CEO of Biji-Biji Initiative
Juliana Adam heads the country’s pioneering social enterprise, Biji-Biji Initiative. Founded in 2013 to transform sustainability efforts through progressive ideas, the organisation intends on changing how people view waste and sustainability issues. Turning the planet greener though isn’t the only subject matter Biji-Biji is fervent about; gender equality and uplifting the lives of the marginalised communities are part of its agenda.
“We have an equal ratio of women to men in the top and senior management teams, both genders having an equal say to the other in decision making,” Juliana opens up on Biji-Biji’s internal structure, emphasising that gender, race and other backgrounds bear no influence on the person’s role within the organisation. In fact, she adds, they offer a fair distribution of maternity and paternity leave to both parents. This, she says, is because men and women have varying needs and it helps ensure both parents are afforded an equal chance to accomplish their tasks, without having to worry about work matters.
Through its programmes, Biji-Biji has improved the lives of many living on the peripheries of society. By working with the underprivileged across various backgrounds such as women in the B40 segment, they have provided better employment and income sources to these beneficiaries. The children of these beneficiaries consequently benefit from this improvement.
“One of our makers, who has been with us from the beginning, managed to put his daughter through school and she is set to graduate from university. She is also the first child in the family to receive education and is able to speak English fluently,” Juliana shares, citing that being able to extend opportunities to those who would otherwise be left behind, is one of the biggest satisfactions in her journey with Biji-Biji.
She further discloses that 56% of their total participants are women. Just as importantly, however, Biji-Biji is Malaysia’s first World Fair Trade Organisation guaranteed member, thus a practitioner of fair wages. This practice allows members of the underprivileged communities who provide their products and services to Biji-Biji Initiatives “to be valued equally, to not be exploited, and for me, personally, it gives them the confidence and dignity that they too deserve to be treated and rewarded fairly,” Juliana says, explaining that they educate their corporate clients that the money they spend on Biji-Biji’s programmes holds far greater meaning than just monetary value.
“We feel that, as movers and pioneers, we have the power to pave the way towards making a change, and through enabling more vulnerable, female participants into our programmes,” Juliana says, adding that some of their programmes are specifically catered to single mothers with the objective of equipping them with necessary skills to improve their livelihoods. “We are not only allowing them an opportunity to grow, but also to get other larger organisations to follow suit.”
One aspect hampering women from the marginalised communities from progress, according to Juliana, is their mindset, stemming from consistently being told that they must be reliant on their male counterparts. Often it is a cycle that travels through generations. “Imagine, at a young age, you are told to not dream because you will never achieve it because you are a woman, and at that, you are a woman from a ‘poor’ community?”
“The help that they need is the fair chance to succeed and not to be shot down just because they are women from an underprivileged background,” Juliana says, adding that many a time, what these women need is a healthy dose of encouragement and belief that they can control their own narratives and that they hold the power to drive change in their lives.
Also, believe in your own rights to be given a fair and equal opportunity. If you don’t see it for yourself, how do you expect any change to come externally?Juliana Adam
As a female CEO, Juliana places a strong impetus upon herself to empower other women. She voices frustrations at statements such as how women have certain roles to play or they can only go so far due to their gender. “It absolutely frustrates me, especially hearing it from other women,” says Juliana.
In championing fair opportunities for women, Juliana shares, “it empowers them psychologically.” And through empowerment, they grow to become confident and assertive in the pursuit of their goals.
“All this and more is important, I believe, because these women will transfer these positive attributes to their children and dependents, instilling the same values in them, and ultimately this will be the change that will be brought to the world,” says Juliana.
The Prestige Malaysia 40 Under 40 alumna believes women’s values are a perfect complement to those of men. “Both need the other to work out the best results. And just simply with this in mind, wouldn’t you think gender equality, providing fair opportunities to both, is important?” Juliana delivers her message for this International Women’s Day.