thank God they can have a meal when they get to House of Hope after school.
I nodded. It takes perspective like this to realize how fortunate I am. I don’t much fancy burgers unless I have nothing to eat. And here are kids whose parents are too poor to buy them food, not to mention fastfood.
A teenage girl of about 16 I spoke to later told me she liked KFC. Her father left the family while her mom, a dialysis patient, struggled to support the 4 siblings on welfare money. This family of four girls and their mom really made me stop and think.
The four of them regularly come to House of Hope.
I asked if she lived in Rifle Range.
House of Hope kids
These two girls were very cute!

She was politely shy, shaking her head as her huge eyes stared back at me.
“We took the bus. About 20 minutes. Not far from here.”
Her youngest sister, Mages, was 10 going on 11. She was lively and cheerful, smiling each time I asked her a question.
When we asked what she wanted to be when she grows up, she softly whispers – “Doctor”.
I ask if she’s afraid of blood. She shakes her head while her eldest sister smiles.
And what do you want to be, oh eldest sister? The lanky girl in her white punjabi suit says she has dreams to be an aeronautical engineer.
Jo and I smile. We tell them that anything is possible.
Anything is achievable. You just have to believe and have someone believe in you.
Isn’t that so?
Note: If you want to donate to help or sponsor a family or even a child, you can do so here. It can be as little as RM50 per month to give a child some pocket money to go to school with, and to be taken to school in a school bus.

Homegrown Heroines

You know me.
Despite my gregarious and oftentimes open personality, I am really shy.

Penelope Cruz on Sept issue of The Malaysian Women's Weekly
Penelope Cruz on Sept issue of The Malaysian Women's Weekly

I was an excruciatingly shy girl while growing up. The only way I shone was through my academic results. Even so, my pride is often mixed with a kind of shyness.
I don’t know how to react when the spotlight is on me.
Crazy as it sounds, yes, that is me.
But I have no problem shining the spotlight on people. In fact, I love doing that.
So where’s this post going? I interviewed Alex many moons ago for our business blog and I thought that was that.
It was not to be.
She came back to me a few weeks after that, asking to interview little old me!
She was doing a feature on 3 Malaysian women who were “women with heart” and one of them was to be me.
Oh gosh!
It was a little follow up to find out what the women of the Great Women Of Our Time Awards were doing after getting nominated for the award. (My claim to fame was in 2008 and if you missed that post, you can check out the glamour me four years ago. I had so much fun during the photo shoot in The Westin KL and the glamorous gala dinner where Ning Baizura sang and I was all goggle-eyed.)
I was in superb company in this September 2012 issue of The Malaysian Women’s Weekly – there I was with Bilqis Hijjas (the president of MyDance Alliance) and Leela Panikkar (co-founder of Treat Every Environment Special or TrEES).

Krista Goon featured in the magazine

Here’s an even funnier aside: two months ago, a local Chinese newspaper (Guang Ming Daily) here in Penang decided to interview me and a few ladies from my women entrepreneur group. It was supposed to be published before our anniversary luncheon happened but you know, you can’t rush the media.
They have their own deadlines. So when the feature on WomenBizSENSE finally got published in its entire full page glory, we were mighty pleased BUT none of us (with the exception of Cecilia) could read Mandarin. That was all of one day’s happiness – great publicity for us as a group and great publicity for us individually.
A few weeks later, there I am in my tatty shorts and grungy t-shirt buying vegetables in the Lip Sin market when the auntie who sells vegetables told me she read the interview in Guang Ming!
Her daughter-in-law mentioned that her mom-in-law (this vegetable auntie) recognized my photo in that article! I must say this lady’s eyes are sharp.
However, being in the media has its cons too. The day our feature came out in Guang Ming was the day a woman from Sungai Petani called me asking for a loan. It seemed she read about our women entrepreneur group and thought we’d be easy suckers!
She gave me some strange tale of being broke, having two kids in college and get this – the Ah Long were chasing her to repay her loan and could we or our group loan her some money?
Wow.
She kept calling me until I told her that we don’t give loans and I would get her the number of a local ADUN help centre so she could get proper help. She stopped calling after that!
That was the only weird incident.
Most times, the publicity has been great and allowed me to get slightly known. I’ve always been grateful for the media limelight (many thanks to writer friends like Alex and more) because media exposure always helps promote and publicize our business!

A Writer's Journey by Joan Hon

I just got home from Kerala, India after a delightful one week.
India is pure madness, a country of such incredible contrasts that it is Incredible India.
But before I delve into that post, here’s something more important.
This is a free talk that my businesswomen’s group is organizing on 12th October.
Josephine, one of my friends and a die-hard fan of Joan Hon’s books, mooted this idea and asked if we could help her organize a talk for the Singaporean author.
Joan is a 67 year old Singaporean who has ties with Penang. She has written both fiction and non-fiction, with her most popular fiction being “Star Sapphire”, a sci-fi novel about a headstrong girl called Yva Yolan on her adventures in space.

Star Sapphire by Joan Hon aka Han May
Star Sapphire by Joan Hon a.k.a Han May

Her science-fiction romance Star Sapphire won a High Commendation Award from the Book Development Council of Singapore in 1986, the same year when she was also awarded a Commendation prize for her better-known book Relatively Speaking on her family and childhood memories.
An autographed copy of the book, just for me, thanks to Josephine
An autographed copy of the book, just for me, thanks to Josephine

Josephine had presented me an autographed copy of Star Sapphire; I am halfway reading it now (as I am also halfway reading Edward de Bono’s Simplicity, Brian Tracy’s The Psychology of Selling and a book I got from India called Healing Mantras).
Come join us as we pick Joan’s brains about writing and being a writer. The fact is, it is rare for writers to come to Penang so this is really your golden chance to speak to a writer who is making a special trip here and whom you get to meet, for free!
We have limited space though as it will be held at 56, Lorong Selamat (1st floor). Here’s a map to the venue.
Title: A Writer’s Journey by Joan Hon
Date: 12 October (Tues)
Time: 2.30pm
Venue: 1st Floor, 56, Lorong Selamat, Penang
[Open to public, men and women alike]
Please spread the message to your friends too, especially those who love writing, love books and want to meet Joan, who is also the daughter of the former Finance Minister of S’pore (her father, the late Hon Sui Sen, was actually from Balik Pulau).
She wrote a book “Relatively Speaking” chronicling her father’s growing up years in Balik Pulau and later his position as the Finance Minister of Singapore. Among the anecdotes were about her father’s attempt to learn Mandarin together with Lee Kuan Yew, and how they shared tapes and monitored each other’s progress!
Her late father was often regarded as one of Southeast Asia’s most successful economic planners besides being one with the most integrity! A British official, upon meeting Joan’s mother, says, “Pleased to meet you. I hear your husband is the most honest man in the [Singapore] civil service”. This remark, says Joan, was to her the highest accolade and the most meaningful among all her father’s achievements.
The Star will be publishing an interview they did with her, hopefully before Joan comes on the 12th.
Joan will share snippets of her writer’s life and how a physics teacher like her ended up a sci-fi writer!
Below are some areas she will be talking about on 12 October (as copied off her email to Josephine):
* I would tell my “accidental author” story how I came to be writing books.
* Account of how each of my books came to be written.
* How I seem to have three identities: Joan Hon writes non-fiction, Joan Fong writes Physics, Han May writes fiction.
* Giving talks to sell my books in schools and libraries, book signings in bookshops.
* My attempts at printing my own books. Setting up Hope Publishers.
* Difficulties of publicising and the options nowadays. POD publishing.
Email (info@womenbizsense.com) to reserve a seat at this talk.
I will also be talking to Joan Hon when I meet her next week so stay tuned, I might dig up more anecdotes from her about the writer’s life! I’m super excited!
The online community is also helping to promote Joan’s talk in Penang, thanks to Josephine who attended Blogfest recently. Thanks Jo and thank you fellow bloggers!
Alice Teh’s blog
Taman Sri Nibong RA Blog
YourPenang.com
PenangBloggers

Free Talk for Women Only…Sorry Guys!

As you all know, I’m one of the founding members of WomenBizSENSE, a businesswomen’s networking group set up in 2006.
Anyway, tomorrow, we’ll be having a free talk for not only our women members but open to other women as well.
So if you are female and live in Penang and want to learn from a business coach and get to network with other fabulous women (ah yes, we all must once in a while ‘masuk bakul angkat sendiri’) with tea thrown in, then make a date with us.
Here are more details:
Business Talk @ WBS Meeting, 22 January 2010 (Friday), 2pm to 4pm
We’re kicking off 2010 with a WBS Meeting on 22 January which includes a 90-minute free business talk by Mr Radin Ikram, a business coach and speaker from Action Coach International. Learn more about Mr Radin from http://www.actioncoach.com/radinikram/
Come join us and listen to the 6 pillars of business success which applies not only to women who’ve just started their business but women already in business.
Fees:
RM 5 for non-WBS member (yes, that’s like less than the price of a KFC snack plate!)
Free for WBS member (membership has its privileges!)
How to sign up:
If you are keen to join this event, please email us to book your seat as we have limited seating.
Note:
As we are opening this event to other women, please forward this email out to your girlfriends who are in business or thinking of starting one.
As I have personally heard this talk before, I highly recommend it as it is very useful and full of good tips and ideas. Radin is also a very friendly and engaging person.

Cakes Etc, My Secret for Freshly Baked Cakes

I first got to know about Ai Tee from Kim.
Kim’s one of the ladies in our business women networking group and she’s a big foodie (just like me!). Kim had ordered a durian cheesecake from Ai Tee for our WomenBizSense 2nd anniversary and from that moment onwards, I was hooked.
Then I got the idea of belanja-ing my staff this cake, especially since JM was finishing up her internship with us a few months ago. See JM’s blog for a review of the cake.
And just a few days ago, I got an updated listing from Ai Tee.
I couldn’t help but order some muffins – banana and white chocolate chip. RM20 for 12 muffins is a good deal, don’t you think? Especially if one craves muffins and not in the mood to bake any!
Banana and white choc muffins by Ai Tee
In fact, the muffin powered me up for my StarWalk on Sunday. That 1 muffin plus 1 cup of Nesvita gave me enough energy to complete the 10 km walk.
Some of the stuff which Ai Tee makes include: Cempedak Butter Cake, Sugee Cake, Durian Cheesecake, Cempedak Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, New York Style Bagels, Traditional Buttermilk Scones, Peach Pie, Dobos Torte and lots more. Prices range from RM15 to RM45.
Anyway, get the complete list of the delicious cakes, bagels, muffins and etc that Ai Tee makes by emailing her: aiteeken [at] yahoo.com or call her at 016 454 8984. Say you came from Krista! 😉
You do have to pick up the orders yourself but she lives centrally so it’s not really a problem. Prices are reasonable plus it’s all homemade and scrumptious.
Cakes Etc for homemade cakes, muffins, bagels and pies

Networking, Anyone?

I’m organising a networking lunch for ladies next Friday, 14 November, at Edelweiss (on Armenian St) as part of our WomenBizSense activities.
While most activities are limited to ladies who are members of our group (our Lunch Bunches and Quarterly Meets), this time we’re opening up to other ladies – if you’re a homemaker or working gal and want to make some new friends, join us for lunch at Edelweiss from 1pm onwards.
But if you want to join us earlier (do we have a surprise for women who love bling bling), meet us at Campbell Street at 12 noon sharp. At Nam Loong Jewellers specifically.
Ya, I know WomenBizSense is for entrepreneurial women but once in a while, we would love to enlarge our circle and meet others too.
Actually we’ve got many requests from ladies who don’t own businesses wanting to join us in the past. So this Networking Lunch is the best way to come to meet fabulous women in business.
OK, so details, yes. Find the details over at our official WomenBizSense website: http://www.womenbizsense.com/pages/events-activities.php

Diamonds Over Tea

This whole week has been work, work and more work so I was quite happy to let go of all that and go do my other stuff – you know, my WomenBizSense stuff.
[By the way, Kristine announced that WomenBizSense will be given a spotlight at next year’s Business Card Festival that her company is organising (media profile, talk session and the works). Yay and thanks, Kristine!]
I thrive on things like this. I know I can be called mad but I’m the kind of person who likes organising events (eh, maybe I should be an event planner, hor!), getting people together and being the Mother Hen. I said Mother Hen, not Mamasan, OK.
Our meetings are now on a monthly basis to accommodate ladies who said they really want to meet up more often. So we now have Quarterly Meetings, Lunch Bunch meetings and Networking Teas. All for women who own and run their own businesses.
Yesterday we had our Quarterly Meeting at Joyce’s shop, Hundredfold, at Penang Plaza. Joyce is an artist and art teacher while her husband, John, is a certified gemologist. (I found out he is also a Sining, an offshoot of Cantonese, like me so we were happily talking away in our soon-to-be-obsolete dialect much to Joyce’s amusement!)
At this meeting, we met 2 new women business owners, Hannah who owns a telemarketing business called Hanacom and Shan Shan who owns an electrical item shop. Hannah was patient enough to tell us the difference between telemarketing and telesales because our eyes grew big as plates and our jaws momentarily dropped. “Telemarketing? Like credit cards and banks?”
I am amazed sometimes how people get into the business they get into.
Like Hannah’s.
It is a tough business.
It is cold-calling.
Now, hands up… who likes cold-calling? Cold-calling is an art and one has to be thick-skinned enough to withstand not only rude folks on the phone but people slamming their phones on you! Rejection, disappointment, craziness.
I salute Hannah’s persistence as she started on her own, at home, by calling up to 120 people a day! Nowadays she doesn’t do it on her own anymore – she has a team of people do that but I believe she is involved in a lot of training too.
Of course, no WomenBizSENSE meeting is complete without some form of sustenance.
Everyone brought food for tea – Muzlifah cooked a rich chicken curry, Lee Min brought her special oyster mushroom fried with tempura batter, Kristine brought the piece de resistance of the day – this beautiful dessert of layers upon layers of French crepes interspersed with cream! There was not a slice left of this dessert at the end of the day! She promised to email us the person who made this sinfully rich dessert! Apparently the ‘baker’ in question is someone who enjoys baking and cooking so this is really a work of art!
We even had a free jewellery cleaning service when John, Joyce’s husband, gave us ladies a few pointers on taking care of our gemstones and pearls. Our rings shone a little brighter when we left John’s shop yesterday evening!
We were privileged to talk to John as he is a certified gemologist who can determine if your gems are real or (gasp) fake. His lab is the one and only gem-testing laboratory in Penang so your gems are in good hands.
He can set stones, he can design whatever ring or necklace you fancy with your favourite gems based on your budget. The biggest problem, he says, is that most clients don’t name a budget. Without a budget, it’s hard to say how much a diamond ring, designed to your specifications, would cost!
I love gemstones especially amethyst so his shop was like paradise – all types of expensive gems winking away at me.
As his shop is not the type you can walk into any time of the day (he sees clients by appointments only), I felt quite fortunate to be able to look at the gemstones at such close range and be able to ask him all sorts of questions. I am sure I would be calling John again, if only to let him check out this amethyst Nic bought me a few years ago and see what I could do with it!
If you’re interested in John’s service, you can find Hundredfold on the 2nd Floor of Penang Plaza, next to Nutrimetics or call him (ask for John Ng) at 04 899 8469.