Shyam K Iyer founded SKI Charities in 2010 with his family’s experiences in mind. His philosophy of providing clear opportunities for women to have productive careers was inspired by how the women in his family had to overcome the cultural norms of their native land in order to get an education and build successful careers.
Inspired by their “strength, spirit, and endurance,” Shyam Iyer became motivated to “encourage females in developing countries” to strive to achieve more in life, and to live independently. This vision of allowing women to work hard for themselves animates the initiatives of SKI Charities. Since the charity focuses on helping women in the developing world, his wide experience and understanding of the global economy and financial markets give him a “unique insight” into the massive potential of the developing markets.
Under Shyam Iyer, SKI Charities believes that microfinance could leave a massive impact on the people in the developing world. Microfinance is “the practice of supporting low-income entrepreneurs who are typically unable to participate in the formal banking sector.”
Shyam Iyer and SKI Charities provide female entrepreneurs with the capital to start their own enterprises, through its microfinance institute called SKIMFI. The charity also gives scholarships, through SKIPGO, to promising young girls who are highly motivated to succeed and help develop their community and nation. The SKILLS initiative also helps artists in the developing world express their culture through art. SKI is currently active in Zimbabwe and Chile.
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Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Shyam Iyer: Earlier in my career I wish I had known that it’s best to go after “high-hanging fruit.“ Put another way, I find the mainstream view is to achieve what is in front of you or whatever has the best-trodden path to success. While I understand this outlook, I have always believed that life is about pushing the limits of yourself and the world around you. Going after those hard to reach goals that others seem to eschew is about impact and changing the world for the better. In the situation of founding SKI Charities, going to Zimbabwe was thought of as too risky especially when better-known countries such as India or Uganda needed support. But I knew the impact in Zimbabwe would therefore be much greater, and I have been fortunate to see us change lives that would otherwise be untouched.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Shyam Iyer: Purpose and mission is of utmost importance. Always remind yourself that there comes a time when you are ready to take responsibility for making your ideas into a reality. When I began a global charity to serve the economically excluded, working through adversity was the only answer. 9 years in, hundreds of beneficiaries have been empowered as they themselves become entrepreneurs who take charge of their lives and make their visions into reality.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Shyam Iyer: My upbringing under the guidance of my parents was invaluable. As small business owners of a medical practice, they modeled for me the importance of thoughtful staff management and empowerment. My parents demonstrated that while a chief executive or founder may drive early success, successful entrepreneurship is far more “bottom up” as ground level ownership and buy-in will determine the success of any project or enterprise.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Delegating effectively is a challenge for many leaders. Let’s put first things first. Can you help articulate to our readers a few reasons why delegating is such an important skill for a leader or a business owner to develop?
Shyam Iyer: When I kicked off SKI Charities I was met with much skepticism from both donors and local contacts. I decided that a high level of oversight and control would be necessary, and while this allowed the project to commence I quickly learned this was not sustainable.
As a social entrepreneur I have learned to hire and empower staff and beneficiaries from the community being served. While an entrepreneur may drive early success, I have found successful entrepreneurship to be far more “bottom up” as local level ownership and buy-in will determine the success of any project or enterprise. Autonomy and control must devolve from the entrepreneur to the field.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you help articulate a few of the reasons why delegating is such a challenge for so many people?
Shyam Iyer: As a social entrepreneur I continually push myself outside of my comfort zone. I have learned to hire and empower staff and beneficiaries from the community being served. Making this shift in outlook was incredibly difficult for a type-A person such as myself. And with so many staff members and beneficiaries depending on me to get this balance right, I had no choice but to embrace this type of management.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your opinion, what pivots need to be made, either in perspective or in work habits, to help alleviate some of the challenges you mentioned?
Shyam Iyer: A boss delegates and manages those who seek approval of their superior. A true leader collaborates, motivates, and inspires. The key to setting oneself apart as a leader is to focus on your employees and partners investing in an organization’s vision, and then working hand in hand on implementing and enhancing that vision. Once this alignment is created, ownership grows by allowing true employee autonomy with the understanding that success will be predominantly driven by participants closest to the market.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Shyam Iyer: Whether you have traveled to the developing world or less-developed parts of the USA, speak to the people you have met and build a non-profit to deliver economic empowerment to the locals. Your friends in those places will be able to link you with local partners and even beneficiaries that allow you to build an organization even without much funding. Start a scholarship fund or provide small loans to those who just need a little fishing lesson and will soon be fishing for themselves.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Shyam Iyer: You can find me on:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
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