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Women on Top in Tech – Damini Mahajan, CEO/Co-Founder, We Make Scholars

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Women on Top in Tech is a series of Women Founders, CEOs & Leaders in Tech. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.

Damini is the CEO and co-founder of We Make Scholars (http://www.wemakescholars.com), a “Not-just-for-profit” organisation addressing a major social issue: “Lack of reliable and transparent information” in the higher education sector. Their mission, in their own words, is “to be the earth’s best platform for aspiring scholars.”

Here are excerpts from my conversation with Damini.


What makes you do what you do?

The main motivation is my mission to provide quality and affordable education to everyone in this world. And as you know, the developing, the developed countries, if you talk about America, they have a lot of opportunities but if we talk about third world countries, India or Vietnam, Malaysia and Africa, Europe, there are a lot section of the society which is under served.

The affordable education is not available. In India, if you talk about the education, is not about the quality, it’s about degrees and certifications. My motivation is to provide quality education so that people, not just become educated, they become literate. They know how the world works, how to win or wait. So I think the reason why third world countries are poor in Science and Technology is because education is there but the innovation and literacy, people and residents, STEM, Science and Technology is less. The innovation is not there. So, that’s why all the innovation comes from America. My motivation is to provide quality education so that people can innovate even in our countries where resources are there but people are not doing that. At ‘We Make Scholars’ where we started helping students with the global scholarships so that they can pursue their education at top universities around the world. (see http://www.wemakescholars.com/)

we_make_scholars_logo

When you have a mission, you have target and you know what you want to achieve and you know what you want to serve to the society, it always gives you internal inspiration and it makes you go ahead on your mission.

And your second startup is a nutritional beverage, how did that arise?

A lot of infants and mother they die after the delivery. This nutritional drink, reduces the mortality rate in infants. So it has that vitamins required for a postnatal carriage.

How do you manage to do two things at the same time? Or is it because we multitask as women or you have two lives?

(laughs) Yeah. I mean it’s always a challenge because both the startups are on the rise. And there’s always a lot of work to do. It’s a lot of work. But I think it’s the, again, the motivation which makes you divide time and prioritize things so you are take time from your personal time, let’s say, sleep or personal work. So that you can now dedicate equal time to both of these and so that they both can run properly and in a good way.

Many women, especially in Asia, give a lot give priority to family and sometimes don’t take leadership positions.

I agree with that. But I think now it’s changing. Personally, I had these issues because I belong to a very small place in India. It’s India, probably metro cities, people are not like that, but I belong to a small town. There are people who have these issues and leadership roles they don’t take. They want to take very light jobs where it’s flexible so they can give time to family but for me, I would say from childhood, I always had this thing that I wanted to give back to the society. I didn’t want to just study and not use my knowledge, not use my skills. I always wanted to — I would say even when I was little, High School, I used to teach primary kids from the labor class or the working class who didn’t get a chance to attend school. I used to do that. So, teaching was always my interest.

I’m hearing you say that despite the challenges that come from a social norming of a small city, the fact that you’re slightly supposed to be young person and inexperienced (an under-represented as woman in technology) you still kept going because of the mission. That’s what you’re saying?

Yeah. And I think you need support from people who are very close to you even though the societal norms doesn’t tell you you’re doing wrong or you’re going against the norms, you need a few people. Keep people who are near you. Your family, your friends. If they are okay with that and if they support you and you have the internal motivation, you can go ahead.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

So I would say industrial, the mentors in the industry are there who give us inspiration. But my internal inspiration is my mother. Because she also grew from a society where women are not educated because it’s a small town as I mentioned. They don’t take college degree. So she took up the challenges and she always taught me that thing that you have to take the next step. People will stop you, society will stop you but if you want to do that, you can do it.

For my industry mentor, I was fortunate to have Mr. Raju Reddy who established a very big company in the US, Sierra Atlantic. At its peak, it was one of the top companies in China. So, he’s an inspiration and like me, he belongs to a really small town in India. He’s now one of the biggest investor in Silicon Valley. My other key mentors include Prof Sunil Handa and Mr Sanjay Jesrani. So when you look at these people and they tell you it’s not about where you belong to or come from, we all can be reach our goals and be make an impact.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?

Okay. So I met him in a town in India where he is serving back to the society. So he’s helping social entrepreneurs. So when I was there and I was starting something in the space and I wanted to/a help, so I met him and he was very excited about it. And he could see that at a young age, I was 23 when I was working in this idea, and he was very happy about it and he wanted to mentor us and give me the way, the part. He always supports me so the part, he never tell me this is what you should do. He always say, “You tell me what you wanna do. I’ll tell you if there are some challenges or anything so that you can be alert.”

I am a huge fan and cheerleader of this Young Powerhouse Damini – If you know of a AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself – Write me.

AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me


For more information about We Make Scholars, please see http://www.wemakescholars.com.

For information about Turning Gen Y On, my recently-published book to help leaders overcome workplace challenges with their Gen Y staff, please see http://tgyo.asia/.

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Laina Raveendran Greene, Co-Founder at Angels of Impact

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is our interview with Laina Raveendran Greene, Founder of GETIT Inc. and Co-Founder of Angels of Impact, an impact network focused on women social entrepreneurs helping to alleviate poverty. She is an entrepreneur and social impact investor, whose passion is female empowerment, and enabling women to be key agents to help alleviate poverty in Asia.

What makes you do what you do?
As a minority female Singaporean from relatively humble beginnings, I have never taken anything for granted. I learnt early on that I have to work doubly hard to overcome the “glass ceilings” but if I persevere, I can succeed. That is why I chose to focus on helping women-led social enterprises as I know how hard things are for them and I hope to make things a little easier for them.

How did you rise in the industry you are in? 
I rose by being courageous enough to push against the “glass ceiling” and seizing opportunities open to me no matter where they were. Early on, I realized I would have better opportunities overseas, so I worked in many countries, including Switzerland, USA, and Indonesia and used these opportunities to learn and open new avenues for myself. I now come back to Singapore with many more networks and skill sets.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
Yes, as a minority Singaporean, it may appear that I am not the usual leadership demography in Singapore. In my own way, however, I think I have amassed my own international accolades and work experience such as serving as the first Secretary General for the Asia Pacific Internet Association, CEO of one of the first few tech startups in Singapore in the early 90s, being on the International Steering Committee of the Global Telecommunication Women Network, and most recently selected as one of the 2nd cohort of Edmond Hillary Fellows in New Zealand.

I am now moving to the next phase of using these networks and skills to help other women to social enterprises, which seem to be exactly what I want to do in my next phase of life (after more than 25 years of global work experience).

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? 
It was harder in my younger days, as one of the few women in tech to find mentors but today I do.  Men were reluctant to mentor me for fear of rumors.

How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him? 
I found my mentor when I was taking an executive program at Stanford. He was one of the keynote speakers and I went to talk to him. Intrigued by my background, when I asked if he would mentor me, he said yes. I meet with him at regular intervals and I always ensure I have put his ideas to test before reporting back to him. I feel that I value his time if I do actually listen and act on his advice.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent? 
The key qualities I look for is an eagerness to learn and humility to be open to new ideas. Also, when asked to be a mentor, I usually give homework and see how proactive they are. Only the ones who do their homework, take the advice and act on it, are the ones I actively mentor.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously and unconsciously support diversity, as I see the importance of diversity on true innovation. You never get anything new, talking to like-minded people. It is always good to have different perspectives to create new ideas. I am also an active supporter having faced racial and gender discrimination in my life and want to ensure that others are given a better chance.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb? 
A great leader to me is one who has empathy and humility, and a genuine spirit of service. Today’s challenges such as climate change and social injustice, requires many players to apply their knowledge and skills to solve and have a sense of ownership in solving these issues

Advice for others?
The only advice I can think of is do what you are strongly passionate about. You need to persevere to succeed so it helps if you truly care about the endeavor you are working on.

If you’d like to get in touch with Laina Raveendran Greene, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laina/

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Callum Connects

Denise Morris Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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