Rebekah Yeoh is an agent for voice and change, continually inspiring and influencing individuals towards a better good. Her kind nature and her heart of gold is the epitome of what makes a gentle woman.
Besides her amazing social work, society might know her as the descendant from Malaysian scion, Tan Sri Francis Yeoh. In her role as Corporate Finance Manager at YTL Corporation Berhad, she has witnessed the development of her father's empire from a small construction firm into a global infrastructure company with extensive operations globally.
While she is extremely blessed, rather than just enjoying the finer things; she has taken upon herself to leave a beautiful mark on the world. Rebekah is a passionate social entrepreneur and part of the WEF Global Shapers Community, spearheading a child empowerment program she founded, Nimble Fingers Cambodia and sustainable fashion platform, Recyclothes. She ultimately believes in 'perpetual charity is not a sustainable option to eliminate poverty' and is convinced that enterprise is a more effective way of unlocking the potential of individuals to create long-term wealth.
Her faith through entrepreneurship is what makes Rebekah relentlessly humble, "My dad always stressed the importance of spiritual and Christian values. He is so proud of us for each of our drive and achievements, but nothing would make him happier than if we are spiritually aligned as a family. Family unity has played a key component in our entire lives, and more so now with an expanding family, whilst always putting God at the centre of it all." Substance births a better society and for that, there is nothing we wish more than seeing people who have a heart for others.
Her Key Learnings
What have you discovered about yourself during this pandemic?
When we were forced to stay at home during the Malaysian lockdown, I thought it would have been impossible for me because I am always out and about whether it’s work or eating out, but the pandemic taught me how to slowdown and meditate on the blessings in my life. Finding things to fill the time like playing board games with family, eating every meal together, having tea time with my nephews (which I would never otherwise do as I’d be at the office at 4pm everyday), and playing Nintendo switch with my siblings were memories that will stay with me forever. The fact that I could not see my friends as often made me value every single minute spent with them whenever we were allowed to meet.
How has your daily routine been shifted?
I now work from home on alternate days which has been a huge adjustment from working a daily 9 to 5. It has been a wide learning curve for our entire finance team, as everyone struggles with working from home in different ways depending on our roles, but change is sometimes necessary in order to see things from another perspective and I am grateful for this lesson.
You are known to be efficient with your time and resources, in times of hardship what advice would you give to the younger generation for rainy days?
I would tell them not to overthink decisions. Even though every decision you make changes your life path, sometimes overthinking can prove obsolete. There were so many things beyond my control that had exogenously changed my life path, and I wish I had not stressed about them back when I was younger. I would like to assure them that no matter what decisions you make, or how scary something seems, things do fall into place somehow and will eventually work out – it is just a matter of time. Water will always find its path to the river!
What does being a gentle woman mean to you?
A gentle woman harbours an ability to genuinely listen to someone when they speak, and to immerse in a fruitful dialogue. It’s troubling to see how often one can be distracted by phone notifications during a very important conversation, it has almost become a systematic impulse to look every time you get a notification. I struggle with this personally as well. Thus, I believe a gentle woman is someone who focuses fully on others when they need to be listened to, and fully engages in a conversation without being distracted.
Who is your role model and inspiration? Why?
My sister has always been a beacon of light for me growing up. I watched her go through the challenges and blessings of her teenage years, losing a mother, gaining a husband, juggling 3 children and a career, and I have learnt so much from how she overcomes these milestones so effortlessly. She reminds me to always put others first, treat people as you would have them treat you and to turn the other cheek if someone hurts you. She is by far the most selfless and caring person I know.
How would you describe your own personal style?
Personal style to me is not a skill, it’s a skin. It’s an outer layer of skin exhibiting one’s personality. By wearing your true personality on your sleeve through fashion, you are completely exposed and transparent as to who you truly are. This way – you are not hiding under a false pretense or façade – your fashion statement is you.
It’s not what I would do better or differently than before, it’s about what I would carry into my future after everything I have learnt. As our schedules become busier as the world heals, I would persevere to spend more time with family and friends, just as I did during lockdown, and I would try and be more grateful for the limited time that we have together, for you’ll never know when that can be taken away from you.
In this time where your loved ones are more important than ever, what gives you hope and what do you wish for this year for you and for them?
I want us to be able to balance family time, travels and work a bit better. Certain members of my family are better at that than I am, but the pandemic really taught me how to strike the right balance. Travel is great, but it really does get in the way sometimes. Being forced to stay within 4 walls was an experience I’ll never forget. I wish for all of us to stay as close as we did during the pandemic, and I also wish for us to eat as much as we did during lockdown!
What is your ideal “me time” session? How do you unwind after a hectic day?
“Me time” to me means dedicating time towards finding yourself spiritually. Anything you do is useless until you know what, why and who you’re doing it for. I also incorporate a lot of exercise into my day in order to clock in some alone time. Exercise helps to break the bubble of being burnt out by work and helps maintains a healthy lifestyle where you stuff yourself as much as you please and be happy.
What are your top 3 quotes to live by?
- If you’re not going to care about it in 5 years, don’t care about it now
- If you can’t go a single day without thinking about it, act on it
Water will always find its path to the river
Faith Through Entrepreneurship
What is your biggest purpose in life?
Like I said earlier, anything you do is useless until you know what, why and who you’re doing it for. Dad taught us that we need to find our purpose in life, and for me that is to glorify God is everything that I do and find a way to lead it back to Him.
My dad always stressed the importance of spiritual and Christian values. He made it very clear to us that he is so proud of us for each of our drive and achievements, but nothing would make him happier than if we are spiritually aligned as a family. Family unity has played a key component in our entire lives, and more so now with an expanding family, whilst always putting God at the centre of it all.
Can you tell us more about Nimble Fingers Cambodia and why is it so close to your heart?
Nimble Fingers is a Child’s Empowerment Programme based in Cambodia which adopts a three-pronged methodology constituting micro-finance, enterprising and sustainable giving. The ultimate aim of the programme is to instill an early culture in children to accumulate disposable income and savings instead of squander it away. Their profits are reinvested into their “mini enterprises” so that they learn about capital spending, savings and value-add. They must also book-keep and track revenue/spending so they are trained from a young age to monitor their finances and cultivate conservative financial etiquette. They are hand-held during the entire process until they can manage their finances independently.
Nimble Fingers is so close to my heart because I fell in love with the children the minute I met them. They have such pure hearts, so willing to share despite having so little, and they treated each other like family. They were raised by the childcare centre to heal others through love. I felt they deserved a chance to build their lives through practicing sound financial etiquette, and this program empowers them from young to reach beyond minimum wage by giving them confidence to pursue work encompassed around their genuine interests.
It also provides the initial “push” to explore their future career paths and discover their talents from a very young age. Moreover, it teaches them about team coordination and shared stake holding within a business. They were beholden to the poor education system in Cambodia which lacks the basic practical skills of finance and book-keeping. Business knowledge combined with a good heart is unformidable!
What does sustainability mean to you and how can fashion be more sustainable?
The world is already moving towards the future – and sustainable fashion is trending and dominating conversations in the fashion community more than ever before. What we are doing with Recyclothes is making people think about the future of fashion by changing their mindsets – though at times, it is like going vegan but feeling hopeless about the impact when everyone else still craves meat and dairy. And yes, there are some people who just don’t believe in wearing secondhand fashion! So there you go.
However, we believe every small action does make a difference and there are countless ways we can challenge ourselves to make conscious decisions, leading to more ethical and responsible fashion choices. Recyclothes is a not-for-profit entity with a mission, to raise awareness on sustainable fashion and funding causes close to our hearts. In a way, shopping is like voting, so try to spend your money on brands you believe are doing the right thing. If you shop second hand or vintage items, you are giving them a second life.
How can our readers start helping people in a small yet meaningful way?
Start with something that touches your heart. Blind-giving is not sustainable as there is no passion or authenticity behind it. If you do not know the hands you are helping, it is pointless. The most meaningful giving is when a person has taken time to seek out what is the heaviest burden on their conscience, and then to do something about it – whether it’s animal rescue, elderly care, underprivileged children or individuals with disabilities – everyone is unique in their desire to help others.
Being part of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers, what draws you to the world of economics and how do you think it can impact for good?
I am also a strong admirer of Jeffrey Sach’s research in economic scarcity. I agree with him wholeheartedly that “perpetual charity is not a sustainable option to eliminating poverty”, and I am convinced that enterprise is a more effective way of unlocking the potential of these individuals to create wealth for the long term, and this is what WEF Global Shapers has pioneered over the years.
The WEF Global Shapers was an outlet to let my inner economic creativity run wild when it came to community projects. There are infinite things you can do, and what better way to do it than with other shapers who contribute manpower, knowledge, experience, and support. I’ve been submerged in a pool of professionals who have ventured into their own social projects. I was the weak link - I had the most to learn. The best part about this was that other shapers were willing to teach. Since then, we’ve devised projects that have reached out to so many different demographics in Malaysia with an objective to mitigate dire issues faced and ignored by our community. We have even adopted an “Impact Advisory” consultancy role for individuals interested in developing their own social enterprises.
Major economic events such as COVID-19 tend to shrink company’s margins, how has this affected your charitable work and general people’s mindset?
When things are rosy, people naturally put contingency plans aside. A shock to the system like this has taught us that no one is protected – neither the rich nor poor. On top of company’s shrinking margins, people had to prioritize health at the expense of revenue. It was very difficult striking the right balance between protecting your employee’s financial and physical health. However, we believe charity starts at home, so as soon as the pandemic struck the directors of our company stopped taking salary for months so that we would not have to retrench any employee. This was a huge sacrifice made on their part and helped to redistribute the costs fairly as it would have been a much bigger cost to us to let go of an employee in the company. They are considered our biggest assets and also considered family.
What would you hope your legacy to be?
Legacy is a very important facet of preservation. God said be the salt and the light, and legacy in the form of principles, values and modus operandi is key towards this. Preserving all 3 is essential in shaping who you are as a person organically, and is a foreshadowing of the values you’ll ingrain in your future generations. Just as my grandfather passed on his legacy to us, it is our duty out of love to carry this into the future generations, and to be a salt and light in remembrance of his love and sacrifice for us all.
*This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.