Aug. 23, 2004 – WIM WALKS THE TALK

By: MR. JOHN MADSEN, Group Managing Director, Interflour Holdings Sdn. Bhd.

On 23rd August 2004 I attended an interesting event of the Women’s Institute of Management (WIM) and frankly speaking I did not know very much about this organisation but a close professional colleague of mine had some good words for them. Anyway I was initially impressed that their event’s Guests-of-Honour were non less than Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah bte Mohd. Ali and Datin Paduka Seri Endon Mahmood, wife of the Prime Minister.

As the event’s Programme unfolded, I realised that a great deal of meticulous planning and professionalism had been put together for the audience and WIM got what they wanted – an interested and appreciative audience, including the three VVIPs.

In that one evening the Story of WIM was narrated through the printed Programme Book, the LCD presentations, the poem of Dato Dr. Nellie Tan-Wong, the event’s Organising Chairman and the speech of Dato Napsiah Omar, WIM’s Board Chairman. These women not only worked hard but they worked smart.

As I pondered over my experience at the WIM Gala Dinner, listening and reading, I think there is much that other organisations, old and new, can gain in studying into the strategies and success story of WIM:

Community Work

WIM’s social agenda and core work at grassroot level is impressive – 315 training programmes and events, benefitting 14,485 participants throughout the country. The majority of these participants represented disadvantaged groups, e.g. rural women, single parent women, orang asli women, women in the prisons, estates, J.E. virus affected areas and rumah seri puteri. Dato Nellie explained to me that most of WIM’s trainings were in the areas of Small Business and Basic ICT Training. She said “when we say nationwide, we mean it. We did not confine our training in the capitals of all the states but we were doing courses at Telok Intan, Tanjong Malim, Kota Bahru, Padang Besar, Kudat, Seberang Prai, Sungei Petani, Shah Alan, Dungun, Kemaman, Seberang Prai, Bintulu, Kangar, Tawau, Gua Musang, Kubang Pasu, Sandakan, Labuan, Tanah Merah, Bukit Temiang, Rembau, Kajang, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, to name a few” She added when WIM entered into FELDA settlements, there were no hotels or training schools, hence WIM’s trainers and staff accepted home hospitality in the FELDA settlers’ homes. When WIM organised an entrepreneurial course in Tamil for Indian women from the plantations, a local Indian leader commented he had seen many Indian women at political gatherings, but WIM’s event had the largest attendance of “genuine estate women” which he had witnessed in all his years of social work! Dato Nellie related that two of WIM’s most emotional experiences were their entrepreneurial courses for women in the prisons and Chinese women from the J.E. virus affected areas. WIM issues a Certificate of Attendance for all its courses and when the women prisoners went up to the stage to receive their certificates, they were filled with emotions and some wept: imagine receiving a Certificate whilst you are in prison! WIM spoke to them of a second chance in life and they were touched. One woman released from the prison, called at the WIM office to say thank you once again. She said she had regained her confidence in life and was joining the Toastmasters to learn communications skills. The women from the J.E. virus-affected areas came out of a tragedy where their male leadership was almost totally wiped out-fathers, sons, husbands had succumbed to death at the pig farms. These women were not only economically disadvantaged but they were emotionally drained out. WIM managed to register 58 of these women in WIM’s first course in Mandarin. The process of emotional healing started by asking them to introduce themselves and adding in discussions and counselling sessions, in between the entrepreneurial training. Today these women are actively engaged in various crafts e.g. pressed flowers crafts, smocking, basketry, wax lampshades, etc. Dato Nellie said she was very thrilled last Chinese New Year, when one of these women presented her a lampshade made of wax with pressed dry flowers melted into the wax. This lampshade is proudly displayed at Dato Nellie’s living room in her home. Dato Nellie has pledged one or two days a week for her voluntary work at WIM. She joked sometimes she felt like a small country town doctor because many people call at the WIM office to know more about WIM or whether they can work together with WIM. One day she received a basket containing two packets of cookies with a note saying “Hi, Dato Nellie, we were participants at one of your WIM courses. Just to let you know we are doing fine selling cookies at The Mall. Please enjoy our cookies”. A group of single parent women who attended a WIM course sent a message to WIM that they needed some help. Dato Napsiah and Dato Nellie travelled to Alor Setar to meet up with them, resulting in these women accessing to a 2-week course in Hydroponic Vegetables Growing at the Jabatan Pertanian and later setting up a Hydroponic Vegetables farm. One day recently when Dato Nellie and her daughter were shopping at the Sungei Wang Plaza, a Malay lady came up to them and told Dato Nellie that she attended a WIM course and today she is operating a successful enterprise in selling songket and batek, using East Malaysian designs. Dato Nellie promptly became her customer.

Focus on Basic ICT for Women

WIM discovered that some women shy away from a computer, because of their age group, financial position, etc. WIM had an idea on how to draw these women to become more IT literate but did not have the funds. Hence WIM persuaded banks, companies and colleges to become WIM’s Nationwide ICT Partners, whose role was to offer WIM free access to their computer labs and ICT trainers. WIM then recruited the participants and organised the ICT courses throughout the country. To date, WIM has delivered 77 NICT courses benefitting 1,397 participants. The Third WIM NICT Programme is now under way. The NICT Partners understood that WIM had no budgetted funds to pay them for their contributions but I think they were amply rewarded when their Chief Executives were called up to the stage on 23rd August 2004 to receive a framed Certificate of Appreciation from Tun Dr. Mahathir.

Good Record Keeping and Transparency

I have come to learn that both Dato Napsiah and Dato Nellie are very strict in this area of compliance. Dato Nellie being a Chartered Accountant, ensures that WIM’s activities’ records and accounting records are up to date. WIM’s Accounts are duly audited every year, Annual General Meetings held every year and the WIM Board meets regularly. I know of some organisations where this is not the case – which leads to the demoralisation of their members and loss of confidence in their leaders. Some organisations even get defamed with cases of misappropriation of funds and manipulation of records. The WIM Staff also play their part in inventory control, building databases of WIM project target groups, WIM Donors and Sponsors, WIM Clients, WIM Participants and Students, track record of WIM’s work, because they are constantly preached upon by Dato Nellie that “databases are in fact our assets”. Recently WIM invested in a very good computer system which will greatly enhance retrieval of information, networking, mass labelling work, format designing of various WIM letters and forms, etc.

Good Public Relations and Image Building

I can see that both Dato Napsiah and Dato Nellie are WIM’s two master saleswomen. One is an experienced and respected woman politician, the other, a woman professional who is passionate in social work and has held leadership positions at national and international levels. What a fantastic combination! Dato Napsiah says “never forget to say thank you” and Dato Nellie says, “reply to all letters and e-mails, even if it is with one or two sentences; you never know when an opportunity will present itself”. As an example, Dato Nellie cited when an inquiry from British Telecoms developed into a friendship and resulted in WIM being invited to a Reception at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in London sponsored by British Telecoms, where Dato Nellie spoke on WIM, harvesting more than Sterling 10,000 Pounds being donated to WIM on that night. WIM was also invited to participate in the Crystal Award competitions by the Institute of Public Relations, Malaysia and won awards in two categories. There were no fancy and expensive presentations but WIM’s entries were brief and to-the-point, attractive and maintained a flow of strategies to achieve good results. Dato Nellie said, “Image Building hinges on imposing a very high standard on oneself and keeping our reputation squeaky clean.” Telekoms Malaysia Berhad gave WIM a helping hand in her early years of existence by sponsoring WIM as the first Malaysian women’s organisation to appear in the Internet. Today, WIM’s Website attracts more than 30,000 “hits” a month from 79 countries. WIM believes that having a Website is useful but regularly updating it is a “must”. Perhaps having a Website is one contributing factor to many exciting events in WIM’s calender, e.g. Visits by US Women Senators and Elected State Representatives, by Mrs Nane Annan, Wife of the UN Secretary General, Delegation from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Delegation from Senior Women Leaders from the APEC Economies, Shell’s Global Diversity Team, UK, Queen Mother Semane Bonolo Molotlegi of South Africa, Women Leaders from Mauritius, South Africa and Sudan, Mrs. Barbara Koz Paley, Chairperson of the Women’s Leadership Board, John F.Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and Vice Chancellors, Presidents and professors from various U.S., British, Canadian and Australian universities. WIM is also known to promote the Advancement of Women and two recent initiatives strengthened this image. In February 2004, WIM launched the Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah WIM Woman of the Year Award, creating a nationwide search for a Malaysian woman who faced challenges and difficulties in her early years, overcame her problems and became a success, and is now helping other unfortunate women. In August 2004, WIM, having noted the numerous promotions of women in the media, organised an “Honour Women Leaders in the Media” Luncheon, where all the women editors were given a plaque and a bouquet of flowers and Dato Ng Poh Tip of The Star was presented a Special Trophy for outstanding leadership in the media.

Professionalism and Creativity in Fundraising

Dato Nellie shared that one has to be very professional in submitting a fundraising proposal. She said, “Actually it is a combination of Professionalism and a little bit of, as the Chinese say, “Buying the Heart” of the listener. Potential donors suffer no fools and their time is precious” She added that a fundraising proposal should be precise and in simple language, present a convincing case for the project, supported by documents, statistics and a budget. Dato Nellie said WIM has had its share of disappointments but “you just have to persevere in fundraising”. WIM has a Net Assets worth of RM10,073,300 as at 31st December 2003 – not too bad for an 11 year old organisation but Dato Nellie lamented, “but most of it is held in our Building and Fixed Assets; cashwise, we are walking on a very tight rope and we still have a RM1.3 Million Bank Overdraft to pay” She said WIM has not resorted to the usual Afternoon Tea cum Fashion Show fundraising events because these are very common and usually cannot raise large sums or Walkathons, which are very manpower -intensive whereas WIM has a small staff and membership. WIM has made ad hoc attempts such as having composed a Millennium Wish, obtained an autograph of a VIP and sold forty pieces at RM1,000/- each. WIM also obtained sponsorships for publications they produced and thereafter most of the sales translated to profits.

Very recently, WIM designed a pioneer management programme, the Professional Managers Certification Programme, for which WIM has secured the support of the Harvard Business School Alumni Club of Malaysia, Henley School of Management, U.K., University of East London and the Malaysian Employers Federation – this Programme is expected to bring in revenue to reduce WIM’s bank overdraft. WIM is already running an MBA Programme of the University of East London, and is the only provider in this MBA Programme, whether in London or on foreign shores, which has produced distinction students for the past two years. Another challenging project is a WIM business journal, “INSPIRE” which has been designed high in quality in terms of contents and production. WIM is in the midst of producing a book entitled “Eight Management Lessons from Global Women Leaders”. Amongst the personalities to be featured in this Book are women prime ministers and international corporate leaders, e.g. Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan and Tina Knight, Managing Director of Skyhawk Electronics, U.K. who was once awarded “World Entrepreneur of the Year”. WIM is now looking for a sponsor for this book project, to raise funds for its activities. WIM is also presenting another pioneer programme, the Certified Law Office Assistants Programme of the University College of Cariboo, Canada. This course will provide a wonderful opportunity for those who do not get a place in universities. Members of the public who wish to support WIM may do so by donations, which will receive an income tax exempt receipt or by becoming a Life Member of the WIM Business Network, which is open to both men and women, local and overseas members.

I wish to congratulate WIM for spearheading another brilliant project – the Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi WIM Annual Lecture Series, for which WIM has secured the Prime Minister’s agreement to deliver the Inaugural Lecture on 27th November 2004. WIM plans to alternate this Annual Lecture Series with eminent international and local speakers, after the Inaugural Lecture. I feel that WIM has delivered more than most organisations, not only by Malaysian standards but by international standards also. The following Poem entitled: “If We Count You As Our Friends” composed by Dato Dr. Nellie Tan-Wong says it all about WIM:

IF WE COUNT YOU AS OUR FRIENDS

1. If we count you as our Friends,
We’ll want to thank you and indeed we do
We thank you for caring and for your support
We thank you for being with us when it counts
We thank you for giving us big dreams
We thank you for making them come true.

2. If we count you as our Friends,
We’ll keep our promise, we’ll not let you down
We will persevere, we will deliver
To make this world a better world, so that
Women prisoners will be given a second chance
And single parent women can feed their children

3. If we count you as our Friends,
We’ll strive for uniqueness and excellence
We’ll provide the best in Education
And we have produced students with distinction
And we have produced a quality publication
And given skills in Business and IT Communications.

4. If we count you as our Friends,
Our doors are open to one and all
We’ll promote loyalty and pride for country
Wisma WIM is totally Malaysian,
We’ll promote Bangsa Malaysia
We’ll demonstrate “Malaysia Boleh”

5. If we count you as our Friends,
We promise you no discrimination
We received two Harvard University invitations.
We won two Awards in Public Relations
But you will find us in Felda settlements
But you will find us in rubber plantations

6. If we count you as our Friends,
Help us to become ASEAN’s Centre of Excellence
US Women Senators have come to meet with us
Women from Sudan have asked for our assistance
Women leaders from ASEAN, China and Korea
Have attended our trainings over the years

7. If we count you as our Friends,
All said and done
We want to be remembered
as a Group which works well with men
as a Group which is second to none.
as a Group of Caring Malaysian Women

Submitted by:

JOHN MADSEN
Group Managing Director,
Interflour Holdings Sdn. Bhd.