The Importance Of Being Niche

CSR Practitioner Sujitra Jayaseelan believes that companies should be focused on niche areas in their social work for two reasons: not only is it the right thing to do, it is also a good way to channel their resources for maximum impact. Sujitra Jayaseelan's earliest childhood memories have always revolved around music and visits with her father and two sisters to orphanages and estates to do good work.  So, it came as no surprise to her when her career path took a drastic turn from chemistry teacher to CSR Practitioner in a series of fortuitous events. In 2004, while running a successful education centre, she received a job offer as Project Officer in the Deputy Minister’s office of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. "It was there that I became equipped with the skills that perfectly complemented my grassroots experience in social work. This prepared me for the work that I'm meant to do," says Sujitra.

Due to the nature of the Ministry that she served in, Sujitra had the opportunity to work with many women and was involved in a lot of empowerment projects for them. “This gave me a strong interest in this line of work and I saw the first-hand importance of being focused in a specific social work area,” she says. One of the successful projects under her care was Sutera Sari, a sewing skills program for marginalised women.  “They managed to reach out to 3,000 participants within eight months”, says Sujitra.

In 2009, Sujitra joined the QI group as head of its local Vijayaratnam foundation.  Three years later, she was promoted to head their international RHYTHM foundation, based in Hong Kong.  “My work included establishing the local foundation from scratch i.e., setting up the pillars, forming the board of directors – the whole works. Most importantly, I helped them identify the niche areas that they want to focus their resources on,” says Sujitra. “The board of directors of the foundation had the needs of special children very close to their hearts. So a school had been set up for these children under the Education pillar.

Malaysia’s first holistic special needs school, established three years ago,  aims to provide quality education to children aged in between 6 and 12 with Learning Disabilities. 

Through the good work of the experienced teachers and well-equipped classrooms, the school has been instrumental in improving the quality of these young lives. “I’ve seen a child who could not walk and could only glide on the floor begin to walk and then run within six months. There were also children who went back to the mainstream schools after undergoing the sessions in the school,” Sujitra says.

Through RYTHM foundation, schools have been established in Egypt and Laos, with plans to set up more schools in other remote parts of the world. A girl empowerment program which she developed and managed under the foundation for five years managed to touch the lives of 6,000 girls. “CSR programs should not be a one-time thing or just a check giving ceremony. It is a deliberate and strategic long-term plan to achieve long-lasting results,” Sujitra explains.

Most importantly, she believes that it is vital for corporations to be niche and have their own identity in their social work. “You can't be spreading your wings so far and so thin that whatever you do is not impactful. It’s better to focus your resources into one area and ensure that there is great change and impact to that particular segment.”

Sujitra recently left her position as head of the two foundations to take a break from her hectic career. But that break only lasted 5 months. Today, Sujitra is head of Group Corporate Responsibility for a leading bank in Malaysia.

Sujitra’s career and passion revolves around non-profit work.  Sugam Karnatica, a niche non-profit organisation she established with her sisters many years ago that marries their lifelong love for performing arts and their passion to transform lives.

“Over the years, we have seen our performing arts programs increase the self-esteem and confidence level of children,” says the trained Carnatic musician and recording artist The organisation now has a strong team of facilitators comprising people who have gone through the program and came back to contribute.

This spirit of giving back is deeply ingrained within Sujitra’s life and the lives that she touches. “The proof of our living is what we give back. It's never in the taking,” she says. “The universe provides us the air and sun light for free. If we just take and never give back, we are thieves. We must pay back our debts to the universe, our forefathers and the community.”