Wong Lai Yong (Malaysia)
Social Entrepreneur/Career Consultant
At the end of 2016, we joined a girls’ night out. It was a very unique event in which African/Asian female social entrepreneurs who are working on social problems and Japanese career women shared their failures (mainly in English) with each other while enjoying Italian dishes. They sometimes stopped eating to listen to others and share their pasts.
When the event was almost over, an Asian woman greeted us in Japanese. That’s Ms. Wong Lai Yong. Her Japanese was so fluent that we thought she was Japanese but, actually, she is a Malaysian who was running a company in her home country. We were immediately interested in her activities. We proposed having an interview with her, while exchanging business cards with each other, the next time she came to Japan.
About a year later, we received a message from Wong. “I will be coming to Tokyo soon so could we have an interview that you proposed to me before?” – She did not forget the offer from us! When we met her again, she was very bright and laughed much like a girl. However, she is actually a woman with a noble soul and who is continuously seeking things that only she could do to add value to others.
*Interview at Meguro (Meguro-ku)
Photos provided by Wong Lai Yong
The first penguin
I’m not so keen to do things that others have been providing good value added. When I was in Japan, I had volunteered with many different groups in search of my purpose, but I ended up not staying in any. Through the process, I realized I am someone who wants to create my own platform.
I like to start something from scratch. Such a disposition appears in “First Penguin”, which is the name of my company. There is always this burning inner desire that I just aspire to be like the penguin who first jumps into the sea and seeks food without fear of natural enemies.
My job at First Penguin is to provide career consulting and youth education for middle school, high school and college students. Through that, it is my mission to support them to shine vividly, to land on a job that is purposeful.
Not only Japanese but also Malaysians tend to be bound by social expectations and stereotypical thinking (e.g. “masculinity” and “femininity”). School counselors advise academic majors according to grades and students do not take an inward journey on what kind of person they want to be. College students and parents are also looking for jobs in terms of “prospects” and high income. Again, the utmost important point of “Who Am I?” is missing.
I hope all young people would open their own path, the most suitable for themselves. In order to achieve that, it is necessary for me to be a role model for them, which means I need to be a “First Penguin”.
To me, if anyone has done exactly the same thing, it would be unnecessary for me to pursue it. This is because I believe that there is a deeper meaning and purpose in the hardships I have experienced in Japan.
Encounter the era of “yen appreciation”
Currently I am based in my home country of Malaysia after living in Japan for about 16 years. I graduated from a university in my home country and worked for a year at a subsidiary of a Japanese corporation. After that, I studied and worked in Japan from 1997 until the beginning of 2013.
Regarding when I “touched” Japan for the first time, I was a junior high school student then. I learned that my classmate was studying French. I told my father, “I also want to learn French.” My father said “If you want to study a foreign language, then study Japanese!” an unexpected reply. The reason was because of the world economic situation at that time.
In the mid-1980s, the value of the Japanese yen rose sharply as a result of the Plaza Accord. As a result, investment from Japan was actively taking place in Malaysia. It brought a positive impact to my family as we run a driving school.
The number of Japanese expatriates to subsidiaries in Malaysia increased and this caused an increase in the number of Japanese who applied for international driving licenses. Because of that, my father started to study Japanese. Due to his encouragement, I also started studying Japanese when I was in the second grade of junior high school.
I went to a local Japanese language school and studied together with adults. My Chinese-Malaysian teacher said on the first day of the class, “The Japanese Ministry of Education (Currently Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) offers scholarships. Why don’t you aim for one?” From that day onwards, I had the dream of studying in Japan with a scholarship.
In 1990, I was one of the winners of a Japanese speech contest. The prize was a one week visit to Japan. Two years later, in 1992, I came for a study visit to Japan for those who achieved excellent results in the Japanese written exam, sponsored by The Japan Foundation.
What can burn my soul?
After graduating from University of Malaya in Malaysia, I worked for a Malaysian subsidiary of Sony Corporation. Then, I furthered my studies in Japan at Keio University Graduate School of Business Administration (commonly known as “Keio Business School”) with a scholarship from the then Japanese Ministry of Education and graduated with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 2000.
Later, I received a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Yokohama National University with a scholarship from the Rotary Yoneyama Memorial Foundation. Studying in Japan had always been my dream. Moreover, I experienced being an exchange student at the Anderson School of Management at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for four months while studying at Keio Business School.
I have consistently studied business administration in Malaysia, Japan and the US. When I was a student, there were just a few universities and major fields of study in Malaysia. We only had a few options such as legal studies or business administration, accounting for Liberal arts students.
My parents had the misconception that if I study law, I have to defend those who committed crime and caused harm to the society. “Choose business administration over law.” I think that my family running a driving school is the reason I was interested in business administration. I had been answering phone calls from the customers since I was a child (lol).
I was influenced by my supervisor at Keio Business School who is a scholar. I continued to pursue my doctorate degree, but I realized that to be a researcher or scholar was not suitable for me. I hated writing academic articles (lol).
I decided to change my career path to early childhood education and be a trainee at a kindergarten. You might be surprised as such a big shift of a career path from business administration to early childhood education. However, that was by no chance but a word from a professor when I studied at Keio Business School.
“You are proficient in languages and have a good understanding of business administration. But that is not enough unless you are an expert in a particular industry and know it from A to Z”.
I asked myself: “Which industry would allow my passion be continuously burned?” – “Education” came to my mind!
Although I grew up in a very ordinary and common family, I received education from kindergarten to primary school, high school and university in a good environment. Moreover, I could advance to Master and Doctoral program overseas (Japan), and I took a completely different life path from my relatives. It was thanks to my parents’ efforts and the scholarship.
In order to realize my dream, I worked towards acquiring the national childcare qualification in Japan while gained on-the-job training at a kindergarten operated by one of the members of the Rotary Club which offered me a scholarship.
Then I worked at a Japanese major childcare service company operating childcare centers. I started my career in the field by taking care of children, including changing diapers. After obtaining the qualification, I was transferred to its head office and engaged in planning and launching of workplace and authorized childcare centers.
Going to the places that need me
I became interested in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) through the social enterprise seminars that I attended then. I joined the Tokyo office of a CSR consulting company which operates in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.
There seems to be no association between early childhood education and CSR, but I thought my dream of “Providing children and youth in Asian developing countries the chance to receive education and working opportunities” could be realized through the CSR activities of Japanese multinational companies operating in these countries.
In addition, I wanted to educate youth to be socially responsible people who would be able to think of how the actions they took would affect the society. I aspired to become a career consultant for them. I enjoyed opportunities to receive education.
I made turnarounds many times as I hit the walls after graduation. I think I could have lived a little more smoothly if I had someone who advised me about the way I should go – That’s who I needed. After obtaining CDA (Career Development Advisor, which became the national qualification “Career Consultant” in Japan since April 2016) in September 2012, I gained experience by organizing free career consulting workshops for Japanese university students and business people who wanted to change their careers. I gained experience and knowledge through activities and learning.
Then, I established my own company called “First Penguin” in Japan on October 1, 2012 in order to conduct the CSR consulting/training and planning/implementation of educational programs for youth in Asian countries. But, I was not going to continue working in Japan because I wanted to contribute at places which needed me more.
I left Japan, where I had lived for 16 years, and returned to Malaysia. In January 2013, I moved my business to Penang, my hometown, where I have been conducting one-on-one career consulting, workshops and camps for youth.
First Penguin offers young people opportunities to think by themselves and a platform to deliver their thoughts to others.
What can I do as a person who is the only one in the world?
Now, I want to focus on conveying my own ideas and philosophy to various people through writing and videos, that was why I started the YouTube channel called “Career 360” and Facebook page to share accordingly.
I have held many workshops and camps so far but the actual number of people I could reach has been limited. Also, for workshops and camps, we need to design average level contents suited for people with both high and low consciousness. I think it’s time that I shift to target those who really want to be inspired by others.
I will still be involved in educating young people through workshops and lectures. But, I also want to convey to the highly motivated people the ideas and philosophies that were fostered through my experience and knowledge in various fields.
I want to inspire people to find their life purpose and prompt people to think about the inconsistencies in the society in order to find ways to solve them together – those are what my soul seeks. In other words, those are my “soul business”.
The important things for youth and adults are the same; “To have inner strength”, “To do what you want to do regardless of other people’s opinions”. Those attitudes will pave the way for you and people around will support you – I believe so. That’s who the “First Penguin” is.
You are the only one in this world. Nobody is exactly the same as you. Always ask yourself, “What can I do?”. Listen to your heart. That’s how the first penguin is and everyone who lives in this society will be like that – that is my ideal world!
What is Japan to you?
If I did not come to Japan, I would not be who I am today.
Many things that I have been involved in have been greatly influenced by my experience in Japan, such as the management philosophy of the First Penguin, my own life purpose, my strong commitment to onsite efforts. If I did not study Japanese, if I did not come to Japan, I would not have practiced those things.
I came to Japan from Malaysia, but to me, it’s not “coming” to Japan. It’s “coming back” to Japan!
Japan is “my second home”.
First Penguin Facebook page (English/Chinese): facebook.com/FirstPenguinGlobal
Career 360 Facebook page & YouTube channel (English/Chinese): Facebook YouTube
Her article on Chinese Weekly (Chinese): Click!