Pledge 1%'s #WomenWhoLead series celebrates female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation. While our featured leaders come from a variety of backgrounds and industries, they are united in their efforts to promote equality for all women in the workplace. We’ve asked them to share a bit about their journey to success, as well as lessons they’ve learned along the way.
What is your current role? Briefly describe in 1-2 sentences.
I serve as a general partner of Accelerating Asia, which is an early-stage venture capital firm focused on Asia Pacific.
This year's International Women's Day theme is "Embrace Equity." What does this mean to you? How can we build workplaces that are more equitable and inclusive?
I think that equity means creating equal access to opportunities, while inclusion means creating spaces that are thoughtfully designed to enable equity. But how equity and inclusion are created should be ever-evolving. At the moment, in the startup and investment space, there are so many activities that are just noise and virtue signaling. There are so many mentor programs or networking events for women, or pitch events to get feedback on their startups. In order to really make a difference, I think we need to have a real conversation about the state of the ecosystem and put our money where our mouths are.
Case in point, I was recently considering attending a large conference for women fund managers where you could apply for the opportunity to pitch to investors for feedback. You would never see something like this at a typical investor conference where attendees are predominantly male - which given the nature of the industry, most attendees are. While I appreciate the effort by the conference organizers to create a platform for women to showcase their funds, I’m tired of feedback, tired of mentors, and tired of meaningless awards. I’m tired of being recognized as an “inspiring” female fund manager when female fund managers are considered a category of their own.
At this point, I believe that equity and inclusion means moving past labels. We should no longer call attention to the gender of a particular entrepreneur or investor, in much the same way we don’t label any other professional by their age, sexual orientation, or some other random personal attribute. Special programs to address under-representation are different from being labeled and bound by that label in your work. Excellence in any investing - or any kind of business activity - should not be bound by gender. If we want to build ecosystems, industries, and workplaces that are more equitable and inclusive, we need to do more than signal.
Do you have any mentors or role models who have helped you on your personal journey?
I don’t really believe in the whole mentor-mentee relationship for my personal life because I’ve always felt like there is a power dynamic and transactional nature of that kind of relationship. I also don’t think I’ve taken a very typical route in my career or personal journey and at each point in my life, I’ve needed or wanted different things. So I prefer to approach my relationships with people from a place of curiosity and pick and choose aspects of their lives or how they’ve dealt with certain situations as a framework for me to adapt to my own personal life. I really believe in surrounding myself with people who are doing interesting or different things and I actively seek these people out when I’m trying to learn something or solve a problem. They don’t need to be in the same industry as me, or at the same stage in their career, but I find energy in being around people who are truly passionate about their craft/ work/ life. I find that you can learn more from people who are not in your area with how they manage their work and their lives by potentially bringing across systems and ideas and adapting them to your own situation.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Your difference is your strength. Ten years ago, this kind of blanket statement would come across as any other general aphorism for self-empowerment. More research has shown that this idea is verifiably true: Organizations derive significant competitive advantage from being diverse. More diverse organizations perform better than less diverse organizations. On an individual level, people should celebrate what makes them different because this is what gives them an edge: They will recognize opportunities that others don’t, and view challenges from a different perspective. While I mostly speak from a professional lens, the idea that your differences are your strengths also applies to your personal life.
The past few years have brought many new and unprecedented challenges. What keeps you motivated or inspires you to stay optimistic?
Like many investors, we regularly back startups in business hubs like Singapore. Unlike other investors, we also make a concerted effort to back startups in emerging markets, including everywhere from Bangladesh to the Philippines. While there are undoubtedly more challenges in these markets - such as a still-developing business ecosystem and growing infrastructure - there are also many more rewards. Compared to a place like Singapore, a startup in an emerging market can more easily create exponential impact. That’s because their solution will not be merely an improvement over others as it would be in a developed market - it will often be leaps and bounds ahead of the legacy solution. With enough of this innovation, an emerging market rich with startups can leap ahead of its counterparts. We’ve seen this with Indonesia, we are seeing this with Vietnam, and we hope to see this in more emerging markets around the world. It’s easy to stay optimistic in this scenario: We’re not just investing in startups - we’re investing in the future of a country or region.
Pledge 1% helps companies of all sizes and stages leverage their assets for social good. Why do you think it's important that companies prioritize social impact? Do you have any specific stories or examples from your work or colleagues you can share?
At Accelerating Asia, we believe that entrepreneurs are humanity’s greatest catalysts for positive change.
That statement is on our website and our collaterals, but it is one we really believe in and we try to live up to on a day-to-day basis as investors. We seek to support entrepreneurs, especially those who hail from underserved markets, such as Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
Due to the nature of these markets, the entrepreneurs here are not just making a shiny app - they’re devising solutions that address major challenges in their country, including everything from transportation and healthcare to agriculture and small business. These solutions drive their citizens and economies forward.
Every company in Accelerating Asia’s portfolio addresses at least one sustainable development goal of the United Nations, and most address multiple SDGs. This alignment toward social impact is important because it ensures entrepreneurs remain user-centric in how they develop their products and services.
This user-centricity is evident in a cross-spectrum of our startups, who have not only enjoyed enormous business success, but who have clearly made a difference in their communities. In Bangladesh, iFarmer is extending finance to small farmers who would otherwise not have access to capital to grow their farms. In the Philippines, Beam and Go is making it easier for overseas foreign workers (OFWs) to provide key goods to their loved ones back home. In Thailand, Easy Rice is digitizing the quality assessment of staple food to improve sustainability in the supply chain. These are just three examples of why startups should prioritize social impact: Because these solutions are highly tailored to their end users, they put themselves in the best position to succeed and affect positive change.
If you could describe yourself in one word what would that be and why?
Determined. This word came to mind for three reasons: I am determined to guide the many brilliant founders in our portfolio as best I can; I am determined to produce winning investments for the limited partners who invest alongside us; and I am determined for our portfolio to affect change in Asia Pacific and beyond.
Do you have any unique or useful life hacks to help get through your day?
After experiencing burnout early in my career, which took a long time to recover from, I have two rules when I’m planning my day. First, I always fit in some kind of exercise. I used to do this 6 times a week. Since having a baby 3 months ago, I obviously had to take a break so I am working back up to this.
Second, despite the hustle culture prevalent in the startup world, I find energy in balance. I make it a point to spend time with my friends and family as well as get alone time. By setting aside this personal time, there is a palpable difference over the course of a day. I am more creative, productive, and fulfilled.
Because this work-life balance has been so beneficial to me, I try to promote this culture at Accelerating Asia. Our team members can take time off whenever they need, and we help them stay truly offline with an official calendar (so no one pings them when they should be rejuvenating). I would encourage others in my field to incorporate similar practices for themselves and their organizations if they can.
Do you have any go-to apps or tools use love to use?
Rather than name a flashy, new app, I would like to cite an old favorite: Google Apps, and in particular, Calendar. I am religious when it comes to scheduling not only professional activities, but also personal ones: I block off time with family and friends and even workout sessions with different color codes. This may seem like a small touch, but it really makes a difference in ensuring I live a balanced life. During a normal workday, it’s not enough to rely on good intentions to go to the gym or spend time with your loved ones. When things get busy at work, it will be easy to skip out on these personal activities. Scheduling them in advance keeps me committed and prevents ad hoc interruptions that may arise. So when I return to work from my “me” time, I am more energized than ever.
What are you looking forward to this year? Are there any goals (personal or professional), activities, or experiences you are excited about?
I’ve been off work for several months now due to maternity leave. I’m of course excited to get back full-time, and deal with the challenges of now attending to three babies: my dog, my newborn, and my first baby (in a manner of speaking), Accelerating Asia.
Personally, I’m looking forward to getting back into the gym and carving out me-time and learning how to balance the changes at home and continuing to grow Accelerating Asia. My return at Accelerating Asia also comes at a major crossroads. Our portfolio of more than sixty plus startups has collectively reached major revenue, growth, and valuation milestones, and our team that supports them has grown exponentially as well. When I return, I expect to be able to perform less operational work and focus on the bigger picture of becoming the best early stage venture capital firm in Asia Pacific. When promising young founders in the region need support, I want our name to be top of mind. This is of course a bold ambition given the many excellent investors operating here - I’m excited to work on the initiatives and programs that I think could bring us to this next level.