She considers herself an accidental entrepreneur. A typical Singaporean who worked hard to go to the best schools, get the right degrees and the best jobs – until she stumbled upon the thrilling world of entrepreneurship. Her brother and she built up an exciting food and beverage business from zero to a million dollars in four years with $0 advertising. TIME Magazine recognised them and named them as ‘one of the Best Places to go to in Asia’ (https://tinyurl.com/SamarTIMEmag).
She believes that work stops being ‘work’ when you’re an entrepreneur driven by passion and purpose. That was 15 years ago and she have never looked back. She now uses her experience, knowledge and insights to help other small business owners grow.
Based in Singapore, Harasha Bafana is Founder-Director of The Adam & Hawa Network, a business mentoring & consulting network that helps small business owners get the right knowledge & tools to fix their business problems. In this exclusive chat with AsiaBizToday, she shares experiences in this journey.
The activities that you undertake
I’ve been running The Adam & Hawa Network since 2014. My main mission is to empower small business owners to get the right knowledge & support to grow their business – without making expensive mistakes. I also champion influential branding & communication as a core business strategy for SMEs – many don’t realise that it’s their secret weapon to punch above their weight!
The way I deliver my work is through public speaking, training, coaching and consulting. I have recently begun taking my work online – beginning with a weekly ‘Ask Me Anything’ YouTube video series and virtual private consultations – so that I can serve more business owners anywhere in the world.
On the volunteer front, I contribute my time as a Board Member of NAFA, a tertiary arts school. I am a vice chairman of DEWI@SMCCI, the women entrepreneurs’ wing of SMCCI, a trade chamber. I am also a volunteer at the Arab Network @ Singapore, a community group.
Your trigger and motivation to get into this
I felt moved to set up The Adam & Hawa Network after I saw many business owners who end up disillusioned or cheated when trying to get help for their business. These are sincere people with precious dreams to make a better life for themselves and their loved ones. If their business fails, not only will they disappoint themselves, but their loved ones too. On the flip side however, if their business succeeds, they will experience immense joy and pride.
Clients who take my honest advice & apply it to their businesses have stopped making crippling mistakes, have grown their businesses faster – and have grown in their confidence too. There’s nothing I love more than to help people move forward in their lives. It’s good for the Soul.
Your experiences in this leadership position?
So much I’ve learnt from my years of experience, but let me summarise:
- First, true authority comes from credibility – a leader must be capable and have good character, the chief of which is honesty. That is how one gains others’ respect.
- Secondly, a leader must have a clear, inspiring vision and a plan to get there – and be able to communicate it to her team such that they feel connected to it.
- Thirdly, the best leaders roll up their sleeves and work alongside their teams – always available to offer guidance and support.
- Fourth, good leaders help their people see what their true potential is – it can change their lives beyond the job they hold.
- Fifth, a good leader is above all, fair. Non-performers should not be tolerated at the expense of the rest. It can poison the work culture and drive performance down.
The important factors that keep you going
I see the purpose of Life as a journey to keep growing and becoming a better person who brings benefit to not just herself & her family, but to the community, country and humanity. This is why I am a committed lifelong learner – I love to learn, do & grow.
Another thing that keeps me going is that I simply love my work. To keep me sharp, I am always keeping updated on the latest business developments and best practices. It fulfils me deeply when I get to share my advice and help sincere people overcome obstacles to achieve their business goals.
I also see my work & how I live my life as an ongoing tribute to my parents and loved ones who have always stood by me and encouraged me. My parents were not highly educated but gave us the best education so that we can be successful. It gives me deep purpose and encourages me to keep going.
Challenges that you have faced because of being a woman
I used to be disappointed when my sincere intention to serve is not appreciated by some of the very people who need it the most. However, I have since learnt that it is better to serve those who are open to receiving my support because they will act on and benefit most from it.
The other set of obstacles, however, are quite unique to me being a woman: my own self-imposed barriers. I am a strong woman – I was brought up that way – and I have gone through serious setbacks and emerged even stronger. And yet, I have found myself holding back on occasion from being my true, talented self for fear of making others around me uncomfortable. I have also resisted actively promoting my work and my clients’ achievements because I found it too ‘showy’ – this is a serious injustice I am doing to myself.
Reading Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’, however, made me realise that this is something many women, even those in the West, encounter. Her book encouraged me to say ‘Yes’ more – and it is something that I am constantly training myself to do.
It is ironic for a strong woman to say this, but much of my career growth has come from the guidance of male mentors in my life. It seems that men see things differently from women. My brother, for example, was the one who wisely guided me through my first experience in business and showed me how capable I was. My husband has been tirelessly challenging me to showcase the good work I have been doing – and reminds me that even Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) had the towering presence of his successful, loving wife, Khadijah, to thank for.
The key for me is to be self-aware of my limitations and ensure that I surround myself with mentors – regardless of their gender – who care about my progress and will help me see what I cannot see on my own. And of course, put myself out there without apologies.
Your source of inspiration
I find inspiration from listening to or reading about visionary people who bring good to the world, whether they are politicians, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders or community activists. My long list includes famous names such as Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew, Abraham Lincoln, Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) and lesser known ones such as Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary and Scott Harrison of Charity:Water.
I also get inspired when interacting with ordinary sincere and hardworking men and women who take pride in their work. It could be the supermarket staff, bus driver or sales assistant. These people bring gifts of light into my everyday.
Inspiration always comes to me when I am in nature – this is the ultimate way I unwind. I love going for solitary walks – the lush greenery, adorable birds and surprising wild animals, expressive clouds – these are like vitamins for my soul.
Your proudest moment so far
There have been many, but if I were to choose only one, it would be the time my brother & I graduated from our distinguished university in the same year. To see my humble blue-collar parents beam with joy to see the result of their disciplined, responsible efforts to raise us is the best thing.
Your definition of success
Truly, success must be defined by each individual. Success must be a pleasure – and, if we are honest with ourselves, what ‘pleasure’ means to each is different. We should not follow the crowd and allow ourselves to be pressured & judged by society’s standards. Instead, we should follow our Heart’s guidance.
For me, ‘success’ means to live the good, spiritually-balanced life where I get to do the work I love, surrounded by caring family and friends – and being that person who keeps making progress and is able to bring much benefit to her circle, community and beyond. Money – beyond taking care of the bills – is only a tool to be used to craft the lifestyle I want. And yes, that includes having that gorgeous chilli-red BMW convertible of my dreams!
Your Advice to other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women
First, ensure that the business you choose allows for a balanced life. I think women do particularly well in business when it is crafted around the lifestyle they want because it reduces inner conflict. We have changing priorities at different stages of our lives – and being an entrepreneur gives you the freedom to decide how to structure your business. For example, if you have young children, you would not want to be ‘absent’ in their growing up years, and so, you could go into a business that allows you to be physically present at home.
My next advice is create a business around what you love to do – where you can fully express your talents quite effortlessly. Passion for your business is crucial because this is what will pull you through when the inevitable challenges land on your lap. However, that alone will not be enough: you will need to find that intersection between your passion and a real market need for what you have to offer. The fundamentals must be right.
Finally, understand that business is not a sprint, but a marathon. It takes time to build a strong business. So equip yourselves with the right knowledge all the time – the world we live in necessitates that – and patiently keep making improvements to your work as you organically grow your business. It is important to surround yourself with a supportive network of loved ones and professional contacts who can help you go a further distance than if you went alone.