Category: Health & Wellness

Wan Nadiah

Wan Nadiah Prestige Women

There is a joke that Wan Nadiah often tells thanks to her husband; one that revolves around how she is a triple minority – a young, female, Malay CEO serving in a non-GLC company. “I have come to embrace being different,” she states as a matter of fact. More often than not, the CEO of Thomson Hospital Kota Damansara and group CEO of TMC Life Sciences finds herself the youngest in the boardroom and rather unconventional as compared to the rest. “People usually focus on that the first time they see me in the boardroom. But with that difference sometimes comes the power to be heard and then the question becomes, are you using that opportunity wisely to put the attention on the right things?” Nadiah asserts. 

For a young leader, Nadiah’s resume reads like a dream. The CEO names Harvard University and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as her alma mater. Prior to completing her master’s degree in public health nutrition, she had a two-year stint in Boston Consulting Group where she was constantly working on projects related to life sciences. Her first foray into the corporate world proved to be an eye-opening experience after spending four years in the lab researching on rotavirus and molecular biology. 

Instead of opting for the conventional choice to pursue an MBA, public health called out to her. “It is a discipline that is underappreciated and is a subject close to my heart, in particular with rising obesity and diabetes. Nutrition is an area that would definitely be a focus in the future,” Nadiah reasons, citing how people often make the mistake of making decisions on things based on the experience they have had as individuals rather than looking at a system or population level. “Studying public health really made me appreciate the difference in deciding matters of policy for a population versus interventions at an individual level.” 

When she left the multinational Boston Consulting Group to join Sunway Group as manager, strategy and corporate development in 2010, she was called out for making such a crazy decision. “I was motivated by the challenge of learning the nuts and bolts of managing a company, something you don’t get in consulting,” she explains. During her tenure at Sunway Group, she climbed up the ranks and was promoted to chief operating officer before taking on a new role and responsibility at Thomson Hospital. 

According to Nadiah, healthcare is by nature very risk averse because consequences of mistakes can be deadly. “At the same time, it is a field that is ripe for transformation. Modern concepts in business like design thinking, performance marketing and even CRM/ERP (customer relationship management/enterprise resource planning) integration are still underdeveloped in Malaysia’s healthcare industry.” As group CEO of TMC Life Sciences, Nadiah asserts that she is confident in leading the group to face disruptions including climate change, digital banking and geopolitical issues, among others. 

Value-based care including enhancing the overall value of the healthcare experience for patients is also one aspect Nadiah aims to improve. “We are not just interested in having one-off transactions with our customers when they are admitted to our hospital. Rather, we are looking at the value of a lifelong relationship with our customers as they journey from starting a family, perhaps with TMC Fertility, to preventive lifestyle changes, with our health screening centre of Thomson TCM and if they fall ill, Thomson Hospital will provide all the comprehensive services they need.” She has also led the launch of several programmes such as the Positive Outlook Programme (POP) to train staff on the frontlines to embody the values they represent. Like many businesses, technology is also another aspect they are looking at to enhance the patient’s experience. 

We are not just interested in having one-off transactions with our customers when they are admitted to our hospital. Rather, we are looking at the value of a lifelong relationship with our customers as they journey from starting a family

Wan Nadiah

She names her proudest moment when staff come up to her and say how much they appreciate working with her and how they have come to see the different possibilities in how they can implement positive change in healthcare. “Fundamentally, I’m passionate about people and that translates to a passion for coaching a team to achieve things we never thought we could achieve. I am constantly amazed at what a team of people can do if they put their minds to it. I have had nurses innovate an IT system to reduce stock variance. I have had pharmacists set up a marketplace for employees to purchase drugs and a MedEx system to provide drive- through prescriptions for patients. Innovation can happen anywhere by anyone and I feel proud to be part of a culture that allows that to happen, especially in healthcare,” Nadiah remarks. 

Her innate curiosity and fascination with how things worked – cause and effect, are traits that first cultivated her interest in science. Young Nadiah’s pride and joy includes a home library with her encyclopaedia set among other books which she would often read on her bed after coming home from school. “Biology in particular was even more fascinating because it seemed like it was also written in an entirely different language. It made something so mundane – like the human cell – appear almost like a magical, complex tool filled with mysterious signs and symbols. I drew anatomical figures and plastered them on my wall. I had a toy microscope with sufficient amplification to examine all sorts of things. I also had a model skull on my desk called Yorick which I liked to disassemble while trying to name the appropriate parts. Looking back, I think it’s precious to have that amount of curiosity and verve for something,” reminisces Nadiah, the eldest of three siblings. 

Though the majority of the workforce in healthcare comprises predominantly females, the young CEO points out that the situation changes at the board level. There are far fewer female directors in listed healthcare companies and according to Nadiah, this should change as the employees and customers of these hospitals are mostly females and the board should rightly reflect this diversity. Another issue she frequently faces revolves around her age as the challenge is to get people to take her seriously.

The question is, how are we as a society willing to change our attitudes in terms of power distance relationships with young women?

Wan Nadiah

For Nadiah, the world is changing and disruptive innovations today open up opportunities for women in other specialties to cross over and lead companies in traditionally male-dominated arenas. “Just as in the past, young, black women were the engine behind computing maths in NASA, tomorrow, young, Asian women could be driving the development of entirely new parts of the economy. There is no dearth of opportunity but there may be challenges in terms of supporting women, especially young women. And people like ex-NASA scientist Dr Amani Salim have spoken out on the subject. The question is, how are we as a society willing to change our attitudes in terms of power distance relationships with young women?” 

Sarah Lian

Sarah Lian Prestige Malaysia

If there’s one great thing to be said about recent times is that many have awakened to recognise how mental health and self-love is just as essential as eating well and exercising. Thankfully in Malaysia, the public is finally opening up on programmes focusing on their personal wellbeing, and some recognition for this should be attributed to model, actress and host, Sarah Lian, the founder of Supparetreat, a women-only wellness retreat that has been thriving over the years. 

The Taiping-born, Vancouver-raised Malaysian shares that the idea behind Supparetreat stemmed from a successful workshop she first held with the women of her Suppagood Talent and PR agencies. 

“It was an eye-opener. With the great feedback from my team, we just wanted to take more women on a journey of self-discovery,” says Sarah. 

She then hosted a second by-invitation-only retreat with women from various industries, and it was this gathering that finally affirmed her vision that Supparetreat could grow into something colossal towards empowering the women community in Malaysia. 

Our focus is empowering the individual woman first. We are building a community to help women succeed in life, but it always starts with yourself. Once you are able to fill that cup, only then you can be important to others.

Sarah Lian

Then in 2018, Supparetreat officially held its first three-day open-to-the-public retreat at the Tanjong Jara Resort as a safe space for women to find inspiration, motivation and especially empowerment. 

Hosted by local coaches Hannah Lo, Racheal Kwacz and Sarah herself, the programme encompassed a multitude of self-empowering themes via its workshops, talks, coaching, sharing circles and more. 

“Indeed it was a very fulfilling experience. With Supparetreat we have specific pillars that we focus on,” shares Sarah. “There is Inner Empowerment, which focuses on areas like breath work and journaling; Life Design, which touches on the aspects of our mindset, goals, financial planning; and our last pillar is Intimacy and Relationships, which explores the subject of our ego, marriage, motherhood and other aspects along those lines.” 

Gaining momentum through word of mouth from participants, soon even more women wanted in, so more events were planned and it was time to expand its reach abroad. 

Supparetreat’s first overseas retreat, Ignite, was held in Canggu, Bali last year, right before the pandemic hit. Then it was time to rethink the concept for it to be virtually accessible, at least for the time being. 

“What was great about having the Supparetreat workshops online is that we managed to get so many different types of women who have been looking at what we’re doing and had always wanted to join. But because they live in places like Australia and Singapore, now they finally get a chance to be a part of this community,” says Sarah. “It’s so beautiful to watch it grow and watch them discover themselves”. 

From one to 75 online programmes later, Sarah realised that they have fruitfully tapped into a market that was underserved. So as an area of focus this year, Sarah wants to bring back Supparetreat’s well-received eight-week Remember Her programme, but catered for the virtual space spanning three to four weeks. 

“We had 12 women who signed up last year, and the coaches and participants thought it was amazing. So we’d love to do it again this year and make it more interactive and beautiful via Zoom,” says Sarah. 

That’s not all, once the lockdown eases up, Supparetreat is also looking at hosting retreats in hotels that are more inclusive to both men and women. “It will be a way more fluid programme where participants can bring their children, husbands or their group of girlfriends,” says Sarah. 

With mindfulness and self-love finally getting the attention it deserves, Sarah is fairly positive that the world is on a wave of awakening. “It can be difficult being a woman sometimes, but things are headed forward,” she says. 

“As long as we are in the position to learn, I have an optimistic view on how we’re looking at things. It’s so great to be a woman right now.” 

Raja Jesrina Arshad

PurelyB is on a mission to transform lives. When the company was first established in 2015, the objective was to do this by providing health education with a focus on Asian traditions in wellness. In doing so, it would also promote the idea of sustainable healthy living for urbanites who weren’t familiar with these methods. 

Now the mission to transform lives has expanded to create opportunities for marginalised communities through the creation of jobs while still preserving local herbs and wellness. 

“We’ve expanded our social impact initiatives to help communities, especially single mothers who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet,” says Raja Jesrina Arshad, CEO and co-founder of PurelyB, which is a social enterprise registered with the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC). 

“We have expanded our social impact initiatives beyond just working with marginalised farmers in the harvesting of our herbs,” the CEO writes in her 2021 updates to investors. “But now to also train and employ marginalised communities to be able to sell our products and spread good health in an affordable and sustainable way.” 

The company’s social mission is aligned to five UN Sustainable Development Goals – no poverty, good health and well-being, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and responsible consumption and production. 

The idea to expand the company’s social mission to empower the lives of women began more than two years ago. Through conversations with PurelyB’s herbalist Hameedah Hamid who comes from Narathiwat, Thailand, the idea of doing something to help the community from her village was formed. The villagers were impoverished and received little help from the Thai government. When visiting the area, Jesrina discovered that the only source of water was from a well that had been built through funds sent by Hameedah, earned through her work as a massage therapist and mid-wife. 

“It was a real eye-opener,” recalls Jesrina, of her visit. “I could see that a lot of women were affected and a lot of them were single women. I wanted to help and I could see that we could help by doing this together.” 

That resulted in the creation of the product Pegaga by PurelyB, which was made using the herbs that were cultivated by the villagers from Narathiwat. 

“We started with a small plot of land and then trained them to grow these herbs,” she says. “For Kak Ida (Hameedah) it wasn’t just about making money but about helping people and we believed that we should have that same purpose.” 

That’s when the inclusion of women as part of the company’s social mission began. When the product was launched, Jesrina described the herbs as being, “part of women’s traditions for many generations.” Thus, the best way to produce these herbs was by “working directly with the women that know them best and have relied on them for many years.” 

The mission has, however, since evolved. There were limits, she says, as to how much they could help women purely through farming. 

“We are a small business,” she explains. “We are limited in terms of capacity and in terms of how many women we can employ, how much farmland we can have and how much production we can do.” 

That prompted the team to start thinking about how else they could help women, particularly those who have been affected adversely by the pandemic. 

“If they are single mothers, how are they earning to put food on the table?” she thought. It was also at that point that they started receiving requests by women who were keen to sell their product. 

“Some of them had not even tried our product but they believed in it because of Pegaga and the herbs in it. We saw this as an opportunity to help more women.” 

Hence, in 2020, the decision was made to take things further with the development of the PurelyB Empowerment Agent Programme. While contemplating the use of agents, the question of whether they would be able to sell the products in this digital age also arose. 

“Some of them had old-school skills in terms of selling but we felt that we could train them in digital marketing,” she explains. “So later on if they want to create their own product, they can use these skills to do that. We can empower and upskill them so that they are not just limited to selling PurelyB products. For us, it became about making a difference and not just about selling our products.” 

They then reached out to organisations like Ibupreneur and The Family Wellness Club, to connect with single mothers and marginalised women who were keen to boost their income through participating in this empowerment initiative. Interestingly, the workshop conducted with The Family Wellness Club in Ipoh, also attracted a couple of retirees as well who were also interested in learning how they could boost their income. That meant they were also able to engage with the elderly too. 

The initiative has had its challenges, Jesrina admits, particularly since the country went into lockdown soon after the workshop that was held a year ago. The ensuing restrictions have prevented similar face to face workshops from being conducted. Nonetheless, a digital session was held with members of Ibupreneur recently. 

“I loved seeing the response,” she says. “There were so many great questions that ranged from the product to health.” 

It is still “early stages” for the empowerment programme but Jesrina is content that there is an initiative in place that can help women learn new skills. 

“I hope it can translate to them being able to use these skills for more than just selling PurelyB products,” she states. “But for now, it helps to have our products because a lot of women can’t afford the raw materials to make their own products.” 

Through the workshops, Jesrina has had the opportunity to meet many women and have conversations that have solidified the social mission. 

“There are so many stories of women who have lost their jobs and are selling kuih and biscuits to make a living. But it is hard and they make less than a certain amount each month,” she says. “Just hearing these stories, I feel that I want to help. I am not sure how much of a difference it would make but I hope that it is a channel to earn income. I am here to provide training, support and guidance.” 

Siti Aishah Hassan Hasri

Siti Aishah Prestige Malaysia

Siti Aishah Hassan Hasri strongly believes prevention is better than cure. The founder of the Spot (Soroptimist Puberty Organising Toolkit) champions the provision of comprehensive sexuality education for youths through age-appropriate and culturally sensitive approaches in the interest of preventing sexual abuse and exploitation. The Spot Community Programme encourages a positive attitude towards reproductive health, bodily autonomy, personal and social development. 

Increasing rates of underage sexual assault, minors engaging in sexual activities, unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and baby dumping among youths in Malaysia warrant effective action. “Children are one-third of our population and all of our future. We need to ensure our children are protected, educated and loved,” the Prestige 40 Under 40 alumna says. 

The young advocate implores Malaysians not to turn a blind eye but to know the laws and do their part. “Under the Child Act, reporting suspected physical or emotional abuse is mandatory if you are a doctor, family member or childcare provider. Failure to do so makes you liable for a fine of up to RM5,000 or imprisonment up to 2 years. As a Malaysian citizen, you are legally obliged to report child sexual abuse, including grooming, regardless of your relationship to the victim,” Aishah explains. 

While parents struggle to talk to their kids about sex, Aishah knows there is no room for discomfort in teaching children about consent and boundaries to avoid tragic outcomes. “I was a child in need of support, and so I make it my mission to make sure children get the help they need in my capacity as an educator and citizen. It is my duty to help,” she says, having launched Spot back in 2014. 

Aishah offers parents and guardians a crucial piece of advice to help keep children safe and raise resilient young people with self- respect. “Sexuality education is a life-long lesson that starts with simple concepts and builds over time as your child’s capacity to understand increases. It begins by laying the foundations with young children. Teach kids to learn to say no to things that make them uncomfortable and differentiate safe touches from unsafe touches,” she elaborates. 

“Your attitude with how you approach your children when discussing these topics matters so set the right tone,” Aishah tells parents. She notes the importance of getting educated and instilling family values with calmness, respect and an open manner. “Your children will ask questions, so you need to be prepared with answers. Make sure to let them know that they can always ask you anything and that they will not get in trouble, and you can make sure they are getting the right information,” she says. 

“With knowledge and the right attitude towards sexual and reproductive health and rights, young people are actively choosing to delay sexual intercourse and practise safe sex,” the advocate observes. Spot has developed teaching modules for boys, secondary school students and created thoughtful puberty education-related products to help children and parents. 

You need to tell people how you want to be treated. If someone does not listen to you when you say no, they are not worth your time or love. Walk away.

Siti Aishah Hassan Hasri

In 2020, Spot published Puberty Activity designed for children aged 9-12 that covers the basics of puberty. The eBook, available in English and Malay, explains basic anatomy, physical and emotional changes, hygiene routine tips, the importance of self-love, peer pressure, healthy relationship building skills and guidance on staying safe online. The lessons were derived from interactions with children engaged in Spot Community Programme sessions in schools between 2016 and 2019. 

Proceeds from eBook sales help run the Spot’s programmes, offered freely through the participation of volunteers. “A major challenge continues to be finding and retaining the talent required for Spot to keep growing, alongside bread-and-butter issues like funding and dealing with the effects of the pandemic,” Aishah admits. She hopes to inspire volunteers to step forward to contribute their time and skills. “Support us by sharing our social media content on your platforms,” she appeals. 

As a woman committed to supporting women, Aishah guides young women to learn to love themselves and protect their boundaries. “You need to tell people how you want to be treated. If someone does not listen to you when you say no, they are not worth your time or love. Walk away. Always remember that life is about being confident in making a series of good decisions. Learn how to make them. Your future self will love you for it,” she advises. 

The women in Aishah’s family life were significant sources of inspiration to her. “Both my grandmothers were my role models. One was a politician and the other a community organiser. One was a child-bride and the other illiterate. One was the wife of an army officer and the other a police officer. They were both amazing grassroots activists and had contributed so much to the communities they work with, with strong humility and audacious leadership skills,” Aishah says with pride. She is confident of her activism and the impact it has on raising the strong women of tomorrow.