Christy has just made the big reset of uprooting her whole life after living the last 30 years in Asia, to return to the US, in the chaos of the Covid pandemic, to look after her elderly mother. Join us to hear Christy's story and to explore how entrepreneurship in a corporate setting, or intrapreneurship, works with the launch of a social enterprise supported by the organisation that Christy was working for, and the challenges and struggles of managing a social enterprise, especially in terms of funding and long-term viability. We'll also learn how Christy has built resilience early in life, which has supported her in transitioning from being a successful woman leader in corporate, to humanitarian work and to founding a social enterprise.
· Tell us what you've done or learned to create your own support structure and success in at work. Email your thoughts to Dr.Ramesh@talentleadershipcrucible.com
· Take the Entrepreneurial Qualifications Quiz to get your score indicating whether you have the entrepreneurial characteristics needed to start your own business successfully
· First 100 listeners to email get a free copy of Dr. Ramesh's book Big Jump Into Entrepreneurship. Email Dr.Ramesh@talentleadershipcrucible.com
· Guest Speaker - Ms. Christy Davis LinkedIn Profile
Host: Dr. Ramesh Ramachandra
Guest: Dr. Kevin Cheong
Moderator: Ho Lai Yun
Lai Yun 00:03
Welcome to today's episode of Thriving in the Age of Disruption with Dr. Ramesh Ramachandra and Ms. Christy Davis. Ms. Davis has three decades of Asia experience across the private, public and social sectors, and was executive director of Lien Centre for Social Innovation at the Singapore Management University until August 2021. She is currently on sabbatical and continues to serve on the Board of Transformational Business Network Asia. Ms. Davis is an American but has made her home across four countries in Asia Pacific for more than 30 years, starting in Japan, and working her way down to Singapore. She has jumped from corporate to humanitarian work with the UNDP immediately following the 2004 Asian tsunami as a private sector partnership advisor based in Bangkok.
Lai Yun 00:57
We're so happy you joined us to hear Ms. Davis's story today to explore how entrepreneurship in a corporate setting, or intrapreneurship works with the launch of a social enterprise supported by the organisation that Ms. Davis was working for, and the challenges and struggles of managing a social enterprise, especially in terms of funding and long-term viability. We'll also learn how Ms. Davis has built resilience early in life, which has supported her in transitioning from being a successful woman leader in corporate to humanitarian work, to founding a social enterprise and now to managing the big reset of uprooting her whole life after 30 years in Asia, to return to the US to look after her elderly mother.
Dr. Ramesh 01:45
Welcome, Christy, thank you for agreeing to be a changemaker guest speaker in our Thriving in the Age of Disruption podcast series. We are delighted to have you today. And could you please tell us a little bit about yourself for starters.
My name is Christy Davis, I am originally from the US and actually as of about two months ago and back in the US, which is quite an unexpected adventure. I spent more than 30 years in Asia. So, years ago, I got my undergrad degree in International Relations in Japan Regional Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle and did two years of that of my undergrad in Tokyo. And after graduating, I immediately went back to Japan and got a job with the Japanese Government for three years and from that point forward have spent very little time living in the US. Actually, just one stint in Los Angeles after getting married. So Asia has been my home for basically most of my adult life. And it's still where I would say I feel most comfortable. I'm married to a musician, I love music. So, I really relish the fact that I'm surrounded by music, most days, most of the time, love to read, I'm a voracious reader. And just the last couple of years, I've started to really give myself permission to read fiction, historical fiction. I mean, I always have a heavyweight book on my nightstand, but I've really enjoyed, I read for pleasure. So I just read novels and fiction that I find as a wonderful de-stressor. Don't watch a lot of TV to do that, though. I do have my Netflix, periods. Let's see, what else do I do? I love to walk. I love just to be outside. I love to hang out with my girlfriends. I'm really fortunate to have been married to a great guy for 22, almost 23 years. But I'm a girl's girl. And there's not many things that I find greater pleasure in than hanging out with my girlfriends over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and talking for hours about all kinds of things. So fellowship of friends and family, girlfriends, good walks, sun on my face. Those are all things that I really take great pleasure.
Dr. Ramesh 04:22
Christy, I want to explore a little bit about being an entrepreneur in terms of being someone who sets up and runs their own business, or who is entrepreneurial at the workplace. And people commonly refer to that as an intrapreneur or even someone who runs a social enterprise which is essentially running a business but with an impact or a kind of a bigger purpose. What I think is common in all these three descriptors is that they all point to a special kind of mindset, and I like to call this mindset the entrepreneurial or an entrepreneurship mindset.
I have a corporate background and that was kind of a traditional learning, it was kind of where I cut my teeth, working for a large multinational, in a regional role. And then I left that and went after the Asian tsunami in 1994 and went to work for UNDP. And that introduced me to the whole world of development and the humanitarian space, loved it, fell in love with that. From there, then I did set up my own consultancy for about seven, eight years. And so, it's interesting, if I think about, I would have never described myself as an entrepreneur or having an entrepreneurial mindset. But if I look back on my life, it's been nothing but risk-taking. And partly, that's just the way I was raised, we moved all the time, I was always having to start fresh in a new city somewhere, get a new job, start a new school, meet new people, all the things that one has to do just to get to know other people, to get to know a new space, a new environment and settle in.
Dr. Ramesh 06:06
That's really an interesting point that you have raised Christy, risk-taking is usually the hardest part of an entrepreneurial activity or entrepreneurship, as we have to take risks in making decisions and taking actions and making the end outcome more certain, because it is actually uncertain. Now, nobody likes uncertainty. So it's clear Christy, that you have developed a really powerful relationship to taking risks. And this was developed very early in life, like you shared, whether it was from moving to a new city, getting a new job, starting a new school. And it's a kind of resilience that you have been building up because it's allowed you to adapt well, to uncertainty or to change in the kind of work that you ended up doing.
I went to work for a large NGO and worked there in disaster management for several years, and then had the opportunity to set up basically what was a start-up inspired, a social enterprise inspired kind of start-up within the organisation called Asia P3 Hubs, P3, meaning People, Public, Private, and we weren't, we were not a profit making start-up in that our whole purpose was to broker and facilitate multisector partnerships that could tackle issues of poverty, and create positive social impact. So we wanted to kind of prove the hypothesis that in many circumstances multisector partnerships, were the answer, we were an answer, made sense to tackle that complex issue.
Dr. Ramesh 07:48
And that's another interesting aspect of entrepreneurs looking to solve some real-world problem. And in your case, Christy, you wanted to prove your hypothesis of multisector partnerships being an answer to tackle poverty and create positive social impact. So did you get that project funded?
I wrote a proposal got some funding, external funding. And then my NGO, they said, if you can go out and get some funding, we'll match it, which they did. And that was my executive sponsor, who basically made the commitment that might be office in Singapore, you know, and the organisation would match it. We had three years, basically to work toward proving that hypothesis. So hired a team, thankfully, hired a team of people who knew what they were doing and so they came around as I just had this grand idea, but didn't really actually, in hindsight, really know how to kind of operationalize it. And thankfully, I had people that were great at that. So we built a partnership hub, we built kind of a social enterprise. And we built from scratch, we branded separately, we leveraged the mothership, as we like to affectionately call it which had depth and breadth across Asia Pacific. So we felt like it was a win-win, we were this kind of pilot boat that was tossed off the ship, the mothership, the big ship and and could scout new opportunities and then bring those back to the mothership, and leveraging the depth and the strength and the experience and the relationships of decades in the region.
But my executive sponsor, within a year, got promoted to a very senior role and moved to Europe and he was gone. And I didn't realise that at the time how critically important he was to our success. Because the succession, what happened after that, didn't quite have the understanding, we had to keep explaining ourselves over and over again. And we realised we did look different, we sounded different, we were leveraging the core values and skills and strengths and offerings. But I wasn't successful enough at really been able to convince those that had been in that core business for for many, many years that we were worth that value to the organisation. Even with great success, we brokered more than 25 partnerships in our three years, starting from scratch, I think we could have gone on to do and made more amazing things. But I think I learned that in spite of being bold, and tenacious and creative, and putting new ideas out there, and just being darn excited about what we were doing and the opportunities that we felt that we were finding and discovery and bringing back to the organisation. Somehow, in spite of all of that, it just didn't quite take. If I look back on, what did I learn from that? And why didn't any we spun off eventually, then. I think the key is that internal, you've got to have that internal executive sponsor, and someone with a heavyweight internally that definitely has your back and understands enough that they will go and fight for you. And that was a massive learning for me. In hindsight, I think, oh for heaven's sakes, I was so naive. You read all the books out there, I read the Lean In books, and I mean, the lean start-up books and all of that. And still, in spite of kind of employing an entrepreneurial mindset, leveraging my skills, my networks, and all of that was not sufficiently successful to translate that into the intrapreneurial success, that I had hoped for.
Dr. Ramesh 12:16
And, Christy, it's an interesting reflection, but I want to challenge you to consider that as an intrapreneur. Actually, you've been successful. Because where you been stopped, is in the motherships, corporate culture, being able to embrace this change. And it's interesting, because when you look at all these large organisations who want to transform and want to bring in a new culture for innovation and acceptance of new ideas, sometimes the easiest way for them is to spin off or to work with a small offshoot, away from the mothership. But then the dilemma and the creative tension always is to accept back that little idea. So perhaps, if I can offer you something is to maybe consider that it was not just your failure to get the organisation to buy in, it was more that it was not the right time for the organisation to buy in because their culture had not become at the same tipping point that your executive sponsor had when he approved the project.
Yeah, actually, that's actually really kind of you. And that’s really nice. You're exactly right. And actually, obviously if you start to look at large organisations that have squelched some kind of innovative. The big example is Kodak who I think basically was one of their guys that invented the digital camera, and look what happened there. Digital technology. So, you're right, it's really hard for these really well-established large organisations to create the space and systems. I mean part of it is systems are entrenched and they are not designed for kind of entrepreneurial, innovative offshoots. So that's we also found that our policies and procedures did not actually support our success. They may have supported the success of the organisation of such a size so I think that's in hindsight, I hope that enough of what we did, that it inspired others, and you hope that whatever it looks like internally now that there's still- I hope that there's bits and pieces still kind of being- that they're running with those internally. But if not, we did spin off. And I know that the organisations and the people that we did work with for that period of time, that lots and lots of people's lives were positively impacted. And that actually makes me feel great. It was very, very worthwhile and amazing learning experience. So no regrets. A few tears along the way, but certainly no regrets.
Dr. Ramesh 15:35
Yeah, that's the right spirit indeed. So, after you spun off that social enterprise, you joined the Singapore Management Universities Lien Centre for Social Innovation, right? Was that similar to the previous NGO?
Oh, no, actually, very different. So SMU, it's a mothership, in a sense, but what was marvellous was to work for two years with the Lien Centre for Social Innovation. So it's a small, innovative centre. And but we were focused on social innovation, which, of course, leveraged my background in the development and humanitarian work, but in partnerships, of course. So I would say it didn't feel like an NGO. For me, it was definitely a fresh experience to work for an academic institution. So there was always that rigour of the mothership is looking for that academic rigour. So everything we looked at needed to be evidence-based. So evidence-based insights that could then be transformed into practical actions, put in the hands of practitioners, that could do something to add their value and do something that would create positive social change.
So it was an amazing two years, I learned so much, working in a new environment like that met amazing people, really enjoyed the work tremendously. But I would say had a very, very different vibe than an NGO. So that was quite exciting. So I got to do the corporate thing, I did the UN thing, did an NGO thing, and then I get to spend a couple years working for university. So, pretty exciting. I've been very fortunate.
Dr. Ramesh 17:26
So, from that entire spectrum of working in an NGO, working for the United Nations, working in a university, or running your own social enterprise, I guess you've had the opportunity to look at different business models. So what do you think are some of the new and emerging trends and collaboration models that people could use?
I think, I don't know if it's new anymore. But it we talk about, it seems to just be such a challenge for everyone that it sounds like it's new, and it is multisector, tri-sector collaboration and cooperation. So I mean, it's not new in the sense that there's evidence of it, we've been talking about the public, private and social sectors, pooling their resources, collaborating with putting their unique value propositions together, and pooling those solution for whatever it is that they're partnering for can be created. The sum is greater. What is it, the expression?
Dr. Ramesh 18:32
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Oh my gosh, you know, I just look at COP 26, that's just finished in Glasgow, and I'm excited to do so to see, there's nothing but tri-sector opportunities coming out of that, because it's such a complex issue. Now, there is no way that it's not just government's problem, or the private sectors problem, or civil societies issue. We have got to figure out how we can pool our resources together to tackle those those seemingly intractable issues and causes of climate change.
Dr. Ramesh 19:06
Yes, definitely. Interestingly, with the work that we do with family businesses, in facilitating the next gen co-creating their transgenerational legacy, we've actually seen a new kind of direction. And this is in regard to how the next gen considered their participation and contribution with the world at large. For instance, with our current clients in Hanoi, Vietnam, the Nguyen family when we created a 30-year future with them, they created and committed to a transgenerational legacy which is founded on the three P's and interestingly Christy the three P's that they are referring to include, number one, planet renewable, number two, people development, and number three, prosperity sharing. And to get this future, to make this real, they would have to explore multisector partnerships and alliances at both micro and macro levels. I think it's really exciting because more family businesses can pivot using this three P's approach to build their own transgenerational legacy. And it's also impactful, because if you think about this, family businesses are the biggest contributors to economic growth and wealth creation across the world.
Dr. Ramesh 20:39
So in other words, what we are doing here is that we're switching the paradigm and the thinking that, if society is flourishing, then that's going to be the most real evidence that a family is flourishing, and so is their future. So can you imagine how we can accelerate dealing with these issues that you mentioned above whether it be elevate poverty or impact climate change and other societal concerns if we can also now include family businesses, family enterprises, and their family offices?
Dr. Ramesh 21:17
I want to circle back to that conversation about being an entrepreneur and specifically ask you what was that one thing that helped you to succeed, and, that thing that you would recommend to our audience here.
I would say a big lesson learned, actually, that I'm still learning is, just don't try to do everything yourself. I think there's a danger for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to be persistent, an organisation to be personality-driven. I mean, if we think about entrepreneurs, obviously, the Elon Musk's or even the Steve Jobs, come to mind. If Elon Musk is not at the head of Tesla, and in his other companies, would they thrive and survive, survive and thrive? I'm not sure, because he's such a huge personality. So I think that's one of the dangers of a dynamic, amazing visionary leader is, can they surround themselves and empower their team, to a point where if they go away, that the organisation can continue to flourish?
I think to me, whether or not a leader is a true successful leader. To me, that's kind of the proof in the pudding, if they can step away, and it can continue to thrive. Don't try to do everything yourself, surround yourself with people that have skills different than you. I think diversity is so important. You don't want your team to look like you and vice versa. And that, then if any of us get hit by a truck tomorrow, God forbid, the organisation can continue, to move on and flourish. I think that's really important. Just to sum it up, don't try to do everything yourself and make sure that the love is spread around to those that you value, and that you are giving the authority and the responsibility to also help the organisation be successful.
Dr. Ramesh 23:30
Well, that's great you've called out three things here. And, and that is, namely:
1. Empower the team to make the decisions and don't have them become too dependent on you as the entrepreneur leader.
2. Appreciate the diversity of the team and its varied strengths.
3. As an entrepreneur/founder, don't try to control everything.
And I think they should be pushed down as far as they can be responsibly pushed down, and be as flat as you can, you'll be more nimble. If I had to do the approval, then everything things get slow down, because I would hold things up, right? No, push it down and empower people and then trust them, trust them to make the decision. And if there's a mistake, you learn from it, and you move forward. Keys are obviously, to learn from it and not make it again and again. So absolutely.
Dr. Ramesh 24:27
Now, what struck me was that you're very skilled in working with a very diverse team of people, especially people across all age groups. How did you do that?
I think I've become a real believer in intergenerational teams. And I think, now me as a middle-aged person, having friends and colleagues in their 20s, and 30s and 40s. And then I have mentors and worked with people that are in their 70s. I mean it's just this amazing range of ages, and there's so much to learn from one another. And I just I love the energy and the ideas of my younger colleagues, I remember at SMU at Lien Centre, some of my colleagues were late 20s, maybe 30. And they would come up with things, ideas, or have networks or they had ideas for whether it was a project or a resource that is not even on my radar, like BTS. We did a lot of work around this idea of what BTS, the boy band out of Korea is doing. And it was amazing what we learned what an example of social innovation they are. So I think it's giving all of your colleagues the space to put their ideas and on the table, so that they know that they're valued, their thoughts, their ideas, the ways they work, are valued, and that there's space for that. And that's tough sometimes, because my formative years, my 20s and 30s, were in an American and multinational, you know, there's a very specific way of working, and there's a pecking order to things and there's protocols, whether they're written or unwritten, so I still carry that baggage, in a sense, with me. And so sometimes the way my younger, even younger than that, what's before millennials? Gen X, Gen Z, I'm losing track, but the youngsters, I call them the youngsters affectionately, they work very differently. What they wear, the way they talk, for me, it would be disrespectful to address people sometimes the way they do, and yet, it's the way they write emails. But just to give space for that, and to instead of jumping in with a judgement or a comment, just keep my mouth closed, and allow the space.
Dr. Ramesh 26:59
I like to explore this idea of giving space. What do you mean by that?
So I think that's one is to regardless of the kind of colleague or employee that you have, give them space to be who they are. And value show that you value, who they are and the way that they contribute that they may look very different than what you're used to. That's one. I think the other is make sure we hear them. Ask what they think. And I'm very consensus-driven. My formative years, again, were in Japan. So I operate very in a very Japanese style, which can be difficult sometimes when people expect, they just say, "just tell us what to do." And lots of times, you know, I would actually be, let me gather the ideas from everyone then we packaged it together. And then we would put forward the the approach moving forward. That was not always probably the best way when people wanted to be told what to do. But on the other hand, I really, really valued the different ideas and perspectives that everyone has. I think the third thing to keep people motivated, is just to have fun. But so just space for fun, creative ways to enjoy one another's company. Food is always a good one. So, those are some of the obvious ones, just bring food in and share your cultures if you're working in a multicultural environment. But I think the biggest thing coming back to it seriously is just understand what motivates them and how they feel valued. And then make sure that you create the space in the time to show that you do value them.
Dr. Ramesh 28:37
Christy, let me recap what you've shared about working with a diverse team of people.
1. Value the diversity of the intergenerational team by appreciating the energy or their ideas or the networks that they bring.
2. Give people space to be who they are and more importantly, for them to feel safe to be able to share their unique ideas.
3. Use consensus building as a way to bring people together so that they can share their different ideas and perspectives.
4. Make it all fun for everyone.
So let me ask you a related question. How would you find the right people to partner with or collaborate with?
I would say there's kind of two key things that I look for. One is if there's a misalignment of values, I've learned this the hard way over and over where I hire someone, or someone's on the team, or perhaps it's a peer or a colleague or a partner, and the skills perhaps are there. The intention what we want to achieve together is there. The talent is there. But the values are not there. And if there's a misalignment of values, it doesn't matter how skilled or smart or well-connected that individual is, it will rupture. And I have, unfortunately, I've definitely learned that. I've had friendships that have actually been broken, I've had relationships that have been broken irretrievably, I think, because there was a conflict of values, a misalignment of values. And so I'm not saying mine were better than theirs, but they weren't aligned. I think the second kind of red light would be if that individual is not kind.
Dr. Ramesh 30:40
That's interesting. Could you say a little bit more about not being kind?
How does that individual talk about others? Treat people that you see in scenes. I remember decades ago, there was, I don't know if it's, this still happens anymore in interviews, but if someone was getting to like a final stage of an interview, the boss, the hiring manager would take that individual out for lunch, or dinner or something like that, and breakfast, but it was also to see how that person interacted with the waiter, the waitstaff. Were they polite? Did they say please and thank you? Were they respectful? I don't know if that that happens anymore. But it certainly happened in my multinational days, there would be opportunities, they would plant opportunities to create opportunities, rather to see how that individual would treat other people. And so I think I had some opportunities to work with some amazing people, talented, well-connected, skilled, all of those things on paper that you want, but they weren't kind. They weren't kind, or they talked poorly about other people. And so I thought if they're doing that to them, how are they talking about me. So those would be the two things that I would look for, misalignment of values and a lack of kindness. And I've learned the hard way on both accounts that it just doesn't work.
Dr. Ramesh 32:16
Christy, if it isn't too personal, I would like to hear a little bit more about that move that your husband and you had made back to the US in August of 2021.
So I was raised, as you know, by a single mom. And so she was diagnosed with dementia, about two and a half years ago. And that was quite traumatic at the time, because my mom and I were best buddies. We travelled together, we were very, very close. And my mom lived in the same city as my brother where the grandchild is. And he's done a great job kind of looking out for her. She's lived on her own. But she wasn't really taking very good care of ourselves anymore and she wasn't able to. We had a plan, we thought, oh, we'll be in Singapore, we've been there for almost, what, 14 years, 13 and a half years, we'll do another year, year and a half at least. And once the borders open up, we'll go back and forth more often. We had this whole plan. And at about April, it was just kind of like, it was just like this moment of what are we doing? And I don't know that there was a light bulb that went off that was like, there wasn't a single crisis. But it was a couple of conversations with our siblings, that made it very clear that we were really, really needed. And actually it was overdue, but no one on this side, no one on the US side was going to say that to us, because we've been in Asia forever. So all people only knew of us, our families and friends only knew of us as living in Asia, I knew it was the right thing. And that was confirmed. When a week after I got there, I saw my mom, right when I got back, she had a heart attack and that exacerbated her dementia and she could no longer live by herself. So within the space of weeks, I moved in with her took care of her and the whole world is turned upside down. It's easy now to see. It's a darn good thing that I'm here.
Dr. Ramesh 34:21
Well, I didn't realise that you are going through so much when you're making the move back to the US, but I am so glad that you made it back in time. Please give your mom a big hug for me. Christy, I'm going to wrap up our discussion here. Thank you. Thank you so much for your candid and generous sharing about your life journey. And we're going to hear back more from you later on in a couple of weeks. But until then, see you friend.
Lai Yun 34:50
Thank you indeed, Dr. Ramesh and Ms. Davis, and to connect again, we certainly will. With International Women's Day coming up on March 8, we'll hear more from Ms. Davis who will share her experience and advice on how to succeed as a woman in management and leadership structures. We would also love to hear from you listeners out there, especially those of you who are young and ambitious to climb up the corporate ladder. Or if you're someone who's already midway up, keen to grow into those top-level management positions, you know from your own experience. Tell us what you've done or learned to create your own support structure and success to getting higher-up at work. Do email your thoughts to Dr.Ramesh@talentleadershipcrucible.com.
Lai Yun 35:38
You may click on the email given in the podcast description. And thank you once again for joining us today. Until we connect again in our next episode. Be nice, have fun.
Bio - LinkedIn Profile
Christy believes in the multiplier effect power of collaboration and combinatorial innovation. Different individuals and organizations coming together to combine resources, assets, strengths, technologies, and networks can co-create innovative and creative solutions that improve the lives of people and communities. She likes to sum up her work and passion as a ‘social innovator’, advocating for the public, private and social sectors working together to solve social challenges none could do by themselves. Pooling resources and strengths make such great sense, so much of the time.
She has three decades of Asia experience across the private, public and social sectors, and was Executive Director of Lien Centre for Social Innovation at Singapore Management University until August 2021. While currently on sabbatical, she continues to serve on the board of Transformational Business Network Asia.
Christy is American but made her home across four countries in Asia Pacific for more than 30 years, starting in Japan and working her way down to Singapore. She jumped from corporate to humanitarian work with UNDP immediately following the 2004 Asian tsunami as a private sector partnership advisor based in Bangkok, building on previous regional positions in the public and private sectors. She holds two master’s degrees: a Master of Tri-Sector Collaboration from Singapore Management University, and an Executive MBA from a partnership programme between Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago.
While she is reluctant to call herself a “changemaker”, to live a meaningful life she believes she must be part of making her world a better place through all seasons of work and life.