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In our April 2022 cover story, Francesca Chia reveals how she finds empowerment in a job that pays to be flexible. Below is an excerpt of our interview with this remarkable young woman

If you had a choice between doing an internship at one of the most prestigious financial news outlets in New York or working at a bakery operated by a social enterprise in Chicago, which would you choose?

The answer for entrepreneur Francesca Chia was not as simple as the two experiences shaped her into the person she is today. While studying in the US, Chia recounts one particularly enlightening experience where she wrote her dissertation on how social enterprises can use upskilling as a means to reduce unemployment. She volunteered to work at the Sweet Miss Giving bakery to conduct her research. There, she was humbled by the dedication shown by a homeless man who always began his work shift an hour earlier, remaining focused and dedicated to the task at hand.

Her experience at the bakery contrasted with her internship in New York, where she worked behind a help desk and observed the company culture where employees regularly grab coffee, snacks and chit-chat throughout the day.

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In Chia’s view, today’s labour market has a lot of frictions and inefficiencies as job applicants are judged based on their academic qualifications alone. “That experience opened my eyes as it taught me that you shouldn’t judge a person by their academic results. I believe that everyone should be treated equally and have an opportunity to prove themselves. These are values I carry with me to this day,” she says.

Inspired to make a positive impact in the community, she left her full-time job of four years at Boston Consulting Group in 2014 to start GoGet at age 26, an on-demand service that connects gig workers, called GoGetters, with jobs offered by businesses and individuals.

“We want to change that narrative to the point where there are more flexible arrangements afforded to people, and they don’t necessarily need to work in a cubicle to earn a living,” she says.

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That experience taught her that people don’t need to come from specific backgrounds to be excellent and that a person’s attitude makes a big difference. It is why Chia believes we can’t judge people purely on their academic achievements because that would mean ignoring their work ethics.

Her mother, Datuk Yvonne Chia, who was the first female CEO of a commercial bank in Malaysia, is her role model. “My mother presented to me a version of the world where it was common for a woman to have a family and a successful career,” the 33-year-old says.

The youngest of three siblings, Chia grew up thinking there was no glass ceiling over her head because her mother introduced her to a world where there wasn’t any. As she grew older, Chia woke up to the fact that not all working women held high positions in organisations.

“While you could say I grew up naive to being judged by others, I see it as a positive thing because while others may think twice or doubt themselves, I would grab any opportunity in front of me. In a sense, my mother is very much the go-getter I aspired to be,” she adds. “I owe a lot to her because without her, I would not be the person I am today.”

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When Chia first started GoGet, taking on the mantle of a leader was not familiar to her. She didn’t expect that she had to set an example for her staff. “As a female leader, I believe it is important to run the company with compassion, empathy and kindness."

Chia certainly has her finger on the GoGet community’s pulse. She is encouraged by the positive feedback the company has received, especially from mothers who can continue working part-time thanks to the flexibility offered by the jobs on the platform.

“I feel proud when I hear these stories from the community as it shows how much our services are needed. GoGet creates opportunities for people who have a full-time job to earn some extra income while having the flexibility to work around their timetable,” she says.

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