Work hard, stay rooted and give back

From senior regional roles at MNCs to starting her own ASEAN advocacy business, Shanti Shamdasani on her ‘no box’ approach

Shanti Shamdasani is a seasoned Public Policy professional, known for her in-depth expertise on ASEAN matters with focus on international trade and political analysis. Her vision on ASEAN started in 2005, where she tirelessly brings the ASEAN debate at various local and international stages as well as being instrumental in shaping the ASEAN Economic Community Roadmap.

During Indonesia’s ASEAN’s Chairmanship, Ms Shamdasani was contracted as a professional to serve with the office of the President of Indonesia, H. E. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on ASEAN matters as Advisor reporting directly to the President’s immediate team; working closely with various Ministers to drive a strategic debate on trade negotiations with India, China, Australia and New Zealand.

Her areas of expertise include healthcare, industry 4.0, eCommerce, logistics, trade negotiations and facilitations, policy making and free trade areas. She has been involved in various capacities at the I-EU CEPA, RCEP, AEC, ASEAN India, ASEAN China and other negotiations working closely with government agencies.

Recognised as one of the recipients of the 2019 Women Icons Asia Award, Shanti takes time to share her career, life goals and inputs here with AsizBizToday.

Your Career, Passion & Professional Journey
My career started at the age of 23 when I started working with a Japanese trading company, thereon moved to working for Top 50 MNC’s, living in India, China, Japan, US and Singapore.

Throughout my career, I have no doubt learned a lot from the different leaders, bosses I have had. I was fortunate to be given a Senior Position (Regional Director for Southeast Asia) where I was exposed to varying challenging environment. Big corporations, Senior positions teach you a lot about the reality of “office politics”.

I quickly learned that “if you are a good performer”, you fall prey to the office politics of your colleagues and surrounding. An additional frustration is that due to hierarchical or “good relationships with bosses at the headquarters”, you often have to give in to those who are leading but do not know much about markets or do not have future vision. This triggered me move on as I wanted to do more.

About your current endeavour
After quitting my corporate role I decided to venture out and started ASEAN International Advocacy & Consulting in 2009. We started doing hospital management JCI accreditations with a client from Dubai, accrediting hospitals in Indonesia. Due to my knowledge of Southeast Asia, the previous President of Indonesia had asked me to advise him on ASEAN matters (it happened to be the year where Indonesia was chairing ASEAN). That enhanced my exposure to the different governments in the 10 ASEAN countries and opened up my relationships with the people in power in the region.

Not long after that, we started catering to small projects from the ASEAN Secretariat and ever since, we have grown and catered to different projects from Governments in Southeast Asia, Ministries, private sectors, big corporations and Embassies.

Our firm was known to the one of the top lobbyist, public policy, government affairs and legal advisory firm, and in order to maintain quality, we, at times, have to reject clients to ensure my time is effectively spent amongst the clientele portfolio that we have.

Quality and totality is my mantra and this is what made us grow.

Trigger and motivation to get into this
I had always believed that Southeast Asia is the next “growth magnet”, but my journey has not been without criticism. In 2011 when you spoke about ASEAN, you were often laughed at, but today, things are different.

I was dismayed to see how business leaders have short term plans, focus and lack vision and big picture, but then again, they are not business owners. They are senior management, employees, working for a large MNC. Their job is limited to 3-5 years and as long as they print the profit, they secure their promotion. This is why today, many large organizations fail and small enterprises overtake them in the growth spheres.

We are fortunate as we have a host of potential clients with whom we work closely. I work mostly with business owners, or senior leaderships who have vision and long-term plan.

Experiences running this business
People do not understand how global growth is affecting local government agenda and decisions and this is where we come in. We provide state of art strategies, built on our global insights and connections, backed with in-depth knowledge and plan to address the challenges or maximise the opportunities that exists. I have had people who used to discredit what we do, today, wanting to advise them. These are companies who need to move fast in a disrupted world platform, these are companies whose P&L have fallen and they now see what we told them 5 years ago.

According to me, we need to align with the regulations, drive, lead or shape them, else, we will be recipients of bad regulations which will deter growth. We are also known for our “no box” thinking and our reach goes far beyond the 10 ASEAN countries.

The issues around logistics reforms, cross border automation, digital era and the 4.0 industrial concept allows us to bring our clients to a “no box” approach

Things that keep you going

The grit to persist and support from the divine.

Obstacles you faced and have there been specific challenges because of being a woman?

I live in a man’s world, the type of works that we do are male dominated, but I never felt blocked, neither supported. They compete with me and play the tricks as how they would do it with another company.

The only obstacles I faced is that “people who are often in the leadership position have very shallow thinking” whereas the services we offer are for those who see beyond country, region or who have a long term vision. Addressing today’s challenges requires tomorrow’s vision.

Your source of inspiration
In my solitude, in my prayers, with my pets and in isolation.

Your proudest moment so far
When I decided to run for politics and lost! I am proud, because I was campaigning using the slogan of “CALEG BERSIH”, which means, “CLEAN CANDIDATE”. I am proud of the experience and for not falling into any corrupt practices.

My other proudest moments are when I was asked to lead an ASEAN Economic Dialogue session with 10 Heads of States present in the room.

Your definition of success
Doing what you want, when you want and how you want, as well as being able to give back to those who most need it (in this case, I donate to Animal Shelters, and whenever I can freely give to help the animals, I found the taste of success runs through me)

Your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, especially women
Stay true in your belief, in your light, be persistent and be kind to animals and environment. All the money you have will not give you the joy, inspirations and strength you need to overcome the challenges you may face in life.

Kindness, humanity and charity will help you!