Maybank Foundation’s mandate is a straightforward yet powerful one — to create a positive, long-term impact in communities within the markets where Maybank Group operates. Considering the group has 2,200 offices across several regions, the foundation has a lot of ground to cover and eight years since its founding, it is well on its way to affecting change. Initially operating as a unit under the group’s corporate affairs division, it later became an independent entity and Shahril Azuar Jimin came on board as its first CEO in 2014.
“The chairman (Tan Sri Megat Zaharuddin) was a visionary and he believed that being the largest company in Malaysia, we have a higher duty of care. We have to fulfil the pledges that we make as part of our brand promise, which is humanising financial services — a goal that can be achieved by an independent, full-fledged foundation,” Shahril says, adding that the then chairman cited Temasek Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation as benchmarks.
Shahril had previously held various high positions in the insurance sector, including CEO of Etiqa Takaful Bhd as well as senior executive vice-president/chief commercial officer of Maybank Ageas Holdings Bhd.
“Dealing with personal insurance, you see a lot of hardship and grief,” says the Staffordshire University law graduate, who has trained thousands of agents throughout his career. “Insurance sales can be very cold … Selling any form of insurance can be an extremely tough thing to do as you are selling a product that one cannot see. It is only a promise and at best you get a piece of paper for it. The day that you want to use what you have purchased, you can bet it will be a pretty lousy day!”
In Shahril’s new role, he found himself applying his experience and first-hand knowledge of the importance of financial security and independence. His first order of business as CEO was the Reach Independence and Sustainable Entrepreneurship (RISE) programme, which he strategised and managed with a lean team. RISE is an economic empowerment programme designed to support disadvantaged communities, particularly people with disabilities, to increase their income and help them become financially independent.
Its 2014 pilot project saw the average income of 40% of the initial 280 participants increase by 411.7% (RM1,903.97). This led to the Maybank Foundation Board of Trustees approving a much larger-scale operation and to include Indonesia and the Philippines in the second phase. More recently, RISE has sowed its seeds in Laos.
“The central banks [in markets where RISE has a presence] welcome this programme. They have seen other programmes that do not work but we have a [good] track record. People Systems, as the programme implementers, do not have carte blanche to run the programme — they work very closely with us (Maybank),” Shahril says, on the partnership with People Systems Consultancy under its training and consultancy provider’s entrepreneurship programme.
Other partners are local bodies such as Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM) in Malaysia and the Department of Social Welfare and Development in the Philippines, their relevant ministries and non-governmental organisations connect suitable participants with the implementer.
For Shahril, the defining moment in the foundation “is when they are financially independent and part of the financial system”.
“Today, many of our RISE participants who are doing well employ other disabled and marginalised people … or even other able-bodied people. Some of the participants don’t feel they are handicapped anymore. It is very powerful because they go through a big change and that moment of truth happens when they achieve independence. To do that, they have to break through that mental barrier. The biggest weapon we have is our mind and so the main challenge is changing mindsets,” he explains.
One of the programme’s many success stories is Saidatunnisak Ishak (Anis), who heard about RISE from Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Orang Kerdil Malaysia. “Before I attended the three-day course, I always had a negative mindset about most things. I was quick to doubt myself and I worried about people’s opinions. When I joined this programme, they showed me how to convert my negativity to positivity. From there, I became braver to step forward. Instead of worrying about what people would say, I take it as a challenge.”
Before joining the programme, Anis had a day job in an office and had been selling fried koay teow after work at a roadside stall for two years to earn extra income. “I learnt [from the programme] how to promote my product for better visibility as well as finance management … My background is in accounts. I know that it is a good measure of one’s business but when it came to my own, I didn’t practise it … [From RISE], I learnt to record transactions and put aside money as savings.”
Applying the knowledge she obtained, Anis decided to collaborate with caterers to provide fried koay teow on their menu — “Converting a competitor into a partner,” she explains. She later purchased a lorry before upgrading to a food truck and now owns a restaurant called Wadi Sinai in Alor Setar, Kedah. Since participating in the programme, she has seen a 500% increase in net income.
RISE participants are exposed to eight modules during three days of training by trainers and local Maybank staff on the ground. The latter appreciate the importance of the programme. “Given the opportunity, everyone would like to do something for the greater good and especially so if it comes with institutional support,” says Shahril.
Philanthropy and volunteerism are entrenched in Maybank’s culture, as portrayed in its Cahaya Kasih volunteerism programme leading up to Global CR Day, where Maybankers showcase their long-term community initiatives and the positive impact they are having on their cause. In fact, Shahril believes that Maybank’s community involvement is a key factor that sets RISE apart from other financial literacy programmes.
Following the training period, a dedicated group of mentors from People Systems are assigned a number of participants for six months. During this period, their role includes making daily phone calls to their mentees and having regular meetings to motivate them and monitor their progress. “The calls are a good reminder to make an effort as sometimes I remain in my comfort zone [for too long],” says Anis.
Another participant, Seremban-based Mohd Zaiani Mohd Diah, also reaped the benefits of such daily conversations with his mentor. An accident during childhood left him blind in one eye and he heard about RISE through JKM. He quietly admits that he used to beg for money in addition to offering massage services on five foot ways or parking lots before finding out about RISE. Today, he has his own massage centre called Delima Nurun Nubuwwah Enterprise which, according to him, is one of the largest in Seremban. “Among the things I have learnt is the benefits of advertising,” says Zaiani, who fully utilises this knowledge. In addition to the 100% increase in net income, he has several proud achievements, including being named JKM’s Usahawan Contoh (OKU) and winning the Best Massage award in a competition in Melaka in February.
RISE is only one of the various programmes under the purview of the Maybank Group’s main vehicle for corporate responsibility. The foundation’s focus areas, while varied — encompassing education, community empowerment, arts and culture, environmental diversity, healthy living and disaster relief — all lead up to a common goal: to enhance quality of life, irrespective of race, gender or creed, with an emphasis on the poor and marginalised.
Shahril, who is aiming for the foundation to ultimately comply with the London Benchmarking Group’s criteria, sums up this common goal by referencing the Women Eco-Weavers programme. “What we do is to cut out the middleman, so the weaver who spends hours working on a scarf that is sold for a high price at airports, for instance, gets paid more. She is being recognised for her efforts and surely this is one way of giving people dignity — by recognising their worth and rewarding them for it.”
This article first appeared on Sept 24, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.