Bright Young Things: Melissa Ngiam Of Yayasan Generasi Gemilang
It was 8 years ago when Melissa Ngiam, then a bright-eyed, 25-year-old auditor, entered the doors of Yayasan Generasi Gemilang (GG), in search of something new. A far cry from the path towards a glamorous career in the corporate and banking industry, but somehow, the NGO founded by Daniel Tan spoke to her, with its cause to provide quality education to the under-served.
A few months in, Melissa was offered a role in finance and partnerships, which took her further from her ambitions. After some thought, Melissa realised that she was given the chance to pursue purpose over personal ambition, and she dived in. “I could still pursue something that excited me, but in a way, help fulfill the real needs of the community with the help of corporate partners through CSR projects,” she said.
Today, Melissa still retains that bubbly, positive energy, chatting over coffee in GG’s brand-new pantry. As we spoke, a gentle hubbub was happening as volunteers walked in and out, waving hello to Melissa. GG’s office is a mix-bag of staff from diverse backgrounds, from corporate professionals to part-time assistants who contribute with small things like data entry.
Melissa recounts her first brush with non-profit work: her first experience as a volunteer history teacher for an orphanage was an eye-opener. “The children were excited at potentially passing for the first time in their lives,” she recalled. “It showed me how the little I did could make a difference in someone’s life.”
That was the stepping stone for Melissa, who now heads bigger roles and forms the nucleus of GG, in her capacity of COO.
The Snowball Effect
To date, Melissa’s proudest moment is derived from introducing a free financial protection plan for low-income families known as PRUkasih. “I was the first person in GG’s partnerships team,” she said, of their ongoing collaboration with Prudential Assurance Malaysia. Melissa recounted an empirical case of a sole breadwinner and his family of 7. An accident left him permanently injured and in the 10 months of recovery, PRUkasih sustained his family with food and housing allowance, and even allowed him the chance to take up new skills for employment. Years later, the grateful man bumped into Melissa, and said to her, “Till my dying day, I won’t forget what you’ve done for my family.” Now accessible to over 40,000 households in Malaysia, PRUkasih is just one of their greatest success towards their goals.
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Lead With Authenticity
At an age when youth are grappling with their professional identities, Melissa is helping corporations reinforce theirs. She is also leading an organisation of young people of a so-called a tough generation, also known as Millennials. So, what has leading a young team taught her?
“Transparency is highly valued. People appreciate the ‘why behind the what’. When we make key decisions, we take time to explain the thought process. They might not always agree with you but at least they know why you’ve made that decision,” she explained, having cracked the code.
Melissa is also graciously forthcoming about being a leader, attributing the big shoes to fill from her predecessors. “I still have a lot to learn and unfortunately will make some inevitable mistakes along the way. I try to be honest with my teams on how I learn and grow,” she admitted.
If you believe you have amazing people, why wouldn’t you want to hear what they have to say?
For someone who inspires, we were curious to find out who is her inspiration. She cites Noelle Tan, the ex-COO of GG, as her role model. Through observing her authenticity and generosity with people she worked with helped form Melissa into the leader she is today.
“Someone once said that being the leader doesn’t mean you are necessarily the smartest person in the room. If you believe you have amazing people, why wouldn’t you want to hear what they have to say?” she asked, gesturing in the direction of her team, which makes up of long-term staff who call GG home.
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As a charity-driven company, motivation can be had in the endless on-ground initiatives for the team, who go into the villages and low-income communities to carry out projects, workshops, and educational drives. “When we share stories of lives being transformed at staff meetings, we celebrate and cheer each other on as a tribe,” Melissa said. For the perceptive COO, character-building of each team member and their engagement in their tasks is her priority. “It is important to understand their strengths, weaknesses and interests, then give them roles fitting their unique profiles,” Melissa established.
Leading GG taught her valuable life lessons that made her look at things in different perspectives. Because of this, she was able to propose solutions working in both parents’ and their childrens’ favour, like the Super Sarapan, vision checks and uniform packages initiatives. This established their core mission of basic needs, putting the children on track for a bright future.
At the end of the day, we learned that behind every number there is a person and telling a person’s story takes time
The Measure Of Success
Having established GG’s foundation now, the team is encouraged to bounce crazy ideas and take risks that ultimately set out to achieve GG’s vision. “Growth doesn’t mean just increasing the numbers we’ve impacted but really seeing more lives being transformed in Malaysia,” Melissa said, giving us a glimpse of their adventurous side.
Melissa’s experience has shed valuable meaning on servitude, in that it’s not always quantifiable. Though measurement tools are implemented across their services to gage effectiveness, they come away with this: ”At the end of the day, we learned that behind every number there is a person and telling a person’s story takes time.”
On the note of celebrating success, Melissa shared about 1 great annual party entailing GG’s partners, donors and volunteers. She described a picture of corporate chiefs rubbing shoulders with volunteers, each the other’s equal, gathered together, sharing the same hopes for the betterment of society. A scene evoking the epicentre of GG as family, free from prejudice and discrimination.
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