A Myanmar national and an ethnic woman, Kaliar Saw, ’14 DeBoer Fellow, is a triple minority among her peers as she performs her daily work at World Vision International as a Strategy Specialist for the East Asia Region. She has to be assertive and cannot expect anything to come easy. We sat down and asked her about her experience working and leading in a multicultural environment at the regional level.
DeBoer Fellowship (DF) staff: Why are you in this field of work? What motivates you to do what you do?
Kaliar Saw: Before I began working for a development organization, I had worked in the private sector. As a young, fresh graduate, my first priority was to get a good job with good salary. Later, I discovered what my calling is and learned what I value. I wanted to work for the good of the community, especially with underprivileged children and families. There are unjust systems and structures that contribute to making the poor to be poor. These systems hinder these people from fulfilling their God-given potential. Growing up as a child from a poor family, I knew that children suffer the most from poverty. They become subject to abuse and exploitation, even by their own parents. I believe that investing in children and youth will help to break the vicious cycle of poverty. I want everyone to increase in their awareness of the issues that children and youth face and to do something good for them.
DF staff: As a Strategy Specialist for East Asia Region, what are the challenges in seeking collaboration with colleagues from different countries with different cultures and how do you solve them?
Kaliar Saw: The most challenging thing is effective communication because most of the time we, at World Vision, communicate through email and virtual meetings. For effective communication, I have to set a proper agenda, key take-aways and follow-up actions with timelines for every meeting and discussion. As we are working from different countries with different time zones, I also need to be flexible with working hours and consider mutual convenience. We acknowledge there are cultural differences among us. As a result of these differences, we have developed and nurtured mindsets and behaviors that are built on our organizational values and common goals. We try to problem solve together. I try share my perspective on particular issue, so that I can at least mitigate the risk of misinterpretation. Differences and diversity are not always barriers but rather they can be assets to prompt us to think and act innovatively to overcome challenges that arise.
DF staff: How do you get satisfaction from your work?
Kaliar Saw: The work that I am doing now is what I have chosen because I perceive it as an occupation (my calling). I feel that the vision, mission, and core values of World Vision International and what I value are in line with each other. Therefore, being a part of my current organization is very fulfilling. As for day-to-day activities, I put attainable short-term goals and try to achieve them. I try not to go beyond my capability and not miss deadlines so that I can accomplish my tasks and celebrate. Although I work independently, I have to remind myself not to work in a silo, isolated from others. Rather than being competitive, we must learn to complement each other. The results we achieve together are more satisfactory, I think.
DF staff: Why are empathy and collaboration essential in leading a large team in an international organization like World Vision International?
Kaliar Saw: When we work as a team, no matter how big or small, empathy and collaboration are always essential. As for World Vision, a development organization, what we expect from our inputs and investment is human transformation. Therefore, empathy is very crucial for us. We take time to listen to the voices of children and the communities we serve. Only then can we design programs and projects that will tackle the root causes of vulnerability. We want to see lasting change in communities and impact people’s lives with our service. We do more than implementing a program or project; we seek to collaborate with anyone who has the best interests of the children and communities that we serve. We believe collaboration will move us further than we can imagine. With community participation, they will have more ownership with their development, leading to sustainable, long-term impact.
DF staff: What are some of the most challenging things you encounter in your work?
Kaliar Saw: In the fast-changing world, approaches to tackling the root causes of poverty are changing. We, as an organization, learn to do new things and shift our initiatives to align with the ever-changing context. The most challenging thing for me is to balance adaptability and quality of work. Before I cascade down and implement any new initiative to field offices, I have to consider the questions: How could this add value to our existing practices? What is essential? What is the minimum requirement to do? Only then can I get buy-in from the field offices for a smooth implementation.
DF staff: How have DF’s experiences impacted your life and career?
Kaliar Saw: My experience with DeBoer Fellowship widens my network and gives opportunities to engage with people from various fields. It has helped me to see things from various angles and different perspectives. I have learned to be more flexible, to value different opinions, and to live in harmony in my personal life and at work. As a Lifelong Fellow, having the opportunity to sharpen my skills with up-to-date learning is valuable and it strengthens me to take more responsibilities in life and career.
Kaliar Saw has been serving in World Vision International, a global Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization, as a Strategy Specialist for East Asia Region. Kaliar has broad knowledge and experience in strategy development, business plan development, and monitoring. In her current role, she has helped World Vision Offices in Cambodia, China, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam in developing their country strategy. She earned Master of Development Studies from Yangon University of Economics and holds a Bachelor of Science in Zoology with Honors from University of Mandalay. Kaliar Saw is a DeBoer Lifelong Fellow, ‘14 and she has been actively involved in DeBoer Fellowship and the Lifelong Fellow network.