Sasibai Kimis has a good heart, lots of courage, and a wonderful laugh. Perhaps those are the ingredients to make one adaptable, which is Sasi’s secret power.
I asked her about her greatest skill that she could offer to listeners:
“I would say that I think my greatest skill that I’ve built over the years is adaptability. I remember telling an employer once: ‘You can pick me up and drop me off anywhere you want around the world, and I’ll find my way.’ As long as you are smart, street smart, and you’re not afraid, you can try to make something work, and find what you need. I’m not sure what made me say that, I think it’s because of my experience in Ghana. When I went to Ghana, I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t even have a place to stay. I just arrived with a suitcase and I wanted to do this internship with the United Nations. …. I think that I grew up in Malaysia with ‘the other’ and ‘being the other’. I always felt no matter where I went, I was not afraid of being ‘the other’.
Sasi’s company, Earth Heir is located in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Earth Heir, works with craftspeople in Malaysia and the region using their traditional skills, but creates contemporary design pieces and corporate/customized gifts with social impact. These contemporary crafts and gifts are sold at the Earth Heir studio in KL and online. Earth Heir is focusing more on the corporate gifts market, which allows for larger purchases, and thus a bigger and positive impact on their artisans.
Sasi shares her moving immigrant story of her family to Malaysia, her grandfather was an indentured laborer, from India, and her immigrant journey from Malaysia to the West. She could have left her Malaysia behind. She succeeded at the elite Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, in the US. And she succeeded on Wall Street:
“Truly, my experience in the U.S. was the most affirming and confidence building experience in my life. It gave me the tenacity to believe that I could do things, I could achieve things. While I was at the University of Pennsylvania, I could take classes in pottery and acting and courses unrelated to my business degree, and met people from so many backgrounds. It boosted my confidence as a person. That really helped me tremendously in my life.
After Wharton I didn’t know what to do, so I did the typical thing, investment banking. I worked at Lehman Brothers, and I was the only international person in the team. Everyone else was white. I was the only Indian. But I never felt different! I was never made to feel less because I was Indian. It was like, – hey – you passed our interviews, you did well, we’ll give you the job. It was so great, I felt, at least in America, I was rewarded based on merit.”
And she excelled at Cambridge University in England, where she studied sustainable development. However, Sasi wanted to re-immigrate back to a country to create an ecosystem for social entrepreneurs.
“We wanted [Earth Heir] to stay in Malaysia because this region needs champions, that are making a difference. It would be very easy for me to move back to the US, and do what I’m doing here. But I felt that if I move, then who will be here to help change the landscape. We’re not the only ones doing this here. But I feel like you need a nucleus of people who are doing something. That’s how change happens.”
There was so much in this interview, I had to cut out so much, to keep it under 35 minutes, which I prefer. Perhaps I will make a second episode.”