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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 – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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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.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

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)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

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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