New paradigm of business in a VUCA world

The current situation has clearly changed the way on how organisations structure and deliver work. There is disruption in every facet of the business – logistics, demand and supply, consumer preferences, sales models and the availability of human capital. The pace at which the world adapted to this model, i.e. less than two months, goes to show that agility is non-negotiable in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world. Now, a home or a bedroom is a workplace.

Leaders need to consider socio-economic factors, statutory requirements and state/federal laws to navigate and combat the disruption. Leadership is heavily scrutinised now and making those timely personal and genuine messages will go a long way in establishing credibility. As the human and economic toll grows, it is the principles and ethos of an organisation that will lead them out of the trenches and help them plot a faster recovery curve.

The question on many minds, which industry will recover, after the outbreak, and how quickly? The quick transformation and automation of an organisation will minimise disruption. The answer lies in their ability to blend pre-COVID-19, during COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 business models seamlessly. Organisations that are operationally flexible will be able to limit the extent of disruptions caused by extraneous variables.

It is the people who makes the organisation come to life. Given disruption of workforce movements and physical presence in the workplace, there will be critical impact on all processes, upstream and downstream, that have a reliance on human capital. Organisations that have strong people practices and innovative staffing solutions will enable their workforce to deliver critical or essential services remotely. Employees will most definitely feel anxious about the permanency of their jobs, given the disruptions. Leaders must address these issues upfront candidly to enable employees safeguard their financial wellbeing. Some organisations such as Singapore Airlines have proactively taken measures e.g. the crew at Singapore airlines have been redeployed as ‘care ambassadors’ to serve at low-risk hospital wards. Organisations have also created several wellbeing programmes for employees to cope with the stress of social distancing and associated social disengagement.

Technology at the core
Technology is no longer the enabler but the life blood of organisations to cope with the current business disruption. Many organisations now rely heavily on technology to conduct their meetings via online platforms and video calls, in the comfort and safety of their homes. Times like this is when the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) put their teams and investment to the test. Never has the dependency on technology infrastructure been so critical to run seamlessly, with almost 90% concurrent remote logins, IT teams have to work overtime to ensure continuity of service. To replace face-to-face meetings, there is a need for collaboration and knowledge sharing platforms, easily accessible to all, across geographies. This makes it even easier if there is a single integrated enterprise platform, to ensure consolidation, access and accuracy of information.

With most of the work today being performed online and via multitude of third party tools, the risk associated with data breaches and leakages has become even more clear and present. Cyber protection has gone into hyper drive in the last couple of months to protect both company, employee and client information.

The optimistic view of this pandemic is the reduction in carbon footprint as most people stay at home. The lower emission of fuel as both land, air and sea vehicles are grounded has given us clearer skies and cleaner oceans as the planet resets. A real food for thought at this moment as humans is to really ask ourselves if half the activities we do which has been killing our planet is really essential.  In addition, as organisations re-organise for only essential staff to be in the office and for those who can work from home to give up their work desks, whilst real estate will see a sharp decrease in rental yield, companies can use this reduction to increase their profit margins. The COVID-19 pandemic is a first of its kind, and the only thing we can hope for is for mankind, economies and organisations to learn from the grave mistakes, habits, and oversights which took a pandemic of this magnitude to give it a wake-up call and remind us that we are global citizens, regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity or socio-economic status.

Angelyn Varkey is Marketing Director, Asia at AON ( and based in Singapore

Success sans compromises – Educating all the way

Teaching was the last job she ever wanted when she was young, but life had different plans. Today Anne Tham has been a teacher for the past 34 years. When she first startedEducation  teaching in KDU College, Malaysia, she loved it so much that there was no looking back.

After about 10 years in tertiary education, it was horrifying for her to realise that 80% of students do not have the English proficiency level of native speakers. How can Malaysian students learn a language for 11 years and be bad at it? It didn’t make any sense as she spent those 10 years sorting out what wasn’t working and creating solutions for them. Six months wasn’t enough to undo an 11-year problem.

Anne felt that it was easier to fix it from young rather to have to undo what is already engrained. So, she started teaching from her dining table at her house in Subang Jaya 25 years ago. And has never looked back since. Today, she runs eight language centres, one private tutoring centre, two international schools (Dwi Emas International School is the first entrepreneur school in Malaysia), two kindergartens, an EdTech game creation studio, a Co-Creative Entrepreneur Hub, and an online market store.

Anne Tham believes that she is an accidental entrepreneur, education reformist, big believer of lifelong learning. A big fan of Lord of the Rings and a collector of their merchandising, she loves visiting the countryside / seaside of different countries.

Here she shares some of her thoughts with AsiaBizToday.

What are the activities that you undertake?
What drives me is that education should not be exclusive and elitist. Top schools and best schools select these students. The focus has been on students who are academically strong which accounts for about 20% of students.

As a teacher, our job is to ensure that all students are successful in whatever career they choose to undertake. E.g. If they choose to be in the automotive industry, then be the best that they can be.  Most Asian parents would be horrified if their son or daughter chooses to be a mechanic, not on the list of choice professions. But they should be given the skills and tools to succeed in any industry they want. We have students who chose this industry – one is doing very well in BMW and the other sold 500 cars while he was still in college and now runs his own company, fixing up old cars and sells them to collectors. Another is now a pro racer.

The largest group of students at 75% to 80% should have equal focus as to how they want to learn. Just imagine what this majority can do if we can move these students to being extraordinary by equipping them with the 21st century skills from young. These human skills were completely systemised out of the education system in many countries.

Humanising Education is what we have been doing for the past 25 years with the track record to show for it.

What was your trigger and motivation to get into this?
My children and my college students. I wanted to make sure my daughters had the skills that were missing in so many college students. They are my business partners in owning and setting up the first school and all of the businesses now.

The lack of skills in my college students besides language skills like ability to think critically and have an opinion, the ability to write both creatively and academically, the ability and confidence to present, to handle content for their course with any depth, the ease of having a lively, engaged discussion in class with any teacher etc. put me on this path. And the feedback from my students that they loved what they learnt and how much their perspectives changed drove it home.

That was then. Today, what gets me going is that we have created a system that transforms students for a world of uncertainty and constant change. Most education systems are getting students ready for certainty.

What have been your experiences in this leadership position?
I have led based on what I felt was right, which was by serving my team. Encouraging and providing them the skills and tools for them to be great at what they do. So, we are big on training. We created a lot of our own in-house training that is very practical unlike a lot of teacher training that tends to focus on theory.

Many years later, I realised that the leadership style I have evolved into and trained our leaders is very much in line with leadership the way John C Maxwell leads and talks about in his books and training. It was from him that I learnt about servant leadership.

Which are the important factors that keep you going?

  • The horror of how far behind education is in the fast-changing world we are in now. Yet most educators and policy makers are doing so little to move it forward. What they are doing is taking baby steps when the world is on a rocket ship.
  • Keeping abreast of where the world is heading by attending international business and tech conferences, not in education conferences.
  • The fact that I work with my family and friends. We share so much together and we got to where we are today, together.

Have you faced any obstacles in your initiatives? Do you think you have faced specific challenges because of being a woman?

  • Working on changing an education system that is resistant to change on so many fronts – policy makers, teachers training policies and systems, the university systems, traditional mindsets of parents and teachers.
  • Requirements at governmental level to set up an international school was prohibitive until 2019 when the Ministry of Education finally relaxed the requirements.
  • The CAPEX to set up a school was prohibitive. Had to figure a way to do it that was manageable for a bunch of teachers.
  • A father predicted that we would close within six months of setting up our school in 2012. Two years later he sent his two children to our school system.
  • Mindset of the Ministry and many parents that the education from the West is better.

Where do you usually find inspiration from?

I was inspired by my girls when I started, created the businesses with my girls and moving forward for my girls. They’re 33 and 31 now.

What’s your proudest moment so far? 

They are too many on the ground level.

  • Set up the school business and the rest of the businesses together with my daughters, my family members, a friend and teacher, and my two ex-students. I guess the best would be the validation on a global and business level that we are on the right track. We came together because of a shared vision – to change education.
  • Featured in Cambridge University Union Yearbook six years in a row. In 2018, we were one of eight schools featured under Chapter 1 World Class. Only two schools were from Asia, one from China, the other us.
  • Selected by Endeavor Global New York as one of three school groups selected out of 32 countries over 22 years after screening 50,000+ companies.
  • My daughters, my niece and an ex-student are the game designers for ChemCaper, the first Chemistry Role Playing Game in the world which won the APICTA awards in Taiwan beating 17 countries and IMGA awards for South East Asia.
  • SOBA 2017 (Star Outstanding Business Award) for Female Entrepreneur of the Year and Best Employer.

How would you define success ?

  • Solving problems for many people at the same time and creating value for making that happen. Working and growing with my family.
  • Having great friendships along the way.
  • Making an impact on so many people’s lives.
  • Creating business partnerships with my teachers and staff. Co-investing together

What Advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women?
We can have it all. Success and family, good friends, a supportive ecosystem, a great network of likeminded people to create change for a better world. Many women think they have to choose one or the other. I decided that I wanted a business where I can have all that. So, I set about making it happen. So, Ladies, don’t wait for someone to hand this to us. A lot of people’s success comes at a price but it can be done without compromising what is important in our lives.

Cancer caring through integrative healing

Starting her career around 2013 with a non-profit organisation in New York, that used movement therapy to rehabilitate cancer patients exposed her to the concept of Integrative Oncology.

She brought this concept to India and implemented it in 2018. Since then her organisation, CARER, has been working up close and personal with multiple cancer patients, survivors and caregivers, helping them change their lifestyle and manage their condition better.

Samara Mahindra believes this is where her passion lies. Being able to take all the knowledge that she has gained and access to high quality healthcare, and in turn provide the same to people who need it most.

Here she responds exclusively to some questions from AsiaBizToday.

Which are the services that CARER provides?

CARER provides integrative and holistic therapies in the form of clinical nutrition, physical rehabilitation and mental wellbeing to cancer patients on treatment and post. The objective is to help decrease symptoms, improve immunity, quality of life and work towards decreasing risks of relapse.

What was your trigger and motivation to get into this?

The trigger was when I experienced cancer as a caregiver, while my mother fought it for over 6 years. While we had exposure to high quality medical care, there were no solutions available to manage the other conditions that exist for the patient, such as nutrition deficiency, physically rehabilitation or mental health. Which eventually decreased her quality of life substantially and her resilience to fight the disease any longer.

What have been your experiences in this initiative?

The most important facet required to be a leader in healthcare, is compassion and empathy. The only way we can face the challenges and fight the odds is by getting your team to understand the importance of the work you do and inculcating empathy as the number one trait.

Which are the important factors that keep you going?

Knowing that I am making a difference to someone’s life and giving back in whatever way i can.  Along with this, is persistence, resilience and always listening to your intuition.

Have you faced any obstacles in your initiatives? Any specific challenges because of being a woman?

I have faced multiple obstacles as everyone else. Such as the adoptability or acceptability of what we are doing in healthcare, due to being the first mover in the space. I have never faced any specific challenge of being a woman entrepreneur in India. In fact, it has been widely accepted and welcomed.

Where do you usually find inspiration from?

I have certain people that I look upto, but mainly from my patients and myself.

What’s your proudest moment so far?

When strangers come up to me and tell how CARER has changed the life of their loved ones.

How would you define success?

When you know you have given the best version of yourself towards what you love, which in turn has made this world a better place.

What Advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women?

We have an innate ability to be logical, fair and compassionate at the same time. Every one of us has the ability to make a difference and the key is to push forward and know that you are good enough no matter what.

Happiness breeds success

Belonging to Hyderabad, the second largest city of Pakistan’s most populated province, Sindh, Anum Ali Laghari was motivated to bring about a positive change and wanted to create an impact among the marginalized group of society.

When this realisation dawned, she went about setting up a non-profit organisation, I Help – Touching Souls while still doing her graduate studies. Her passion to give back to the society led her to establish this organization to serve the people in need, as many as possible.

In this exclusive chat with AsiaBizToday, Anum Laghari shares her about her work and insights.
Activities that you undertake?

Currently I am working on two social causes – Educating underprivileged students, who can’t afford formal and non-formal education as well as Working for women’s reproductive rights.

For the underprivileged students, we are running a charitable Street School. According to Pakistan government estimates, around 22.8 million children in the age group of 5-16 are out of school. Pakistan has the world’s second highest number of children out of school due to lack of economical recourses.

The charitable school was established April 2017 with help of friends and family and has served more than 250 students thus far. Currently 45 students are enrolled in the school. We provide free formal and non-formal education along with medical assistance when required and the school also provides stationery and books to the students.

With regards to Women’s Reproductive Rights, I am working with Marie Stopes Society on providing awareness and services on reproductive health rights and family planning to the vulnerable women. I work as District Manager, Operations at Marie Stopes Society. It’s my paid job but for a cause, I supervise around 25 staff members of my team and our private service providers including lady doctors, nurses and paramedics in my district.
Your trigger and motivation to get into this.
I hail from a privileged family and I grew up dreaming to be a social activist to help as many as possible. Lifting up others and transforming their lives has helped me turn my dream into reality. I started my journey of social services to help the one in need without any greed or wanting anything in return.

Your experiences in a leadership position?
Being a leader is difficult. It involves setting the right example and being a role model. For leaders it is important for their teams to act and perform. All eyes are on you, watching your every move as you set the expectations for the team.

If the leadership team is smartly dressed and punctual, then this will encourage the team to replicate this behaviour. They will look at your willingness to roll up your sleeves and get involved to achieve the team goals, they will look to see how you communicate at all hierarchical levels and they will analyze how accountable you are when things are going badly. Being a good role model for your business is vital if you want your team members to be as professional as you are.

Important factors that keep you going?
My passion, will and commitment towards the work I’m doing, keeps me going.

Any obstacles in your initiatives, specifically because of being a woman?
Being a woman I have faced many challenges. In my country there is no debate over the fact that men are given unfair advantages over women under unquestionable circumstances. Unofficial policies exist in private as well as government institutions with regard to the hiring of women, as it is commonly believed that they will either get married and quit, or take days off or leaves during their maternity periods. This is downright discrimination and this, of course, robs women of many good opportunities that places them at a lower position in the society.

Your source of inspiration?
I’m inspired by my father as he has always been a source of support for me while doing all my projects and the other one is the angel of mercy, Abdul Sattar Edhi. His Edhi Foundation runs the world’s largest volunteer ambulance network, along with homeless shelters, animal shelter, rehab centers and orphanages across Pakistan.

Your proudest moment so far?
When I witnessed the students of my charitable school starting to write and read the sentences written in the English language. It was like I had achieved my objective.

Your definition of success?
Happy woman is a successful woman. When you are satisfied and happy from what you are doing, you are successful.

Your advice to other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women?
My advice for entrepreneur women is simple and it is to have concrete goals. Do not be afraid to fail. Failures are great proof that you have taken the necessary risks in your journey.