May 14, 2013WIM’s 20th Anniversary Celebration Dinner
Location: One World Hotel

WIM’s 20th Anniversary Celebration Dinner was held on 14.5.2013 at 7.30pm at Grand Ballroom One World Hotel, Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

“20 YEARS OF CELEBRATION”

More than 20 years ago, two feisty women put their heads together and decided that they wanted to go where no other Malaysian women had gone, at that point – and they wanted as many women as possible to get there. It wasn’t a decision based on caprice, or the lack of anything better to do; indeed, both Tan Sri Napsiah Omar and Dato’ Dr Nellie S L Tan-Wong then had stellar careers of their own. Tan Sri Napsiah had already had several decades’ worth of experience in government, including Ministerial stints, while Dato’ Dr Nellie was the head of her own established and successful accounting practice. Despite the dissimilarities in background, they strongly concurred on one point: that whatever they did should make a difference, and that the primary beneficiaries of their efforts should be women.

Convergent paths

“I found a kindred spirit in Dato’ Nellie,” reminisced Tan Sri Napsiah. “Coincidentally, we come from the same state, and we were introduced by another minister – Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, who was then the Minister for International Trade & Industry. Both Dato’ Nellie and I felt that women could be best helped if they had the proper training which could make them independent. In the mid-1980s, we met the then- Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who urged us to set up an institute for women from all walks of life
and of all ages and ethnicities. I asked for land to set it up, and he agreed, but he said, “If you fail, you have to give the land back!” And with that, I went around twisting people’s arms for sponsorships and donations, but the economy was good, so I didn’t have to twist very hard!” WIM was awarded the last plot but the first to put up a building.

Dato’ Nellie’s recollections are equally fond. “We did not know each other until we were introduced by Tan Sri Rafidah,” she said. “Soon after, Napsiah asked me what she could do besides the usual programmes for women. Skills being more beneficial than money, we conceptualized WIM – but WIM needed a
building to conduct skills training and create professional women. It was important that we had an image which reflected that we were here to stay, and were not just a fly-by-night outfit. Tun Dr Mahathir approved of our project and gave us the last plot of government-reserved land for NGOs – and WIM was the first NGO to put up a building there, in 2000! Our fundraising was quite aggressive, I must say, and together with some bank facilities, we managed to construct a 6 storey building, Wisma WIM, which today is totally free of encumbrances.”

Despite the buoyant economy, there were still challenges along the way. “Yes, we did have disagreements over how things should be done,” Napsiah continued. “But the objective never changed; it was always the same. Fortunately, administration was Dato’ Nellie’s forte, so things got done. Being an accountant, she is particularly good at detailed record-keeping and documentation. Also, we were both used to doing a lot of extension work in the communities at grassroots level, so we could empathise with and relate to people at a variety of levels.” It was hard work, but they “had their heads screwed on properly, so whatever was put on paper, materialized,” she said. “It was a case of good management of funds. Because of this, we achieved whatever we set our minds to.”

Education first and foremost

The early years were anything but easy, they both agreed. It was the practical thing to do, once the building was up and running, to open up office space for rent. But the WIM Board was strict. “The Board insisted only on reputable tenants,” Dato’ Nellie stressed. “We needed the revenue badly then, but we conformed to the guidelines, and thank God, Wisma WIM is 100% tenanted today.”

This steadfast belief in themselves and their objective became real with the incorporation of the Women’s Institute of Management, WIM, on 14th May 1993. Until today, except for an initial one-time grant, WIM does not receive anything from the government – “And we’re very proud of it!” affirmed Tan Sri Napsiah. “We raised our own funds through programmes and other initiatives. WIM is a non-profit NGO with tax exempt status, and all Board Members are volunteers. Up until now, our programmes have been women and community-centred, and the majority of these are conducted free, such as the training courses in Small Business and Basic ICT for women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our programmes are targeted primarily at single-parent women, those in the rural areas, rubber estates and palm oil plantations, indigenous women (Orang Asal), and women in prisons. We have also helped women in JE
virus-infected areas.” Up till 31st December 2012, WIM has delivered 610 courses and events throughout the country, benefitting 25,779 participants.

True to its objective of helping women at all levels, WIM took its task of education a step further with the setting up of Education and Management Programmes in collaboration with the University of East London. “By God’s grace, we were offered an MBA Degree Programme to run by the University of East London,” Dato’ Nellie explained. “Under this partnership, WIM offers an external MBA awarded by UEL. They had done their due diligence on our Board members, and decided to make the offer. None of our Board members had any experience in the private education industry, but this new challenge excited us!”

By her own admission, the first few cohorts were nothing to shout about. “We had just six or eight students then,” she recalled. “Student recruitment was such a struggle; we literally jumped for joy every time one signed on!”

Improving in leaps and bounds

Today, however, for 2012, we have recruited 110 new MBA students to date and, Dato’ Nellie says, with more than just a hint of pride in her voice, that WIM is one of the most successful MBA providers in Kuala Lumpur. Underscoring this, in 2011, WIM was awarded College status by the Ministry of Higher Education, hence the birth of WIM College. Tan Sri Napsiah said, “many circumstances stand in the way of further education, like family, finances and other commitments that people have to contend with, as
they move into adulthood. WIM offers an alternative that is accommodating of work schedules, and family obligation and is affordable – besides being internationally recognized,” she pointed out.

Said Dato’ Nellie, “We are proud of the high quality of our students: managing directors, CEOs, senior vice-presidents, general managers, and professionals in many industries. They are an asset of WIM, and an indication of WIM’s ability to provide our students with fantastic business networking opportunities within our student population itself.” In connection with WIM’s successful foray into the realm of higher education, the Institute has welcomed professors from the Harvard Business School, Henley Management School, Wharton and the Carnegie Mellon University, who have conducted lectures for the MBA students on a pro bono basis. Dato’ Nellie added that WIM has also initiated a WIM-UEL MBA Alumni.

WIM’s good work has not gone unnoticed in other circles, and internationally too. When British Telecomms learnt of the Institute’s financial situation, it raised £10,000 for WIM’s work at a reception in London. In keeping with its educational thrust, WIM has turned publisher as well, with several books,
including a Finance Handbook for the Entrepreneur, Professional and Social Worker; on Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT); a book entitled “Small & Medium Business: The IPO Debut”; another with a business perspective called “Small Business Success Stories” and, on reproductive health: “From the
Womb to the Golden Years.” It also publishes the business journal INSPIRE, three times a year.

What the Future holds

Wisma WIM, a six-storey building in the upmarket Kuala Lumpur suburb of Taman Tun Dr Ismail, is the headquarters of the Institute. Fully tenanted, the premises offer large and small meeting rooms, a multipurpose hall, café, atrium and a 90-bay car park. WIM’s in-house groups include the WIM Toastmasters’
Club, the WIM Book Club, Dato Nellie said “ I still will remember the days when Tok Puan Zainon bte Dato Hussain and I dutifully attended fortnightly site meetings held in a transportable cabin”. WIM Business Network (WBN), the WIM support Group for Recurring Pregnancy Loss and the WIM-UEL MBA
Alumni. The Organisation has given and received numerous awards, including two from the Institute of Public Relations, Malaysia, and in the Education category of the 2011 Malaysia Power Brand Awards, specifically for Brand Development and Management. WIM boasts corporate movers and shakers on its Board, and on its rolls, two Eminent Members – former Prime Ministers of Malaysia: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, fourth and fifth Prime Ministers of Malaysia, respectively.

The achievements of WIM within its relatively short period of existence, have been many. While it does not received government grants, its work has been internationally recognized. No less than the United Nations Population Fund has awarded projects to the Organisation, based on its workshops and
leadership programmes related to women’s health issues, entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment, and women afflicted with HIV/AIDS – not once but five times. It is notoriously difficult to obtain funding from the UN, as decisions to award projects are based on track records and results; no amount of arm-twisting is likely to garner that kind of recognition. It has to be based on plain hard work and concentrated effort.

And fortunately for women in Malaysia, it looks like WIM is quite willing to carry on its good work.

Tan Sri Napsiah is of the opinion that more should be done for the less fortunate. “There are more established programmes around, run by qualified people, that do help the underprivileged and marginalized,” she said. “But WIM’s objectives are focused on women who fall through the cracks. That’s
why we will carry on doing what we have been doing these past 20 years – and possibly take it to the next level.” What that will entail, exactly, is not so obvious at the moment as it is obscured by the current buzz of activity – ie, programmes, training sessions, workshops, short courses, grassroots outreach, and even continuing professional development – that WIM has been continuously engaged with, over the last two decades, but there are inklings of what is in store, if Tan Sri Napsiah’s hints are anything to go by.

A God-driven Project

“Women need to be aware that they can become leaders in their own communities,” she said. “They need to realize that they can steer their own courses, and be whatever they want to be – but they must come up on their own and determine their own fates. For this to happen, they will have to understand what it takes to achieve governance at their own levels, wherever they are in their respective communities. Training and awareness will be necessary to initiate or further develop this level of leadership for women. But I need to stress that although good governance is all very well, we are looking
at emphasizing the value of human governance. Today, human values have been watered down. There needs to be a balance between making profits and maintaining quality of life. We are in danger of losing our humanity.”

Striking a balance will ultimately manifest itself in better stewardship of our resources and the humanizing of technology, she feels. The planet has to be nurtured, and we have to ‘give back’ what we extract from it, in the form of environmental conservation, for instance, while acknowledging that we are in a symbiotic relationship with our surroundings. “Be concerned about what happens around you,” she advised. “Be honest and have integrity. Open up your mind; people must have access to education in order to achieve
open minds. Above all – and I cannot emphasise this enough – we need Education, Education, Education. If you have no education, the world is dark to you.”

Reiterating that noble intentions were, and still are, the basis of WIM, Dato’ Nellie reflected that there had been many instances over the past two decades, when she felt that God was indeed putting them to the test. “We had to work extra hard! But today, the results are so rewarding,” she said. “A strong track record working with women from disadvantaged groups; the gratification of running a successful MBA Degree Programme; publisher of a Business journal and owner of a building estimated at RM25 million or more. Sponsored by Telecoms Malaysia Berhad, the WIM’s Website attracts as many as 73,995 “hits” per month from 117 countries around the world. Enter into its Homepage at www.wimnet.org.my and click “Corporate Video”, one can view a 10 minutes video of WIM’s story.

WIM has even been invited to participate in the European Union – Malaysia Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s newly introduced EUROPA Sustainability Award 2012, and on 26th September 2012 was announced Winner of the Women Empowerment category of the Award. I see WIM as a God-driven Project. God put us to the test through WIM, and I can honestly say we are
truly humbled by all this.”