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Shyam K Iyer of SKI Charities: “Know yourself”

Know the mission: the team is more than just a group. We are a family who seek to count on each other and help each other grow. There is no way to achieve this without delegation. Know the task: SKI Charities was faced with a dilemma. While I was traveling far from operations, we were […]

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Know the mission: the team is more than just a group. We are a family who seek to count on each other and help each other grow. There is no way to achieve this without delegation.

Know the task: SKI Charities was faced with a dilemma. While I was traveling far from operations, we were faced with an official challenge to our legal standing. I quickly decided that one of our field officers, with a background in administration and business, would be ideal to communicate our needs with an attorney and the government. Only she could handle this particular task, and delegating to her was ultimately successful in maintaining our operations.

Know the long-term effects: you are grooming your team to take greater and greater responsibility. It will make our organization sustainable and continue its mission well into the future.


As part of my series about the “How To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shyam K Iyer.

Shyam is a finance professional with a focus on international projects and emerging markets. His inspiration to launch SKI Charities in 2010 followed the Great Recession. The finance industry was rightly scrutinized at the time but he proposed that finance could also be used to support and empower people in the most isolated parts of our world.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I am a finance professional who founded SKI Charities in 2010. I started this nonprofit enterprise in order to redefine the perceptions of finance and charity in serving vulnerable populations in isolated parts of our world. Alongside my work overseeing SKI Charities I manage a finance company that invests in frontier markets. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur I worked as a hedge fund analyst, management consultant, and strategic advisor to Fortune 500 companies.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The challenges of entrepreneurship were many, starting with obtaining funding. To build SKI Charities from scratch I dipped into savings and raised small donations through our website. Through careful financial management and the pro bono work of attorneys and professionals who shared our vision, we survived the first year and have been building upon that foundation. The key to start-up success is involving like-minded individuals to both finance and operate the organization.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

The key to successful networking has been to listen to all sides, brainstorm potential solutions that address concerns while also maintaining respect for cultural markers such as age and experience, and communicating the need for compromise on behalf of the team and community served by our charity. Early on I experienced a few funny and awkward situations as I presented my idea to cultures that were new to me. For example, an important social custom overseas is to accept hospitality and engage with respect and patience and understanding of the challenges inherent to life in their country. Through trial and error I learned to try the local food, seek out conversations with varying members of the community, and take the time to sit and listen.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

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.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

Can you help articulate a few of the reasons why delegating is such a challenge for so many people?

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.

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?

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.

Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.

1- Know yourself: is it right for you to take the lead or involve a team member?

2- Know the team: who can handle the task? Will you be able to balance their autonomy with thoughtful guidance?

3- Know the mission: the team is more than just a group. We are a family who seek to count on each other and help each other grow. There is no way to achieve this without delegation.

4- Know the task: SKI Charities was faced with a dilemma. While I was traveling far from operations, we were faced with an official challenge to our legal standing. I quickly decided that one of our field officers, with a background in administration and business, would be ideal to communicate our needs with an attorney and the government. Only she could handle this particular task, and delegating to her was ultimately successful in maintaining our operations.

5- Know the long-term effects: you are grooming your team to take greater and greater responsibility. It will make our organization sustainable and continue its mission well into the future.

One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?

Delegation was at first a challenge for my type A personality but once again I had to step out of my comfort zone to make the project successful. When I began SKI Charities Corp. to serve the economically excluded, I found no existing organisation that was doing the same. Having no template or beaten path, leaving my comfort zone and learning to trust others in building a sustainable organisation was the only answer.

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. 🙂

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.

How can our readers further follow you online?

http://instagram.com/skicharities
http://facebook.com/skicharities

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


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