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ISSUE 11 | Mar 2023

The Women Paving the Way for Moral Leadership in Malaysia


It was an exciting opportunity to bring the fellowship to Malaysia and to help our social changemakers develop skills that would help them navigate the challenges of their work and stay rooted in the values that set them on their journey.

Five years ago, Dato’ Kathleen met Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder of Acumen – a non-profit global venture capital fund with a mission of using business tools to eradicate global poverty and build a dignity-first world, at a philanthropy conference. They quickly discovered that they shared a common desire.

“We share a common aspiration – to raise generations of leaders rooted in human values, leaders with the audacity to drive change in their communities and leaders who have the courage to serve everyone, including the underserved, with dignity.”
- Dato’ Kathleen Chew

Following their meeting, Jacqueline proposed the idea of establishing an Acumen Academy chapter in Malaysia. The Academy, also referred to as the ‘World’s School for Social Change’ is an extension of Acumen that has positively influenced the moral leadership landscape in India, Pakistan and East Africa, and was looking to expand to other regions.

“It made sense to bring the Academy to Malaysia as it would provide our local movers and shakers with a unique opportunity to develop their moral imagination and practise their moral leadership skills in their efforts to build a more just, inclusive and sustainable Malaysia.”
- Dato’ Kathleen Chew

Hence, Malaysia Acumen Academy was established in 2019 by YTL Foundation and Acumen Inc.

A Moral Leader in Her Own Way

Traditionally, a Foundry Fellow – a graduate of the Academy’s one-year moral leadership programme, is chosen to become the programme lead of an Acumen Academy chapter. However, Oga Chan was a rarity. She is one of two programme leads who is not a Foundry Fellow, in the world.

Yet, Dato’ Kathleen and Jacqueline believed that Oga was the right individual to spearhead the transformative leadership programme in Malaysia. Amidst an increasingly grey social landscape in Malaysia, Oga recognised the need to educate, empower and equip impact leaders with moral imagination. She is also a firm believer in being the change you want to see in this world.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that Oga resonated with the values of Acumen Academy and YTL Foundation.

In the first year of establishing Malaysia Acumen Academy, Oga and a handful of YTL Foundation interns travelled around Malaysia to share about moral leadership, moral imagination and Acumen Academy.

“The world, let alone Malaysia, is increasingly polarised in their values, beliefs and practices. People seem more tolerant of leaders abusing their power and leaders who prioritise power, money and fame over people. It hasn’t been easy going against the existing leadership tide but we quickly learned that many local social changemakers believe in the concept of moral leadership and moral imagination.”
- Oga Chan

Nonetheless, with the support of Dato’ Kathleen and Jacqueline, Oga created a safe space for the first 20 Acumen Fellows to be vulnerable about their personal and professional challenges, values and purpose. Within the first 12 months of Malaysia Acumen Academy, Oga witnessed the transformative power of collective leadership.

Stronger Together

A moral leader is a leader who inspires us to act and hold ourselves accountable, for the common good. A moral leader understands that it becomes increasingly difficult to know what is right and wrong in grey social landscapes. An effective moral leader also knows that there is power in cultivating honest and intentional camaraderie between leaders.

Such comradeship like that of Acumen Fellows and Foundry Fellows that Oga strived to foster have successfully seen some Fellows make decisions that better align with their vision and mission to build a more just, sustainable and inclusive world.

In 2020, a Fellow asked his cohort mates what he should do when a known corrupted agency promised to pay his organisation X amount to conduct a programme. A cohort mate said, “if you want to sleep well knowing you didn’t take part in something corrupted, don’t do it.” This Fellow decided that though the money was attractive, the opportunity did not align with his purpose of building a better world.
- Oga Chan

The tight-knit bond that Fellows develop throughout the year is especially helpful during difficult moments such as the pandemic.

Chan Zi Xiang, the co-founder of Langit Collective, was our 2020 Acumen Fellow – the first cohort that went through the programme during the pandemic. Chan shared that he was blessed with the camaraderie of leaders who were in the same shoes as him because it truly helped him get through a time of crisis. - Oga Chan

Moreover, as programme lead of Malaysia Acumen Academy, Oga was able to journey together with the Fellows, learn from their experiences and develop her own moral leadership skills. Through this transformative experience, she came to realise that her desire to spearhead this programme was driven by her desire for perfectionism. This actualisation led her to make a courageous yet difficult decision – to step down as programme lead and make space for a new leader to bring Malaysia Acumen Academy to new heights.

In an organisation, you need a certain kind of person to kickstart things and more often than not, the person who sustains the programme isn’t the pioneer.
- Oga Chan

New Leader, New Season, 
Growth in Moral Leadership

2023 marks a new season for the Academy’s Malaysian chapter as YTL Foundation and Acumen Academy announced its new programme lead – Wong Xiao Cheng. 

A Foundry Fellow and former Fellowship Manager of Malaysia Acumen Academy, Xiao Cheng is the ideal individual to lead the Academy in a new post-pandemic season.

In my days as a Business student, I often heard the words: ‘shareholder, value- and profit-maximisation' repeatedly in lectures and I thought to myself that surely there must be more to this in the business world.
- Wong Xiao Cheng

She was right. At a Youth Social Business Summit hosted by Grameen Bank, in Malaysia, Professor Muhammad Yunos shared about leveraging business for good. Subsequently, Xiao Cheng co-founded Earth Heir – an award-winning social enterprise with a vision to champion socio-entrepreneurship, ethical fashion and sustainability. Following her pursuit to imagine the business world as it should be, Xiao Cheng became an Acumen Fellow in 2020.

The design of the Fellowship allowed me to share changemaking experiences with my cohort mates. These are people who really understand each other because of our common goal and similar challenges. It was a truly transformational experience because I felt accompanied.
- Wong Xiao Cheng

Her years of experience as a businesswoman and an Acumen Fellow means Xiao Cheng embodies the values of being a moral leader. Following the completion of the one-year leadership programme, she chose to work with Malaysia Acumen Academy and YTL Foundation as its Fellowship Manager. Not only did this role provide her with the opportunity to support other local social changemakers as the Fellowship had done for her, but it also prepared her for her new role as programme lead.

Xiao Cheng’s vision is to build on the work that has been accomplished, to have the courage to identify the gaps in the Academy and the audacity to push the envelope of moral leadership in Malaysia.

There is more that needs to be done. Changemaking is about a larger purpose that we all believe in and share. I do the work, challenge myself to grow and my work will naturally empower others to also create positive changes in their respective circle of influence.
- Wong Xiao Cheng

Though the journey of changemaking may be a lonely one, it need not be with programmes like Acumen Academy that offer a safe space for like-minded individuals to grow, be accountable, connect and build authentic relationships bound by a common vision – build a more just, sustainable and inclusive world.

As of 2023, Malaysia Acumen Academy has four cohorts, 59 Fellows from 58 organisations and has positively impacted millions of lives in Malaysia. The programme and its leaders truly embody two core values of YTL Foundation – moral responsibility and togetherness.

Our Fellows have the courage to fight against immoral leadership and poverty while holding themselves and one another accountable and demonstrate collective moral leadership – this is the impact the Academy has had on Malaysia’s society. - Wong Xiao Cheng and Oga Chan.

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YTL Foundation Updates

A Brand New Website Experience

YTL Foundation launched a new one-stop website, in January, to better reflect our vision and journey in building #BetterSocietiesThroughBetterEducation. With the growth of our programmes and impact, our website now consolidates all content under a single location for easy access – from scholarship information to application, from impact stories to the programmes we fund and more.

Our new “Academy” page houses a wealth of educational resources as well as our home-grown programmes, including Learn From Home, Leaps Academy, Frog Classroom and our most recent KelasKita initiative. Another notable highlight of our website is the “Our Stories” page which reflects the culmination of programmes we developed over the past 10 years.

As the Foundation aspires to create impact through leadership transformation and strategic collaborations, our website now includes a “Creating Impact” page which expounds on the various programmes we fund, communities we support and organisations we work with to groom leaders in building a more inclusive society.

We also expounded on the ‘why’ and ‘who’ behind the Foundation in the “About Us” page. From our vision and mission to our team and partners, we collectively inspire, build, change and work towards creating a better community for all.

We hope you enjoy the new look of our website! We would love to hear from you – feel free to Contact Us about volunteering for our programmes, questions on scholarships or opportunities to collaborate!

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Bringing Festive Cheer to Communities

Leaps Academy hosted six Christmas parties at 54C for over 220 children including children of YTL employees, the Sentul community, seven community schools and an orphanage home. 30 lecturers and students from UTAR supported us in running the Christmas-themed craft and game sessions.

30 children, aged 6 to 15 from the Children’s Education Learning Centre – a community school in Pudu, had the opportunity to showcase their musical talent at these parties. These children learned to play the ukelele, percussion instruments and melodian during the lockdown period and were visibly excited to bring joy to our Christmas parties.

Additionally, Leaps Academy provided 90 Christmas lunch boxes to children in two community schools.
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KelasKita – Equipping Educators of Tomorrow

Following the success of our Learn From Home initiative and Leaps Academy, we developed KelasKita – an online learning programme that enables education implementers to provide tuition, through volunteers, to children in local communities using the Learn From Home materials.

YTL Foundation and Teach For Malaysia conducted a workshop, in November 2022, for potential education implementers – PwC, KPMG and Women of Will (WOW) to learn how to use the online learning platform; Frog VLE and ensure children can access their education uninterrupted.
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All Abuzz @ RuangKITA

YTL Foundation, in collaboration with Sentul Raya Sdn. Bhd., Polis Bantuan YTL, and Humankind celebrated World Children’s Day 2022 with a gathering of over hundreds of children at PPR Seri Perak, Sentul.

On this day, we also celebrated community leaders who successfully completed their one-year Psychological First Aid (PFA) training programme. Through this programme, community leaders are empowered and equipped to provide mental health assistance and connect their communities to the experts, as and when.
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YTL Foundation Scholar Alumni, Vethalingam Siva Shanmugam (Vetha) graduated from Imperial College London with a Chemical Engineering degree and currently works at Wessex Water in Bath, as a Graduate Sewerage Treatment Planning Engineer.

Not only are his colleagues and employers supportive, but he is also in an environment that allows him to apply his Chemical Engineering knowledge in practical solutions. For instance, his work with water sample data and process flowsheets enabled him to create real impact with the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP) report while his current work on developing cost models for assets based on past projects is a part of the company’s assets investment analysis. 

Vetha also shared that the various projects he has been involved in has enabled him to expand his knowledge, expertise and skills as he works with people from different teams to ensure these projects positively impact the growth of the company.
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Partnership updates

Pemimpin gsl

PEMIMPIN GSL along with Yayasan Hasanah, a representative from Jabatan Pendidikan Negeri (JPN) Perak and Pejabat Pendidikan Daerah (PPD) Batang Padang visited SK Pos Musuh MZ, an indigenous school in Perak whose school leaders were and are part of the Accelerated School Leaders Initiative (ASLI) programme.

During this visit, PEMIMPIN GSL had the opportunity to interact with the teachers and observe the ‘Program Perkhemahan RIMBA Bersih’ conducted by the school leaders and Yayasan Hasanah also had the chance to interview Cikgu Khairil, the school leader who was an ASLI participant.

To ensure they can continue supporting these schools through the ASLI programme, PEMIMPIN GSL will conduct more school visits in the upcoming months to better understand the unique contexts and challenges faced by each school.
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acumen academy malaysia

Malaysia Acumen Academy kickstarted 2023 with a few exciting Fellowship and Foundry programmes.

The Academy announced its latest cohort – a group of 11 dynamic individuals known for their contributions to their communities. The finalists, selected for their vision and authenticity, had the opportunity to attend the Selection Conference themed ‘Partnering with Humility and Audacity’ in November 2022, where they connected with one another and demonstrated their leadership potential.

The selected Fellows began their leadership transformation journey with a series of pre-work online and virtual group meetings. Through these discussions and reflections, they were able to build a strong foundation which prepared them for the Immersive in February.

During the five-day long Immersive event, the Fellows were challenged to reflect on their personal values and worldviews, introduced to adaptive leadership tools such as Generative Listening, Polarity Management, Getting on the Balcony and Thinking Politically, encouraged to share their life stories through their Life Maps and learned to implement leadership concept like Raising the Heat in their service to others.

To learn more about their inspiring work and impact click here

The Foundry Fellows were invited to attend a workshop on ‘Consciousness and Spirituality in Leadership’ facilitated by Acumen’s partner, Nguyen Phuong Lam. The workshop emphasised the importance of inner transformation for leaders to become more effective in leading with mindfulness, compassion and respect towards all beings and nature.

The Foundry Fellows also had the privilege of meeting Bavidra Mohan, the Director of Acumen Academy to discuss the importance of community in driving change and the need to challenge each other to grow as members of a community. It was an enlightening way for the Foundry Fellows to wrap up 2022.
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YTL Foundation was founded in 1997 on the belief that education is the basis on which every society progresses. By improving education, empowering future generations and building tomorrow’s leaders, YTL Foundation aims to empower individuals and communities to be catalysts of change.

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