Going places

17 Jul 2019 / 11:52 H.

SHE may be young, but Sarah Chen is a woman who is definitely going places with her drive and enthusiasm.

Chen, 30, is one of 11 Malaysian entrepreneurs who made it to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list this year.

Since she was a child, Chen has always been a busy bee. At the tender age of nine, she landed a job as the host of Golden Kids Club, a children’s show on one of Malaysia’s terrestrial television stations.

During that time she cut her teeth investigating issues and interviewing senior managers of major corporations.

After graduating from King’s College London at 22, Chen took over her father’s franchise of the human capital company, MRINetwork, as he was battling cancer.

Two years later she moved on to another large conglomerate, and from then on she moved up the corporate world on her own merit.

Chen is known for championing for more women to take on leadership roles.

With the help of a partner, she created the Lean In Malaysia organisation to give voice to women’s issues in Malaysia.

She is currently the Principal of FedTech, and co-founder and managing partner of The Billion Dollar Fund for Women, which has the goal of mobilising US$1 billion (RM4.14 billion) in funding to companies run by women.

How does it feel to make it on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2019 list?

“Feels great! In all my work over the years, I’ve seen how bright and talented the youth of Malaysia are – and I’m honoured to be recognised alongside the other achievers that I know will go on to do great things.

“Forbes is a fantastic platform where we are now in the league of some of the best of the best globally – which I believe will continue to open doors for us, and be an enabler for more impact in our fields.”

You have already achieved so much at a young age. Have you ever been underestimated due to your age, or even your gender?

“Yes, of course, till this day. Within the corporate world in Malaysia, we’ve traditionally looked to titles and seniority more than merit – and that has always been something I had to battle against, wanting to grow and do more despite my young age, and yes, lack of experience (my thought was and still is: well, how would I gain my experience otherwise?).

“I do believe that things are changing, that there are pockets of changemakers in decision-making positions [who want] to support the ambition of the youth in Malaysia – and I am forever grateful to have had a boss who believed in my capabilities, and gave me the opportunity to lead my first large deal through then, our venture team in Sime Darby, which ultimately made me realise that venture capital is the world I loved.”

Tell us about The Billion Dollar Fund for Women.

“I was looking to set up another base for myself in Washington DC. I started by networking and showing up for causes I believed in. Given my work in founding Lean In Malaysia with Abir Abdul Rahim and an amazing team, [the goal of] getting more women into leadership [positions] and on the frontline has always been a mission of mine.

“I was invited to join as a board member of BEACON DC – a public-private partnership between the Washington DC mayor’s office, Georgetown University and Google [which] focused on women entrepreneurs. This is where I met my [The Billion Dollar Fund] co-founder and managing partner Shelly Porges, who was also an advisor to the initiative.

“Shelly is a serial entrepreneur and investor, having served as [former US Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton’s advisor for global entrepreneurship and was formerly CMO of Bank of America.

“When we spoke of both of our experiences in seeing women constantly getting the short end of the straw in venture capital, we clicked immediately. She had an idea of the global consortium when we first met, and I said I wanted in to help a noble and much -needed goal.

“We expanded on the how, and together we mobilised what has become The Billion Dollar Fund for Women – a bigger picture ecosystem play to catalyse US$1 billion towards women-founded companies via a global consortium of venture capital funds.”

What drives you to be the woman that you are?

“My desire to be a global player, to do something meaningful for the world. When I was growing up, my mother would say to me: ‘Everyone can have a 9-to-5 job. In that [job], would you want to be the secretary or the CEO?’ She set an example for me, in rising herself from a secretary to a CEO.

“My big brother Chef Abang Brian (popular radio deejay and Masterchef Malaysia finalist) quit his job in finance, and is now a top-class celebrity chef – so let’s just say I benefited from great role models to begin with!”

Do you set goals for yourself?

“Yes, I set goals every year – and have been setting goals since I was maybe six.”

Do you see yourself as a role model to other young people (especially young women) out there?

“I think all of us are role models to another person in some way – a mother to a daughter, an elder to a younger person. All of us have the opportunity to set an example and I think for me, I just try to be the best version of myself, to push myself forward, to rise despite the challenges.

“If because of this, one day, a little girl in Malaysia who was told she could not do things she wanted to (as I was told) would think that hey, there’s someone who did it, so maybe I can too – I think, this would be a great thing.”

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