Leading a Culture of Well-being and Empowerment: Interview with Nadya Saib

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Women entrepreneurs in Asia play an increasingly important role in poverty alleviation and innovative economic development. Nadya Saib is the co-founder and CEO of Wangsa Jelita, a leading Indonesian social enterprise in the beauty industry. As an advocate of personal and social well-being, she is challenging traditional gender norms and redefining what is possible for women.

Nadya answers four questions for the EVE Program.

Have you ever experienced serious obstacles in your career? How do you conserve your positive energy in face of setbacks?

Whether I have ever experienced serious obstacles? Of course. How I conserve positive energy? I’ve got enough supply of bad jokes in my phone to brighten up my mood.

On a more serious note, first, I have learned not to take myself too seriously. I used to be a proud perfectionist. I would hate myself for my mistakes and blame myself for obstacles which I could not anticipate. Over time, I realized and finally accepted that it is human to err, there is no such thing as perfection, and aiming for it is nothing but absurd. Mistakes or obstacles do not define us. They are just what they are. I do not know how I had planted the idea of striving for perfection in my head but when I managed to unlearn it, I have felt more at ease, especially when I’m in distress.

Second, I have also learned to be curious about how I feel every time I face a setback. One implication of my striving for perfection was that I looked down on emotions, because I used to think that emotion was a sign of weakness. I would suppress my emotions because I was afraid that they would cloud my rationale. Only in the past two years, I found out that the truth is pretty much the opposite. The reason for my suppression of emotions is that I wanted to control it. Just like many things in life, the more we want to be in control, the more we become its prisoners. And this is not helpful at all, especially when we are already overwhelmed. Instead of withholding emotions, being curious about them helps much better and calms one down. The more I practice observing emotions, the better I understand that they are temporary. In face of adversity, the most empowering thing to do is say to ourselves, “this too shall pass.”

Last but not least, I make sure that I have enough sleep.

You are recognized as an advocate of personal and social well-being as well as female empowerment. How would you explain the connection between them?

On well-being, foremost, I have to give credit to the ChangemakersXchange community from Ashoka who introduced me the concept of well-being. There are actually different aspects that constitute the wellness of a human being: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Some people would also include economic well-being or something else. But the underlying principle is the same, that each aspect needs to be taken care of, and when all of them come into alignment, that is when we, as human beings can perform to the best of our potential, and finally contribute to the society.

Female empowerment is something I acknowledged earlier. Running Wangsa Jelita, allows me to be in touch with many women (mainly our customers and partners) from diverse backgrounds. I learned of the many different roles which a woman can commit to in society. There is no such thing as one answer to everything, and it really is NOT about one role being better than the others. What I firmly believe is that each of us has the right to choose which roles we want to take. My idea of female empowerment is first, to encourage us women to be honest and, at the same time, be bold in choosing how we want to contribute to the society, and then encourage other women to be the same — regardless of which path or paths they choose.

The question is, how? How can we be confident in choosing the path for ourselves and be supportive of others? This is where personal well-being intersects with female empowerment.

My belief is that we cannot empower others, unless we are empowered ourselves. Therefore, the first thing one has to do is understand their own definition of well-being and take good care of it.

Personal well-being is personal. By that, I mean, the condition required for well-being is not the same as others’. I feel most empowered when I start to acknowledge and accept my strengths and weaknesses and when I finally gain the courage to speak up and even ask for the kind of support that I need from my surroundings. I came to realize that only those who take loving care of their personal well-being can be confident about the choice they make and able to empower other women. When one is empowered and sure about their own path, not only will they perform their best, but also be able to be supportive. And when we can empower others to discover their inner resources, we are achieving social well-being.

What I find very interesting about well-being is how different aspects of well-being are interlinked with one another, including the rest of the lives on our Planet Earth. Think about the time when our loved one is physically or emotionally unwell, or when our colleague at the office goes through a tough time, or when a part of Earth is destroyed. When that happens, we know all too well how it changes the dynamic of our ecosystem. In other words, while personal well-being is everyone’s right, it is also everyone’s responsibility. We cannot just focus on our own well-being, we need to look after others’ as well. While helping others, we also help ourselves.

Your enterprise is called Wangsa Jelita or ‘Dynasty Beautiful’. What is behind this name?

Wangsa Jelita comes from Sanskrit, an ancient language used in Indonesia. My two co-founders and myself were born and raised in Indonesia. We chose Sanskrit as a reminder of the place we come from.

In terms of the meaning, ‘Wangsa’ means dynasty. It is our hope to make our business a legacy — something that lasts long. ‘Jelita’ means both beauty and beautiful. Initially, we chose ‘Jelita’ because we do business in beauty industry. It was a brief explanation of what we do. But as we see how our business can give positive impact to local communities, the name has also become one of our aspirations. We hope to conduct business in a beautiful way — to give positive impact to people whose lives our business influences.

Wangsa Jelita is a good model of today’s impact-driven enterprises. In light of this, how would you define leadership qualities for your more socially-conscious generation?

Definitely human-centered. The kind of leadership that puts people (all stakeholders) at their best interest. It is also the kind of leadership that treats people as human beings who have the capacity to grow, to evolve, and to become.

Nadya Saib graduated as a pharmacist from Bandung Institute of Technology. In 2008, together with two friends, Nadya founded Wangsa Jelita. Supported by British Council and Arthur Guinness Fund, Nadya’s team gives the rose farmers community new skills to process the roses and conducts a fair trade practice. Wangsa Jelita has grown to be the top 100 Indonesian social enterprises in 2015 according to a national business magazine, SWA Magazine. Nadya also serves as Ashoka Consultant. She is an active contributor and frequent speaker on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and natural beauty products formulation.