Celebrating International Women’s Month – A feature on Aidha

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Aidha International Women’s Day/Month Blog

March saw the celebration of International Women’s day on the 8th and the entire month was filled with events, gatherings and stories from every segment of society, celebrating women. As this month draws to a close, we would like to share this piece on Aidha, a very special organisation and a long-time partner of Conjunct, featuring some incredible women.

Armi being awarded her winner certificate at the business plan competition in Aidha 2017

Armi being awarded her winner certificate at the business plan competition in Aidha 2017

Aidha is a non-profit started in 2006 in Singapore, which provides financial education to underprivileged women, primarily the Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs). At the end of their modules, Aidha holds a business plan competition for a selected pool of students/members. As a part of this, FDWs think about and work on setting up & growing their own businesses. In this blog we share interviews with three women – Jacqueline Loh (Jackie), CEO, Aidha; Armi Sampani, Student of Aidha and winner of the Business Plan Competition in 2017; and Georgette Tan, Senior Vice President – Communications at Mastercard, Supporter of Aidha and a Panelist at the Business Plan Competition.

Excerpts from Interview with Armi Sampani, student Aidha:

Armi, celebrating the business plan win with her employer

Armi, celebrating the business plan win with her employer

Born in San Miguel, Iloilo, Philippines, Armi is the fourth of seven siblings. A degree holder, she was forced to venture out abroad due to high unemployment in her country & to help support her family’s financial needs. After a 3-year stint in Kuwait, Armi has been in Singapore since 2006.

“My journey in Aidha had been unintentional and joyful. Unintentional because I was dragged by my best friend Erna to en-roll. But to my surprise, I became interested in every lesson. I’ve learned & improved a lot – my self-confidence, public speaking & more importantly saving money for the future with a well-developed business plan”. All through this process, Armi has received immense support from her employers with everything from the courses to the competition. Aidha also assigns mentors to support students over the entire course.

“I love to compete in all things!”, Armi says. It was no surprise that she was one amongst a group who got hand-picked to join the competition. “My first emotion when I won the competition was happiness & surprise. All the effort was paid off and I could make my mentors proud”.

With greater self-confidence, Armi wishes to push through her business so she can help provide jobs & uplift her community too. Still grateful to her best-friend for introducing her to Aidha, Armi says, “Aidha’s work is incredible, a compact way of learning everything from computer literacy, saving money, public speaking (leadership) to business planning. This place builds awareness in us women that we can build our own business by starting small and being strong confident independent women.”

Excerpts from Interview with Jackie, CEO of Aidha:

Jacqueline Loh (Jackie) addressing the audience at the graduation ceremony at Aidha 2017

Jacqueline Loh (Jackie) addressing the audience at the graduation ceremony at Aidha 2017

Aidha started as a project of UN Women Singapore and became an independent organisation in 2006. “It’s really come a long way from our first ‘campus’ in a condo function room with 23 students in our first year to now a block of 18 classrooms at United World College’s Dover campus and 500 students enrolled at any given time!”, says Jackie.  There’s much more to come however and their goal is to double enrolment within the next two years.

While Aidha focuses on financial education with saving, budgeting, & making financial choices, they also understand the need for a more holistic programme. Hence they also deliver programmes on communication, computer literacy and other relevant skills to help build confidence. As they move forward in their learning, the FDWs are exposed to advanced courses like making smart investments in productive assets and on entrepreneurship.

Over the last 10+ years, Aidha has measured wonderful impact data. ”After our first course students increase their average monthly savings by 40%. By the time they are alumni of our entrepreneurship course their monthly savings have increased by nearly 80%. They also double the number of productive assets they own and business ownership increases from 6% to over 40%”, prides Jackie.

“Knowing that Aidha can really make a difference to the lives of our students, motivates me to do every day. Domestic workers are a wonderful group of women to work with. Hardworking & courageous, they come to work in an unfamiliar country oftentimes being the main breadwinner. However, despite all their sacrifice, research shows that 60% of domestic workers return home with no savings and only material goods. At Aidha we want to help them make smart financial choices so that their sacrifice is worth it.  We want them to be able to return home on their own terms, with savings, productive assets & business plans (if they aspire to be entrepreneurs).”

Excerpts from Interview with Georgette, Senior VP Mastercard & supporter of Aidha:

Georgette Tan, Snr. Vice President, Communication at Mastercard. A long standing supporter of Aidha

Georgette Tan, Snr. Vice President, Communication at Mastercard. A long standing supporter of Aidha

Georgette leads all communication and CSR for Mastercard in APAC. “Jackie and me first interacted as members of the UN Women Singapore ExComm group. So we go back a long way and there has been great synergy”, says Georgette. Mastercard has been supporting Aidha for a long time now mostly because of their focus on empowering women.

Marstercard’s CSR includes a Centre for Inclusive Growth and Financial Inclusion highlighting their core themes of business literacy and financial independence. “To that extent, the work of Aidha is a perfect match and hence one of the longest standing relationships we have. We are happy to add value at different levels from programme development to strategy. It completely aligns with our financial inclusion goal and creates the multiplier effect. We know that when we empower women to become financially independent that is able to impact their families, their peer group i.e. other women and in the process may also bring employment for other women through their ventures”, adds Georgette.

Mastercard supports Aidha in many ways. From funding to run the programs to encouraging staff/employees to volunteer on the different projects for Aidha. Georgette is also personally a part of many initiatives, including the business plan competition, “We of course are always invited to the graduation ceremonies J”.

Talking about what impresses Georgette the most, she responds, The one thing that stands out for me is the confidence level of the women. When they start out in the program, we can see that they feel a little under-confident, are less assertive. As they go through the programme and the competition, one can see them develop the tenacity & determination, to help themselves. They seem to develop a passion fueled with purpose & drive. The best part is, you can see this change in all the women”.

While she finds a lot of the ideas being unique, the thing that stands out for Georgette in some of the plans is how these women are also thinking of scale. For some of them it is not just about starting something new, but there are details of growth, scale and pipeline, which she finds very interesting. “The expanding thinking, the growth thinking is tangible”, says an impressed Georgette.

The business plan competition nominees at Aidha 2017

The business plan competition nominees at Aidha 2017

Lastly, when asked what inspires her about these women, Georgette says, “These are women who have given up A LOT – They have left their families, moved from their countries. Yet, they have a purpose. They are so unafraid of failure or any setback. They also have a very strong sense of community and are so willing to help one another. I find these qualities very inspiring.”

Ending the blog with a message from the three women on international women’s day/month:

Georgette TanAsk for help!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all have our pasts, our dreams, our hopes; know that if you ask, help will come & not just from your family, friends and community. Once you ask, people will find you and know how to help you.

Jacqueline LohLook close to home!

This month, look close to home. There is so much you can do to help underprivileged women here in Singapore.  If you have a helper, encourage her to enrol at Aidha.  If you have friends with helpers, do spread the word.  And if you would like rewarding and fun volunteer experience, consider joining us as a volunteer trainer.

Armi Sampani –  Start with your own self!

My message to other women in this International Women’s Day is that we can stand and build a better future by starting with our own self.

Talking to these women has touched and inspired us. While March is a month of celebration, the fantastic work of Aidha and the inspiring journeys of women like Armi, continue on throughout the year, year after year. If you would like to get associated with Aidha or want to know more on how you can support, write to us at info@conjunctconsulting.org

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