This week marked the first 100 days of starting my own business, which is a multicultural research firm with social purpose. I’ve learnt a lot from a totally different groups of inspirational stakeholders and here are the top 3 perspective that surprised me.

1. Aligning purpose to your Ikigai

The word Ikigai has been thrown around a lot on LinkedIn lately. Its origin came from Okinawa where it nurtures more than 400 centenarians in a population of 1.4 million, earning the title “the longest-lived population of the world”. There’s an Okinawa Centenarian Study that began in 1975 to study factors contributing to longevity.

In my previous role my purpose was to acquire new customers, win customers from other competitors and keep my team engaged. In my Ikigai chart, I wasn’t really doing what the world needs, rather, it was what the company needs. Hence whilst I was feeling satisfied because I was doing what I love, what I was good at, and what I was paid for, I felt somewhat useless or there was more that I can do to have wider impact on the community and the country.

I now run a social enterprise called Cultural Connections. The company purpose is to help multicultural community groups to flourish together with business. It’s a social purpose with absolute clarity that fuels my daily motivation.


2. Make it your business to do good

Being in the corporate world can be a very comfortable job, other than the occasional risk and compliance people who wave the stick at you. You get paid every fortnight, you have a comfortable office table and chair, and you get pampered with Friday drinks and receive plenty of invites for industry and social events.

Yet in the midst of all the comfort, there are urgent social issues happening in our backyard that are not reported in your day to day news, because these news do not generate click revenue and our empathy senses are numbed by the constant reminder of other social issues. For example, there are many horrific stories of elderly abuse in the migrant community, international students who are starving themselves to save money for rentals, repeat offenders who just need someone to believe in them to turn the tide and so on.

In the past, I used to think that’s what NGO’s and charities are for, to look after those in need, and that solving these social issues means I will have to give up my job to join a charity, or dedicate 2 hours a week at the local soup kitchen.

So the choice is: To be selfish or to be selfless?

And what if someone tells you that you can be selfless yet make it financially rewarding? This is where social enterprise comes into play, where social cause takes the pilot seat and financial return takes the co-pilot seat. One cannot exist without the other, but the direction is 100% led by the pilot, ie the social cause. In New Zealand, we’re very fortunate to have Akina Foundation to spearhead social enterprise. Some of their initiatives include free introductory workshops and more recently, they’ve done an awesome job in winning the global bid to host the 2017 Social Enterprise World Forum in Christchurch this September. Apart from that, Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus recently established a social business centre at the LinMy first 100 days of realigning my Ikigai through social enterprise.coln University which will help to propel social enterprise momentum in New Zealand.

3. Rethink Success For Yourself

Most of us were brought up to think that success is validated in the form of salary, the position title that you carry, the car that you drive, the holiday that you take, and so on. It creates a never ending spiral of hunger for the next bigger and better things. At some stage, we will feel empty and unfulfilled, because deep down that is not how we really define success.

This is indeed the summary outcome of the 2016 survey conducted by NAB titled “Rethink Success: Australians’ Views of Success Today”. The two charts below exhibit how Aussies personally define success and how society define success. The main difference is that personal success is a journey, whilst society perception of success is a life event that is part of the journey towards personal success. The former is mentally and internally driven, whilst the latter is wealth and externally driven.

It’s important to recognise the difference so that we are not disillusioned of being externally happy when there’s an empty vessel within us that crave for meaningful social conscience, social connectedness and social contribution.

So the next time before you purchase the next Cartier or Maserati, rethink to yourself: Is this real success for myself or is this just a show for others?

Do you have stories of yourself or others starting a new venture and discovering new perspectives? Please share them in the comments. Thank you.

Eric Chuah was the Head of Migrant Banking for ANZ and the founder of Cultural Connections, which is a social enterprise that helps migrant community groups to flourish together with business in New Zealand through multicultural research and consulting.