women’s institute of management
Women entrepreneurship has a diversity issue, and the lack of gender diversity in particular is a blight on today’s entrepreneurship landscape which simply cannot continue. In Focus talks to Dato’ Dr. Nellie Tan-Wong, Co-Founder/Deputy Chairperson/Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Institute of Management (“WIM”) on women’s role in the marketplace and on empowerment, establishing more sustainable, working cultures and practices.
1.You are a Co-Founder of WIM, could you tell us a bit about your journey with WIM.
WIM was mooted 26 years ago when the late YBhg. Tan Sri Dato’ Napsiah Omar, then Minister of National Unity and Social Development, Malaysia and myself met up over lunch. We sat down and decided to set up an NGO focusing on skills training for women. The same year, Women’s Institute of Management (“WIM”) was incorporated. Tan Sri Napsiah was then a Cabinet Minister, she presented WIM’s objectives to the Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir supported the idea provided that the training courses cater for all races.
WIM made the first debut with an International Women’s Conference. As an NGO with little funding, we decided to include a fund raising dinner at the Conference and managed to raise RM2 million. Eager to drive the WIM Agenda, we began our road show nationwide and broadcast our courses on Radio 3 where most of its listeners were housewives. We were excited and surprised to receive a good number of women to our small business courses, in all the States of Malaysia.
With a partial grant from government, aggressive fundraising and a bank loan, we managed to construct our very own 6-storey Wisma WIM with some parts of it being rented out to generate revenue for WIM. Being an NGO that advocates women empowerment, we are proud to be recognised by United Nations and received funding to conduct various courses in leadership, reproductive health issues, entrepreneurship, prevention of HIV/AIDS and domestic violence. With project funding from the UNFPA, WIM is regularly required to present our project reports to the Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister’s Dept. At the same time, WIM’s course modules are well received by local authorities such as the police force which uses WIM’s training manual for their training courses in Domestic Violence.
On the education front, WIM is the first institution in the country to be offered to run a British MBA (International Business) Programme by the University of East London (UEL), UK. There were challenges in the earlier stages, but we managed to sail through and to-date, many of our graduates both men and women from various backgrounds and experiences, have progressed further in their careers and lead successful lives with the earned MBA qualification.
2. What are some of the programmes that WIM run?
WIM has organised over 700 courses and events, mostly free skills training courses for disadvantaged women throughout Malaysia. Most of our training are free training courses in Small Businesses and Basic ICT for disadvantaged women’s groups such as single parent women, rural romen, Orang Asli women, women in the prisons and many others. WIM has also initiated two new undertakings, which are WIM Talent Fund and a WIM Millennials Support Group to attract and develop talents and opportunities among the Millennials. Last year, WIM organised a WIM Conference on Corporate Governance and Ethics for those who served as Company Directors.
3. What are your views on the state of women’s entrepreneurship in Malaysia today?
It is hard to generalise across all contexts, but there are a couple of fundamental challenges that I think could be applied across the board. Firstly, gender stereotypes and attitudes towards women are still rampant. This can have a huge and detrimental impact on their ability to participate in the economy – whether as employees or entrepreneurs.
Another key challenge is a lack of access to training and financial services to women particularly from the underserved community. Educational inequalities compound the issue, since these women often lack the financial literacy, skills and confidence needed to effectively manage their finances. Nonetheless, in some respects we have hit the glass ceiling stereotypes as positive signs of change. For example, our former Governor of Bank Negara, Tan Sri Dr. Zeti had an important role in transforming Malaysia’s financial system. Such women and many others are living proof of women empowerment in many aspects.
In creating positive impact, we still have a very long way to go in providing equal opportunity to women especially to those from the underserved community. We are doing within our capacity to reach out to as many women across the country to be part of this journey.
4. In your opinion, how can WIM increase capability in women’s entrepreneurship? What are the programmes available in WIM for women from the underserved community?
For the past 26 years, WIM has stayed true to its course in creating a positive image of women and to promote the leadership of women in all sectors. We forge partnership between men and women for the development of the total community at local, national and global levels.
This year we partner with OSK Foundation to organise a series of Small Business Training and Financial Management Workshops for underserved women groups across Malaysia including in Sabah and Sarawak. The 2-day workshops are designed to help these women develop basic entrepreneurial skills and guide them on financial management. The partnership aims to unlock the potential of over 500 women nationwide.
We have designed special entrepreneurial modules which can benefit these women in the long run. The workshops guide them through handicraft works such as basket weaving, jewellery making and headband craft. They are also taught on basic book keeping and business ethics. Both WIM and OSK Foundation are committed to open these opportunities to women by recognising their significant role in the marketplace. We bring in expert trainers and small business ideas for these women, to open doors for them to better empower their economy and lead a better quality of life.
5. How does women entrepreneurs play a role in the marketplace?
In general, Malaysia has a good number of women entrepreneurs. This number however, is unjustified by the growing population and demographic.
Despite many of them being successful, their actual potential remains to be tapped. There are many reasons ranging from societal perceptions of the traditional roles of women as homemakers, to the lack of equal opportunities made available to women, resulting in a market failure that prevents them from achieving their full potential as entrepreneurs. There have also been claims that women entrepreneurs supposedly lack confidence and stamina, placing more importance on family and work-life balance.
To tackle this, we at WIM are forging sustainable and inclusive economic growth, in making a spot for women to have equal access to education, employment, and entrepreneurship. With partnership with OSK Foundation, we seek to build a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem for women from underserved backgrounds to be independent, build their capacity and help them improve their livelihood.
6. What would be your message to the next generation of women entrepreneurs?
Too often, women are told that they are incapable. But that begins to change now. My message to the next generation of women entrepreneurs is simply this: you can, everything is possible when you put your head into it. Gain as much life experience as you can, stay focused and be disciplined in whatever you do. Today, it is no longer about the practical and emotional support for women entrepreneurs along the way – but strength and determination make the difference between an aspiration or becoming a reality. When women believe in themselves, amazing things prevail.
Women societal status is more about the brain and not the brawn anymore, what we are doing is creating an environment which empowers women and gives them an opportunity to pursue their passion as well as fostering their ideas to life.
7. What are some of the challenges you face in running WIM? What would you like to see changed?
As a women’s non-profit NGO, WIM is fortunate to be institutionalised in Malaysia. There are challenges, but we manage to turn it into opportunity and create results. With our programmes, we work towards women’s economic empowerment because we believe in harnessing the talents and potential of women which will create stronger economies and a fairer society for all. We have in the pipeline, new programme on women’s leadership which we foresee will be the next trailblazer for women to gain access to the skills, knowledge and financial literacy. We also believe that technology has the capacity to break down barriers and open up opportunities for women’s economic empowerment on a larger scale.
While the female labour participation rate in our country has risen, this is still far below that of men. We in WIM would like to see many more women participation in local economy and in boardrooms. We are strong advocate of empowering women through incentives in terms of education, entrepreneurship and economy.
8. In which ways can public get involved to support WIM?
There are many ways public can support WIM. Qualified working professionals can enrol in our British MBA (International Business) Degree programme which seeks to develop critical and analytical approaches to management theory, practice and research. Public can also support by participating in the regular CEO Talk Series and WIM Millennials Support Group which offers relevant and interesting events for the Millennials. WIM has also created a WIM Talent Fund for public to support deserving children with hidden talents to access to more specialised training.