At June’s Cappuccino Connections, Veronica Gamez, Executive Director of aidha shared the importance of aligning personal and professional values.
aidha is the micro-business school dedicated to ending the cycle of poverty for domestic workers through financial literacy and entrepreneurship. aidha provides unique and innovative financial training programs to foreign domestic workers in Singapore. In addition to financial literacy, aidha provides computer literacy, business management and entrepreneurship skills. At aidha, domestic workers can find healthy friendships, a safe and a positive environment and an opportunity to learn! Students at aidha are involved in lively discussions, group exercises and get many opportunities to practice what they learn in class. They never forget to make learning fun!
In 2007, aidha had just 23 students but a $16,000 donation from UNIFEM enabled them to do more to help more people. More than 2000 students have now taken their courses and over 200 volunteers mentor domestic workers and give their time at evenings and weekends.
But it hasn’t always been an easy road for Veronica to channel her enthusiasm for helping others…
At just 12 years old, Veronica had a life changing experience whilst camping with her family in one of the mountains in northern Mexico. One of the campers shared the story of when he tried to enter the USA by swimming across the Rio Grande River, which marks the boarder between the two countries. He didn’t know how to swim, but made it across using a car tyre that previous travellers left behind. When she asked why he did it – he said “that he needed to sustain his family.” He was captured by the boarder control and sent to prison where he spent a horrible night and was sent back to Mexico the next morning, where he waited until it was dark to try again.
This shocked Veronica – and it was a defining moment which shaped the rest of her life when she asked ‘What can I do to help these people around the world?’
Although she wanted to put a stop to journeys like this – at 12 she had no idea how she would do it.
At the age of 17 she started a business that designed and sold grills (BBQs) in the USA and Mexico. She would employ Mexicans who travelled to the US for a better life. She also read a lot of business books and kept up to date with current affairs. But at 17 she didn’t know what it would take to keep the business going and didn’t realise how many ‘journeys’ around the world she would have to stop to reach her goal – there are approximately 220 million migrant workers seeking better opportunities. She knew she would have to reconsider her business model.
When Veronica reached Singapore in 2008 she took the difficult decision to leave behind her well paid, secure job in investment banking to join aidha. A challenging decision which saw her take a heavy pay cut and rely on her dwindling savings to get by. Although she never lived a lavish lifestyle before, she did enjoy luxuries such as eating in nice restaurants and buying new clothes but she quickly had to adapt to eating cheaply and spending time with friends doing things which didn’t cost much. What she also left behind when she left the corporate world was her old identity – no longer did she have a title, or a business card to hand out.
But she knew these were just small compromises in the bigger scheme of what she was trying to achieve. Her work with aidha is more fulfilling and rewarding than anything she has ever done before.
3 key turning points for aidha
1) Being on the verge of bankruptcy. The situation was so critical that even the closure of the organisation was put on the table. But the team and volunteers pulled together to organise fundraising events including marathons, cinema screenings and parties and eventually they secured a grant that put them in a positive financial position. Today, aidha has built a healthy buffer for those rainy days!
2) Everyone volunteered but no one had clear roles. Even though they were all focused on helping people, there was a general confusion of roles. Today, aidha has a strong team with clear objectives that is led by talented individuals – marketing gurus, former CEOs, financial and operational experts all driven to achieve the same goal.
3) Initially aidha worked alone but soon realised that fostering strong partnerships would help them even more. Now they work with corporate sponsors and partners who not only provide financial support but also share their time, experience and expertise. With this support, aidha’s possibilities for helping domestic workers have been extended.
Throughout her journey Veronica has learnt (and is still learning) many lessons, including how to be innovative, finding new ways around challenges and redefining what privilege means to her. She is honoured and humbled to do what she does and believes this is key to enabling her to align her personal and professional values.
Check out the photos from the event on our Facebook page.
Veronica Gamez, Executive Director, left the corporate world in 2008 to become aidha’s Executive Director. Veronica has pioneered aidha’s transition into a stage of consolidation and professionalisation, securing the organisation’s financial health, establishing long-lasting corporate partnerships and spreading its voice and mission. Previous to aidha, Veronica worked with Credit Suisse (CS) and The Boston Consulting Group in Singapore, London & Mexico. She earned her BA with Honours (Finance) from Cass Business School and holds an MBA at the University of Chicago. A native of Mexico, Veronica is dedicated to promoting women’s economic empowerment through education. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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