Leadership calls for right blend of emotion & strength

Anne Rajasaikaran, an advocate for underprivileged children in Malaysia is the Chief Executive Officer of The Budimas Charitable Foundation. She has been spearheading the operations of Budimas, a non-governmental and non-profit organization with the mission to provide guidance and funding in support of the welfare and the well-being of orphans and underprivileged children in Malaysia.

One of her mission is to provide these children a second chance in life with better education, accommodation and nutritious food. Anne strives to educate the public and corporations  in  the  importance  of  giving  back  to  the community. She believes that poverty is not a disease, it is a current situation which can be improvised and eradicated.

Recognised as a Women Icon Malaysia, she took time out to talk with AsiaBizToday about what keeps her going. 

My Career & Passion

I’m the Principal Officer of The Budimas Charitable Foundation which is a non-profit organisation that aids underprivileged children in Malaysia. At Budimas, I spearhead all operations of the foundation ensuring that the children in need are reached and their necessities are met.

I initiated the 3 pillar-program of Budimas whereby the programs address the needs of underprivileged children in a more systematic way. I believe that children need to have access to adequate food, a loving home and definitely education. I’m a strong believer that education plays a crucial role in putting a halt in the poverty cycle, from parent to child.

The 3 programs of Budimas are the Home program, the Food program and the Education program. The idea began when I realise that helping children in need by tapping on their lack of a particular need is the right way to help them. For instance, some children might have a loving home, but their poverty stricken parents are not able to put them in school or provide them with adequate food.

My initiation into the current role

I was given the opportunity to work with The Budimas Charitable Foundation about 10 years ago and I took the chance to make a change for the less fortunate children. In my early years with Budimas, in 2010 to be exact, I took a trip to Kapar, Klang to pay a visit to the community there and witness myself how malnourished the children were in the area. They were also not in school. So, I decided to initiate the Budimas Food Charity Fund program where we feed children nourished breakfast in their respective public schools. This way, we got to kill two birds with one stone where the children look forward to attend their lessons in school as they too look forward to that one promised wholesome meal.

My motivation to take up this role

Prior to Budimas, I worked in Chevron Malaysia as Communication Aids where I began working a lot on the company’s CSR projects. This is when I saw the many children in Malaysia that do not have their basic necessities in check.

Trivial necessities such as adequate food, a roof over their head and the ability to afford to go to school are not available for all children. This disturbed me and I knew I wanted to be a part of the solution to this problem faced by the children in Malaysia.

The children smiled thankfully through as I gifted them with school bags filled with goodies like books, stationaries and some snacks when I visited them.

Putting smiles on those children faces gives me joy; it gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing I am the reason behind their smile. I am really passionate about helping people.

My experiences running this business

Just to clarify, this is not a business, It is an NGO. There were a lot of challenges and many hurdles I needed to cross. I was always frustrated when I couldn’t find the right personnel to fit the roles needed. It was frustrating simply because the expectation was already set by the foundation ie. To help underprivileged children, and we couldn’t do as much as we wanted. We had to spend years talking about what a foundation is and required to do. There were also a lot of questions on how we choose to spend our donations, we later decided that we will split it into the 3 key programs. So far we’ve had to take some precautionary measures so we spend our monies sparingly, reaching out to as many children as we can.

We’ve been lucky as our board members are constantly advising us as chartered accountants, business owners and brand owners, so we have a nice variation of ideas and opinions when we deliberate. I’ve had some very bitter sweet moments when the children graduate and make it, and sometimes it can go the other way round. Either way, its bitter sweet.

What keeps me going

My passion for helping people motivated me to join and work for The Budimas Charitable Foundation. I pictured the smiles that will spread across the lips of the less fortunate children when they know that there are people who cares and it brought joy to my heart. And that keeps me going.

Challenges that I have faced

I have faced many challenges in my initiatives, its part of the job and some of it are inevitable. To name a few challenges would be getting full support and cooperation(s) from the various parties involved in certain projects, some individuals whose job scopes does not cover any additional tasks would just prefer to not do anything more, even in the name of helping children. Having said that there are many who help beyond their job roles require.

I also find communication being a problem in my line of work, when team members do not know how to communicate and verbalize, it sets a sore point as the messages are often misconstrued resulting negatively.

Members of the public and various stakeholders also do not seem to understand how a foundation works and what exactly an NGO is supposed to do, I have over the years explained and dissect our actual job(s) to provide a better understanding.

Being a woman? I had to work extra hard, roles and jobs were not handed over to me on a silver platter- I had to work for it. I was very ambitious, I have had to have my babies and still show up at work and give it my 200%. I was very lucky as I came from a line of women, who worked and earned and still did well at home. That inspired me and it wasn’t a foreign concept in my household. But I do believe that some still can’t fathom the concept of equal opportunity and feminism is often misunderstood.

My source of inspiration

I believe everybody has equal right to happiness no matter their situation and financial status. Empathy and compassion are my core values; I believe in giving humanity a chance because nobody is responsible for his or her predicament. I try putting myself in some people’s shoes so as to share their pain; this motivates me to do something to make things better for them.

My proudest moment thus far

So far its watching the kids and staffs grow together, emotionally and physically. I’ve often felt like the parent watching their kid to high school and waiting for them to enter college. It makes me happy especially when they can get to a level where they are happy with themselves, contented and is at peace. That makes me proud. I also get very happy when I get very positive feedback from the public and companies, who are very impressed with our systems and standard operating procedures.

For the 10 years I have done this, more than 20k children have benefitted from this. That makes me proud.

My definition of success

I would define success as peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming. Its an attitude that requires maximum effort and that it should not be defined by the approval of recognition of others. So do what you do best and you’d definitely be successful at it. Dream big and it will come through with the power of imagination

My advice to other aspiring women leaders

I would say being a great leader requires the right blend of emotion and strength. Not everyone’s going to like you all the time. As a woman, sometimes this the hardest part. You will want people to feel comfortable and want people to feel encouraged. We all want people to do their best work. And at the same time want people to know there are high standards and that they’ll be held accountable for mistakes.

You must also be willing to have more challenging, difficult conversations and be able to call out on something when it is wrong. To do that, you need a blend of strong empathy and high expectations. And trust your own gut instinct. In some cases, that may mean being more emotionally sensitive and that’s okay. Because whatever you do, you shouldn’t change who you are. You should find ways to make your own characteristics work for you by turning them into strengths even if they’re something the rest of the world may see as a weakness.