Impact at Scale could not have enjoyed its conversation with Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena more. You can hear in our voices how much fun we were having.
Aparna is the CEO of TORAJAMELO, a slow, ethical, sustainable, lifestyle brand that is working towards alleviating the cycle of systemic poverty in rural excluded communities, preserving the cultural heritage of “backstrap loom weaving” in Indonesia, preventing the breakdown of rural communities due to outward migration, and environmental sustainability of natural habitats.
Some of the topics that Aparna covered:
- Being raised by two feminists, a scientist father, and a banker mother
- Growing up in a household where there was no discrimination based on gender
- Her very traditional career arc prior to joining TORAJAMELO
- TORAJAMELO’s Founder’s life-changing experience with the weaving community in Toraja
- How telling the TORAJAMELO story led to her becoming its CEO
- The importance of having agency and a sense of ownership over your work
Some other titles we considered for this episode:
- You Should Carry Only Enough Luggage that You Can Manage
- Don’t Let My Gender Decide That I Need Help
- I Owned the Responsibility
- How Do You Navigate Through Ambiguity?
- I Didn’t Do It to Prove a Point
Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):
Michael Waitze 0:10
And now we’re actually on. Okay, let’s go. And let’s have some fun. Hi, this is Michael Waitze. And welcome back to Impact at Scale. Today we are joined by Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena, the CEO of Torajamelo, Aparna, thank you so much for coming on the show. And for putting up with my what appears to be a lame attempt at saying your name and the name of the company. I really appreciate you doing this. How are you doing today?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 0:39
I’m doing great, Michael. And as I was saying, I appreciate the effort you’re putting in pronouncing my names because it often gets mutilated, so really appreciate it. And I’m quite excited to have this conversation with you. Thank you for having me.
Michael Waitze 0:53
It is my complete pleasure. Can I ask you this? Before we get into your full background? Where are you from?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 0:59
I’m from Mumbai. Yeah,
Michael Waitze 1:01
you are from India. Okay, so can you explain your name to me? Can you just run through this a little bit? Three names? What’s the significance of these three names?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 1:09
Okay, so Aparna is my first name is another name for the [can not hear] with the sort of large, right. And yeah, I’m the youngest of three. So all of us have names with a so that’s me, Aparna, then. Bhatnagar is actually my mom’s maiden maiden surname. I wanted to keep her name as a feminist. And then Saxena is my father’s last name. Yeah.
Michael Waitze 1:35
Is it traditional in India again, just for my edification, visit traditional India to drop your mother’s name normally. So when your mother gets married, she drops her name normally. Yeah. And takes on the name of her husband? Is that normal?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 1:47
Indeed, yes. It’s very normal and very common. And you have to really ask that question. Right? I started asking that. And of course, it’s a big legal hassle to change it fully. So now I’ve just started using it. Right. I want to make sure that my mom’s name also stays my mom’s family name also stays along.
Michael Waitze 2:09
Yeah. I mean, you kind of want to make sure that it doesn’t go away, right? Indeed, yeah. I love it. Okay, let’s get a little bit more of your background for some context. And then let’s jump into the main part of this conversation.
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 2:19
So how do you tell Do you want me to go?
Michael Waitze 2:22
You know, I’ve got plenty of time go for it
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 2:28
sure. So I’m Aparna and you don’t need to tell my full name. From Mumbai, India, daughter of two feminists actually a scientist and a banker, a dad and mom. So was lucky to have really feminist upbringing, youngest of three, the only girl. So I think since a very young age, the concepts of your social justice and caring for the environment, each animals, but somehow, you know, inculcated in me because of where I was in Greene Township. So I really look back as those as the days when, you know, I think my whole thought process was seeded. And because of the way I was brought up, I just chose to do whatever I had to do as long as I owned the responsibility for it, right. So whatever decisions I’ve made, I own them be good or bad. I think that’s something that I learned, I was encouraged to go in, you know, still, whatever, as long as you know, I, you know, to back whatever I could. So, engineer, then did my MBA, followed a bit of traditional path. Yeah, I had a career in logistics for a while. But that gave me exposure to work in Mumbai, Delhi and Singapore. And that’s when the entrepreneurship bug hit me for the first time became an entrepreneur in Singapore, when down south. Yeah. And then, but at a period when I’m really supposed to impact entrepreneurship. Because I started working with this organization called Angels of impact in Singapore, that works with men led businesses, the women led social enterprises across ASEAN. And that was first a spoon tutorial Jamila telling you this, because the connection goes way back to end of 2016. Yeah, yeah. And then I ended up moving to Jakarta, but not with the raja Melo with E commerce company. Lazada. managing their logistics in Indonesia. Yes, I did. And was a very big lot. Parents enjoyed it because it’s, you know, a crazy country with clay crazy logistics challenges. And they also like, very interestingly, I moved to Vietnam to be part of an edtech Yeah, so that’s my second venture to entrepreneurship. Okay, I was there for six months. Very interesting experience enjoyed the country. But again, I guess similar reasons doesn’t have perfect Alia. alignment I was not fitting in. And anyway, I was supposed to come back to Indonesia to launch that business here. So I came back. This is Jan 2020. We are hearing use of COVID. Already. That’s when the founder reached out. Because I had continued to stay associated with Roger Mal was an advisor. Yeah, after I moved here. So she basically reached out and asked me to, essentially, basically asked me to take over she said, Aparna, I can’t do this, I need someone younger, I need someone more aligned, what is needed? And honestly, Michael, I was impressed, because very rarely founders recognize their own limitations, right. And so that’s humongous self awareness. Because I’ve had to have had had two interesting, you know, disasters or learning experiences. I actually took a step back and said, Let me think about it. Because this is literally needing a social enterprise in a country where we work with communities. It’s grassroots. Yeah. So I took a few months to think I was doing a project. Then i Ces to her in end of March 2020. And effective June 2020, I was the pandemic CEO of the regimen. That’s my journey.
Michael Waitze 6:11
What a great story. I want to back up a little bit, because I want to understand what it’s like. And I’m going to use the word little girl, right? Because when you’re three years old, and five years old, and six years old, I think that’s an okay characterization, obviously, not when you’re in your 20s and 30s. But what is it like? It’s a little girl being brought up by two feminists, right? And I just want to understand, like how, you know, do you know what I mean? Because it can’t be, it can’t be what’s the right word, like prescriptive your mom and dad can’t be continuously telling you, you have to do this, you have to behave like this. Do you know what I mean? But there’s a way that you get brought up. How does that feel? And what is it like? Can I understand that better?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 6:51
Sure. And a very good question. I’ve never been asked this. So interestingly, you don’t realize this is feminism till you step out and realize what’s happening outside with others. Yeah. And as you grew up, because for me, that was normalized. For me. It was normalized for both parents to be working my mother to be busier than my father. My father, who was a cook. Mom, how to cook was still a bad cook. Yeah. Better caregiver. Right was more involved. My and so I saw this right. So it’s basically assimilating that. And honestly, I’ll tell you, Michael, there were times I used to think like, are we an odd family? Oh, because I don’t see this around. Yes. So but then we were very happy to be odd. Yeah. I want
Michael Waitze 7:38
to understand during the growing up period, when you realize like when you go to your friend’s house, and you see the interaction between mom and dad, and you think that’s not what it’s like in my house, so which one is not the norm, right? Because when you grow up, it’s just the way like your family’s cooking is the best cooking in the world until you go out and you’re like, Okay, there’s different stuff out there. But it’s the same thing about like, the way you get brought up, you’re like, This is all I know. So this has to be right. You don’t I mean, when do you realize that? It’s different? But it’s okay. Or better? Even?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 8:11
Very interesting question. It’s, so both today involve parents, and it was a true partnership. So I think the positives of the partnerships was was there. Right? What maybe, sometimes I would feel because we would have different timings, right. So it, there wouldn’t be many times when we are all sitting down together for dinner. Okay, that was something that really wasn’t on mine key doesn’t happen, because, you know, does come early, or maybe has gotten delayed or some brothers out somewhere. So that was one thing where I used to feel Yeah, we don’t, you know, maybe don’t do that. But then we would these lovely weekends, where we would go out as a family and do tons of fun activities together. And, and it would be fine. But that was one noticeable thing. Interestingly, because since a young age, we were also put in daycare, because both parents were working Yeah, I think that independent drive was innocent start so somehow I think at least for me, I can’t speak for my brothers. Yeah, so I’m the only girl by the way is that I could just feel that what I have is right, somehow that this is good. And I’m happy with it because you know, both of them are exposing us to you know different things etc. So tomorrow I think I want to Yes, and I think that in my mom was always involved right it’s not that you know, you you had a invisible parents so that was never there with either of them. Right. But yes, as I said possibly dinners is what I would say that we wouldn’t have as many dinners and of course not lunches right because kids in school and parents at work. So that’s, that’s a different and we would both end up going to, like the three of us were in different daycares, right? So that that possibly. Yeah, you know, gave me what is called honestly, at fine for that time, right? No, it was, it was a different childhood, right? My mom being a career woman, I’m extremely proud of that fact,
Michael Waitze 10:17
I want to share something with you, because I don’t believe that I was actively raised as a feminist. But I want to share a story with you that I don’t think I’ve shared actually on any of my shows before. My grandfather, who actually ended up being a very successful businessman, right. could not read and write his own name, could not sign his own checks and could not do mathematics because he re stuttered. So it’s important to note he started, right. So when he was seven years old, they kind of ran him out of school because they thought he was, you know, mentally retarded, right? This is back in the teens in the United States, 19 teens, you know, and he kind of booted around a little bit, but ended up building a pretty decent business. And he married a woman who was like a mathematical genius. So she helped him. She was brilliant. My grandmother was brilliant. But she helped him through all these things. And because of that, I won’t say he worshipped her. But boy, he definitely leaned on her. And he needed her a lot, right? Because a lot of the stuff that he accomplished, he couldn’t have done because he couldn’t write his own name. He couldn’t sign his own checks, right? So she did all that for him. She did all this mathematics for him as well. And I think that that kind of bled down through my dad, into me and to my brother. So I don’t That’s why I asked you the question, right? Because, you know, my mom and dad never said, you have to be this way with women. But you just watched and you saw, these men could not do like the partnership was strong, right? Yeah. That’s why I asked you that question. Because I wanted to understand what it looked like from your perspective. Exactly the
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 11:47
same thing. I totally get you an exactly to your point. There was no prescription right? There was no like, this is the you saw that right. Me we saw them working together cooking together, also having fights okay. But, and we saw the the role they played, like all three of us learn cooking by watching them. And these were life skills. We were three very independent kids. I wouldn’t say my brothers are I am, you know, now we can become a bit lazy. But essentially, I would say that there was never discrimination. So I was never told, Hey, you are a girl. Right? So no, I never felt that. I was. And again, this becomes a very interesting story. Maybe it’s very normalized. But I was the only girl to take a mechanical engineering in the history of the college I joined Well, right. Yeah. And and because I wanted to so the I didn’t do it to prove a point. I, my father was a tinkerer at a very young age. So we were making sense of furniture, I still can, you know, fix a light bulb, make put a tube light drill holes, and it was all three of us. And we used to be like, Hey, this is child labor that but we now we look back, we look back and we feel wow, this was so different. And I have to share this interesting memory with you. Go ahead. So I walked into my, you know, engineering college hostel, and my parents had come to drop me off. I think it was my Yeah, I think my father, my father had come to drop me off. And what we had done is I needed a bookshelf. So we had dismantled the bookshelf I had at home, and it was like these four planks, and then it was tight. And of course, I had the tools, the screws and the screwdriver to fix it back up. And it was such an interesting sight for my later friends to walk into this room where they see this weird girl fixing up and they’re like, Who is this person? What is she doing? And like why? And for me, this was on, like normal, right? And this was like, expected. And there’s another thing I really am thankful to my dad, I know this is becoming a lot about my dad. But I have to eat the fact that there’s one basic principle he taught me that this whole thing about chivalry and everything. Never right he said you should carry only enough luggage that you can manage this whole thing about you know, the stereotype of women with bulky luggage and acting like that. Somehow with us. He was very clear, right, irrespective of whether you are a boy or a girl carry only enough that you can man it right. And that sort of stayed with me, you know, and they’ll have been times I have I’m like dragging and and whatever. But, you know, that sort of ingrained got ingrained in me that no, and people would often call me stuck up but it was not. I’m not putting anyone down. It’s just that if I can manage I will if I need help, I will ask but don’t let my gender decide that I need you know, don’t let my gender
Michael Waitze 14:52
I want to share two more things with you and then I want to get to Theresa Mello because I find it so interesting that to people who grew up in completely different cultures, I’m a man, you’re a woman, right and on literally on other sides of the world, and I’m also probably 20 years older than you are two things. One is I never remember. And I hadn’t really thought about this actually, until this conversation. I don’t remember my mom and dad ever saying to my two sisters and a brother, I don’t remember ever saying to them. Oh, don’t do that. That’s not for girls to do, ever. I don’t remember it at all. And I think that’s super progressive. For the 1970s. Right. But again, it’s
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 15:28
Wow. Yeah. So you grew up in? That’s impressive.
Michael Waitze 15:32
Yeah, you just take it for granted. So I think I kind of had the reverse experience of us, like when I got out into the main world, I’m like, Why is that guy acting like that to that girl anyway. But the second thing is, and this is the luggage thing. You know, every year for Halloween, we would go out and buy pumpkins. Yeah, right. So we all got our own. So there were four of us. So we’d go out and buy for pumpkins, and we’d carve them and leave them on the front doorstep. And my dad always said the same thing. You can have any pumpkin you want. All of you, as long as you can carry it yourself.
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 16:05
Excellent. This step for your dad? Exactly. That’s the point, right? Take as much as you can manage, right? And these are such simple value is you get it but they stay with you. And I now look back and exactly like you said, when I I mean, of course, I would see it at school. Also, there were differences, right? Sure. And by the way, I was in a colony of scientists and engineers, so supposedly progressive, but we had a lot to I saw a lot of regressive parenting around again, no comments, but so I was possibly maybe I was never the most intelligent, right? And maybe, whatever. That’s but yeah, whatever that is. For sure. Right. My friends, be it boys or girls. My parents knew all my friends. They knew everyone. Because I never had the need to hide anything. Yeah, in general. Right, of course. But yeah. So I think those things now that I look back, and when I stepped out, I realized that I was so lucky. And that’s why Michael, that there is this drive in me that I will make sure that I can make things better for others, because other women do not get that chance and opportunity. A lot of them think that being their gender is such a big disadvantage or even a curse. And it’s just so shocking and appalling. Right, yeah, and hits you, because you recognize your privilege. And that’s why I would really like to extend that. I mean,
Michael Waitze 17:38
at some level, what you say is what you become right. So the more you repeat this to yourself, the more you become that not true for everybody. But in some cases, I think that that can end up being really powerful. The other thing, and one of the reasons why I asked people for their background, when we record is not to just waste a lot of time or not for my own self interest. It’s because I don’t think you can separate who you are, from the things you care about. And it’s so clear, I don’t even have to ask you now why you do this thing? Because when you’re at Lazada, and nothing against it, right? Great. These are all really interesting businesses, when you’re sitting in the corporate world. You are fighting against this drive you have about who you are, and you have to have a way to go express it. You have to have a way to express it. No,
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 18:25
oh my god. Well, you’re in my mind what because that’s what it was like. Yeah, that’s what it was like, it was an excellent learning experience. But I used to think like, yeah, right. I’m on the dark side.
Michael Waitze 18:37
There’s just no way to express yourself, right? Because you have all this stuff inside you even inside the office. You can push for gender equality, you can push for all this normalization. And yet, there’s really no outlet for it. So explain to me how you get from there to Tora. Jamila. I mean, obviously, you told the story about how the founder and I love this. You’re right. Most founders are not self aware enough to say, this is a great idea. I’ve built like the minimum viable infrastructure to do this. But I can’t do it myself. And I need somebody like an insane woman over there to help me. And I say that with the utmost respect. Yeah,
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 19:15
yeah, yeah. And I you have to be crazy. So I have to admit, I am crazy. And I have to acknowledge and accept that because you have to, there has to be a bit of insanity to make decisions that seem out of the normal, right. And it’s, it’s fine.
Michael Waitze 19:31
I agree. So go ahead, and
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 19:32
how did you learn them? Again, it’s an interesting story. So backstory is that when I was with angels of impact, and Toronto was one of the businesses they were supporting right out of nine in ASEAN region. And as I was part of angels of impact, we needed to know stories of each of these businesses. So we had had an event and it seems in that event, I was talking about Roger Mello because we would also have these pop ups where you would talk about about the products and the stories, and she tells me that the Sami speaking about Roger mellow, and she sort of did a double take. And this is all working out my, like tears in eyes like, and also both of us have short hair. So this is my young Indian version like what’s happening. And I didn’t know this, by the way this she told me only in 2020. By the way, she’s never told me this only when I was, you know, deciding to take over. And then she said, you know Aparna has been looking at you. And there’s been no one who’s won my trust? Because Do remember to Roger Milan has been around since 2008. Oh, wow. Okay. Yeah, yeah, it was. Yeah, she started it in 2008. So, and I met her in 20. End of 2016 and 2017. Yeah, so.
Michael Waitze 20:49
So let’s dig a little bit deeper into this. What’s the idea around Toronto Melo? And how, because between 2008 and 2016. I mean, it’s almost like two different worlds. And then again, from 16 to 23. It’s like two different worlds as well. And not just because of the pandemic, just because of the impact of First of all, Indonesia was not a place where people considered to build startup companies, right? It just wasn’t second would not have been the place where people thought, here’s the place where I’m going to build a business that’s going to help women in particular, not that it shouldn’t be or couldn’t be, but it wasn’t just the image that people had. Right? Yeah. And the third is the technology world. And the ability to apply technology to this business and help people in remote areas communicate with each other properties that then they can affect this business is just completely different. Not to mention your logistics experience. So how do all these things tie together?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 21:43
Again, great questions. What is the backstory as to why did you use the word let’s call her for simplicity? DJ. sounds so cool. Yeah, so basically, she’s married to attorneys. And she was actually on a break into Raja way back in 2008. Because she’s being a banker and an activist, and she was actually burned out. She was like, gone with the world. Our break and go Raja is in beautiful Highlands. It’s a It’s beautiful place. Yeah. So she was actually relaxing. And she ended up seeing non Indigenous babies with oriental features. And she was surprised. She’s like, I’m deep in the highlands indigenous region also loves the Right, right. And these are, so why am I seeing these babies who don’t have local features? So what’s your right? I mean, have you had some migration? Is this a new community? So she inquired, when she came to know that these were actually kids of young tragedies, women born out of wedlock, when they were working largely as domestic helpers in Singapore, Malaysia, Jakarta and other places. And because they can’t keep the kids, they would come and drop them off with the grandparents. Now, why were they leaving, because there was lack of employment and weaving, which was one of the indigenous crafts was not that popular. At that time, it was losing its, you know, popularity. So hence, a lot of these women who were Weaver’s Yeah, who used to earn money through weaving, had to look for other sources of employment, right. So this hit her, this really hit her. And then because she had been activist, women’s rights activist.
Michael Waitze 23:22
So she’s married to attorneys, she’s there hanging out, relaxing, taking a break. And she notices that there are some children or young people around that don’t look similar to the other people there. And just kind of does all the math and realizes that some of the young ladies that had been living there that are from there said, there’s no place for me to work here. Because the skills that I have are kind of a dying industry. So I’m going to go to Singapore, go to some other countries and earn and when they were there, they had kids, but they couldn’t support the marriage, they sent the kids home and that she noticed that and then she put all this stuff together and said, I need to do something. Is that fair?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 24:01
Yes. Exactly that exactly that. And what she also discovered was a weaving collective, close to her mother in law’s village. Yeah. So because if you are asking people to stay back, you have to also figure like, how will relearn or are they willing, right? Because the willingness has to be there. So it started with the question of asking, if I buy your weaving, will you stay? Right? instead? Of course, right? Why if indeed, if I get to survive and thrive, because what would happen is it led to one of the biggest I think factors is when the mother is away, right? I mean, other parent, of course, but when the mother is away, it leads to break down of the family, right? And then the father would also be a migrant worker somewhere else and then these kids are growing up without their parents and then grandparents cannot take care. So there was a lot of other messes too, I mean, to share cases of wins Test and everything. So it was pretty scary, right? So so which is why it started from that, and from her just buying that weaving, and then her discovering that, hey, what you weave is not really fitting the market. So I No need to teach you what the market is about. Right? That’s where the capacity building piece came in that we have to train you for the market, because what you read for yourself is not what my market will need. So you don’t have to change your motives, but the color palettes, the quality, the standards, and that’s where this whole process of, you know, capacity building, training and development came in, which is the core right, which is the starting point. Every time we work with any community, we check on that. Yeah.
Michael Waitze 25:46
So do you feel because I want to put these two things together? Yes. Here’s this, and I’m gonna go back to you when you were a little girl. Here’s this little girl who’s brought up in an environment with two working parents raised as a feminist. Right, who goes around Southeast Asia, working in startup companies works for logistics companies, like it’s almost like you were born to do Torah mellowed in a way. And like someone was just waiting to pick you up, like the group of people to do this. Do you feel that way? And did you feel like when you met her, here’s the thing, because you said you were telling the story of it. And if you can tell the story to other people about something in which you’re not involved, almost as well, if not better than the person who founded it, they almost have to grab you and just jam you into it. So you do this? Yeah.
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 26:30
Yeah, yeah. And I didn’t know this. Right. So I didn’t know I was in radar, right? Because what I did was when I moved here with Lazada, because I had known to Roger Mello and I had visited her as part of my work. And she actually stayed over at my place when she had come to Singapore, right for that event. So I had liked her personality. So she’s like this, you know, by the way, Michael, this woman is 66. But she doesn’t look it. She is like a fireball, right? Jumping around. In fact, I have to tell you, I am the mature one. I literally have a 66 year old kid right now. So. So that’s why for me, this vibe was wonderful. And what I actually did was when I moved here, I reached out to to other social enterprises to actually I tried saying, Hey, I’m here. In my free time, I’d love to volunteer because I love your work. She’s the one who grabbed me. She said, let’s meet for coffee. I need help. I still remember we met through Starbucks on a Sunday, and I just moved on a Thursday. So we met on a Sunday, she said, Hey, can you help us? Can you can you get involved? Right? And then I ended up joining the board of advisor. Right. So I think it was also that I think we just gravitated towards each other. And I guess I was this voice of reason that she would see. Because I am known to just say things as they are. Difficult. Yes. And I’ve often been told, Hey, you’re not like a typical Indian woman. And I’m like, Okay, that is a lot of stereotyping. But yes, I’ve been told that actually, can I?
Michael Waitze 28:07
Sorry, you’re not like a typical Indian woman. So just the simple math says that there were 599 999, nine or none other, you know, million other Indian women who cannot all be the same. I know that seems obvious, right? Because if you’re half the population in India, which is 1.21 point 4 billion people, I’m not sure what typical means. But I get it, maybe you’re not what they mean is you’re not conservative, you’re very progressive, or at least thoughtful. But it’s a weird thing to say, right?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 28:36
It’s very busy, anticipates stereotyping. And sexism comes in, right? Where we attach these kinds of archetypes to the way people should be behaving. I mean, anyone should be allowed to behave the way I am. So I am who I am. I am an oddity. But my gender is secondary to that, right. It’s me as an individual the way I am. So, but I think that takes a lot of unpacking for a lot of people, right? We’ve all been conditioned so much that we tend to act on these stereotypes. So again, I think so she and I, just to bring back the story, because I don’t want to, I think we’ll otherwise keep chatting for next three hours, where are you going? is affecting we just gravitated towards each other. And then we stayed connected. I have to admit, because of my work, I used to almost do 14 to 16 hours of work, right? Because it is crazy managing last mile for Indonesia. And but, so, I wasn’t very deeply involved. But I got exposed, I visited Terada, I visited two other locations. So I got I was getting a sense of it and I and you right to I think sense it and I also realized it later is life was coming full circle for me with this, you know, so I went around and made a few mistakes. You know, I call it I call them errors of judgment, but the exposure I will not change anything, because it made me learn about people. And you know how we need to understand different dynamics and why. And I basically understood why my value, always the most important thing for me, right, values above everything else. And that sort of, I think God drilled in with each of these experiences I had had, and even in my career earlier, and I think it’s Roger Miller, which was essentially, you know, coming full circle, because finally, Michael, I was in a position where I wouldn’t be in the driver’s seat. So yes, I own the successes, failures, both, but whatever I do, it’s on me, and I’m not acting on someone’s order.
Michael Waitze 30:46
Sounds like common sounds like mom and dad would would recognize this attitude.
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 30:51
Yes, yes. Yes. I’ve been known as a grandma, since I was nine years old by, essentially call that by my mom. Okay. So, and actually, there’s another point is this two questions that I asked her, which again, DJ says, you know, she says that that sort of cemented our agreement is I told her when she said, Aparna, will you take over? I said, two conditions, right? And she’s the one who says, much better is honest, I asked her that. Do you trust me? Okay, so the trust part, you have to trust me. And secondly, you have to accept that I’ll be doing things very differently. And you have done, and you’ll have to, like, accept and have your peace with it. Right? So these two parts, and I said, these two are very critical, because if that’s not there, then, you know, this won’t work, even if we try. Yeah. And I think that sort of essentially, also, you know, told I gave her that moment to internalize and, and she said, Yes, I do. And I think that’s why there’s no looking because we fight like crazy. By the way, it’s not that we are always aligned, we fight, we literally fight like mother and daughter. She’s like my Indonesian mom. But we always aligned because we both are aligned on the mission and vision above anything else. It’s not about my ego, her ego. It’s about what Roger Melo stands for, where we want to take it and that we had crafted together. So therefore, whatever is in interest of this organization to succeed, we will do that. And I think that has been our grounding point. What what is
Michael Waitze 32:35
the mission? I mean, for people that haven’t been able to figure it out yet, what is the mission here?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 32:40
So our mission is to essentially work and support indigenous communities, folks around women. So there is indigenous, focused around women under the age of right, involving environmental, social, and cultural approaches. So essentially, we want to work with indigenous communities, focused on women, and enable them for economic sustainability, but keeping in view, environment, culture, and social sustainability. So that’s a new mission.
Michael Waitze 33:15
Got it, if everything is a funnel, and we can argue about this, if you want, but if everything is a funnel at some level, right? Your early experiences are at the top of the funnel, this is for you, right? Yeah, what drops down to the bottom of the funnel for you, as you get older and get more experienced and continue to build Harada Melo? What do you take from the other stuff that you had not just the logistics, but working at these bigger companies that can then help build this into something that actually is sustainable? Because it’s not a charity? Yeah, it’s a business and you don’t want it to be the first you want it to be the second so you have to square the profitability and sustainability inside of all these other things that you want to do. So how do you put those things together?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 33:58
Again, very, very important, I think we need more and more people who had corporate experience to come in this part of the world, this part of your business, the reason being with exposure to corporate world, we ended up having this professional process and a business orientation, which really helps in charting out path, especially when you’re crafting, you know, a strategy and you’re marrying your value creation with financial right. So it makes you understand that what what makes it sustainable. So I think that was really, really critical for me. And it also honestly, give you gives you the perspective of working in different kinds of setups and environment, right, developing that work ethic. Yeah. So, so honestly, that was very, very critical, like the process mindset, being able to think through things, being able to prioritize, you know, how do you marry How do you fight Find that balance. I am very grateful to my experience in DHL and Lazada for that, because that has helped me. Right, including the to startup experience. Yeah. Because that helped me figure, you know what to do, what not to do and what takes priority? Right? How do you navigate to ambiguity in this VUCA? World? Right?
Michael Waitze 35:20
Yeah, yeah. So it seems like the reason why I asked you that is because people always ask me, like you worked at Goldman Sachs. And now you’re doing this, they don’t seem to be related at all. And once I break it down for people and show them, well, here’s, you know, I was famous for process there, I have to do process here. So I take the process stuff, and I put it over here. That’s how I learned, I learned to be professional and on time, and like, respect the client, or all these other things, which is no different than what I’m doing over here. And if you just remove the end product, I can attach anything into that system and do it systematically and make the output better, if I understand it, but just like you were saying before, where you felt like trapped is the wrong word. But like you couldn’t express the things that you wanted to express. You’ve now found yourself in an environment where you can so I feel the same way to a certain extent where, where, as before, I looked around and said, This is really great. And I’m learning a ton. But shouldn’t we do this other thing another way? And the answer was absolutely not. Now I can affect that you can do the same thing. Yeah.
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 36:23
Agree, Agree. And what we what we are bringing forward are transferable skills, right? Yeah, exactly. The end product can be anything, but we learn these transferable skills and how we how we apply. So I couldn’t agree more with you. And again, it’s this sense of agency that get when you’re operating in your own right. With, with lesser barriers. Exactly. Because not that I didn’t do I was always as I said, the seeds of volunteering, working for causes related to women environment, education, I have been right, I have been doing since a very young age, but to what level, you know, to what level can you give time? Can you give it direction, it was limited by various factors right here. Now, those factors are less not that they disappear. But they are much less of a stronger sense of agency. And I can set directions with Roger Mello, I can decide that this is what we stand for, as long as you know, it’s good of the organization. And that I think it brings in a great sense of, of course, responsibility, but also a sense of agency that I stand for this. Right. And I think that’s been quite freeing for me. Yeah.
Michael Waitze 37:38
How do you transfer that sense of agency, right? This idea that this idea that your parents gave you that you can do whatever you want, but you have to take responsibility for it, you have to own the good and the bad, the successes and the failures, and that the failure does is not fatal. And this is something I used to say to my daughter, when we live together, she’s now University, no individual day is fatal. Right. But you have to own it. So how do you transfer that sense of agency and convince people because remember, before we talked about this idea of not being prescriptive, so there’s not just one way to behave? But there’s a philosophy around the behavior, how do you transfer that?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 38:16
They interesting, I think the thing that’s really worked is living it on walking the talk. There’s one thing I stand for is I see what I mean. And I do as I see, right? So people, if I’m talking about this, they will see me doing it. And I think that makes an impact that they say, okay, she is like this, right? If she’s nagging you about plastic, she herself is strict. Right? You don’t see her moving with a plastic bottle later, right? Because that’s cognitive dissonance. So I think, first one, first way to gain that acceptance again, that is by walking it. And then the other part is that trying to see what you can do to create a similar environment for others so that they can express themselves, right? Which is why for my younger team members, my mentees, interns, I do whatever you can to create that environment where the stand for Your Word, you know, they figure out first of all their what their values are, because that itself is a journey. And then if they can stand for things and you know, own their lives, because often, most of us are living lives that are not our own, and we are caught in the spiral. And these are the richest of people to whoever right? There is no like this goes across classes and whatever. And when you see that in my mentoring, coaching or whatever advising I do or sharing, that’s what I try to tell people that you have to own this, whatever it is, please live your life. You’re not getting anything else. Yeah.
Michael Waitze 39:55
So I want to say one thing and then I’m gonna ask you one more question and then I’ll let you go but I remember when I SickKids somebody’s saying most men live lives of quiet desperation. And I just, I can’t get it out of my head and I just refuse to do it. I’d rather, I used to I’ve always said, like I’ve read, I’d rather be destitute and poor than live this life of like quiet desperation. The last thing I want to ask you, because I do feel like you and I could talk for hours and hours, which means we’ll have to be back. But you’ve used the word stories, a lot. Wired story is so important, and how can we help some of the women that you’re helping in these indigenous communities to tell more of their stories? Go ahead.
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 40:38
Yeah, stories are super important, because they, they then take the context beyond, you know, where they are happening to other places, right. And it’s one of the best ways to communicate, right? Is Yeah, is to is to, you know, it’s it manifests into this, this tale, right, and it’s so much more relatable than then essentially giving some facts right, I can also burden you with facts, you’re gonna have just fall asleep. But if I tell you the story about a woman, and how her life change, it just makes it so much more relatable, relatable, emotional connect, and it stays with you longer. Yeah. So I think that’s why we believe that stories need to be told and shared, and also why stories are important, because we are all suffering from stereotypes about different parts of the world, right? We’re one part things, this is what is happening. And I think hopefully, the real stories, when they come out, they they bridge, that gap of understanding of what, you know, these people and the world is like, how could you help these women? Well, please buy our products, share our stories, we are always looking for partners, who would want to work with us on you know, various ways, like CO designing a product, going and working in the communities, you know, doing capacity building, and of work with us right figured out ways in which we could look at synergies. So really, in many ways you can be part of this journey. I think I’ve told this to you before, I believe that future of any business, and our world is collective action collaborating, we can’t do this alone. There is so much to be done, we’ve made a mess of the world, I think the kids are going to look at us are are already looking at us and you know, with their eyes rolled and so I think it’s incumbent on all of us to really work together look at collective action, rather than thinking of okay, this is my competition and I’m going to work in my silos so that’s been my core focus. So I’m really looking forward to having anyone or whoever reach out to me and say Aparna wants to know what you’re doing? Is there ways we can work with you collaborate and you know, take this forward?
Michael Waitze 42:57
What’s the best way to get in touch with you? What’s the best way for people to reach out to you?
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 43:02
LinkedIn, Instagram, my email, I can pass to you. I’ll give you all my details. I’m available on all social media platform, except Tik Tok. I just can’t do that. Sorry. But please, please reach out and let’s have a conversation.
Michael Waitze 43:18
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena, the CEO of Torajamelo, thank you so much for doing that. That was insanely incredible.
Aparna Bhatnagar Saxena 43:26
Thank you. I had it was literally like I’m catching up with the frenzy. We have to catch up Michael. Okay. You have to have a separate call.