It’s a gloomy afternoon, but Veronica Colondam, founder of Yayasan Cinta Anak Bangsa (YCAB), cheerfully greets Prestige in her office at Sunrise Garden, West Jakarta. She has just published her first memoir, Journey to Impact, and we want to talk about it with her.
“It’s a life journal from my parents’ time, my childhood to motherhood, that eventually inspired me to inaugurate YCAB,” says Veronica of the book, which is published by Editions Didier Millet and is available at Periplus and on Amazon. “It is a spiritual journey of my personal story as a woman, a mother, and as a female leader – founding an organisation with my bare hands and nurturing it for twenty enduring years.
“In the book, I associated giving birth (I have had three natural childbirths and labour) to the birthing and growing pains of nurturing an organisation. The first half-decade was brutal. We were still unsure of a lot of things. All we had back then was the courage to bring forth change in the world. And since none of us, neither founders nor management, came from a non-profit or impact space, an induction was needed to really take us out of our comfort zones.
“The second half was relatively easier. We understood how non-profit world worked a bit better. We welcomed several corporate partners to work with us, and these developments gave us more negotiating power. Now after almost 20 years, we are experiencing another induction, which requires major organisational restructuring.
“But like I said, pain and pleasure must exist in life. Not only to put balance, but to make our existence more meaningful. I learned that painful experiences refine me. Like having a sparring partner to motivate me to score better and fighter harder, I see pain as a wake-up call to soldier on,” she explains.
Veronica also values the importance of giving with all your heart “I dedicated one chapter of my book on this. It isn’t easy, again there’s always a challenge and rejection, but we endure it.” From carrying out a reconstruction project in Sirombu (the west coast of the island off north Sumatera after the tsunami attack) together with Monaco Asia Society, United in Diversity (UID), and the Zero One Foundation and the mission trips to the Missionaries of Charity, a congregation established by Mother Theresa in Kolkata, India and creating impactful programs to break the poverty cycle in Indonesia, she has done them all passionately.
“I believe God taught me something by giving this experience. The moment that blew my mind was that, in one of the rooms at the congregation where the nuns and volunteers could pay their respects to the late Mother Theresa, and I saw this humble sign: ‘Give Until It Hurts’. That phrase threw me into years of personal spiritual contemplation about what it means to truly give. I finally understood that giving is a vertical business.
“Quoting Prince Albert of Monaco, when he visited the buildings and houses at Sirombu, he said: ‘At the end of the day, it is not about providing them with houses and buildings. It is about giving them hope. Hope that the outside world cares for them. A powerful tool to survival.” Then a biblical verse came flashing through my mind and these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. This can turn hostility into hospitality. Today we have already touched 3.5 million young lives and we aim to reach out 5 million young people by 2020 in six Southeast Asian countries while raising US$50 million in social investment funds.”
Writing several books before about guidance in parenting and dealing with risky behaviour while producing a memoir at 46 years old may seem quite young for some people, but Veronica has her own reasons: “I feel like these proverbs represent me better ‘Gajah mati meninggalkan gading, harimau mati meninggalkan belang’ (dead elephant left its ivory, dead tiger shed its stripes). People leave a legacy through their writings.
“I believe this memoir is the A series. There will be a B series, maybe in the next 10 to 20 years,” she grins. “But in between, I’m thinking to write a few books, more like ‘how-to’ book. The ideas will be fun, with subjects about doing social enterprise for dummies and how-to have fun in fundraising,” says the woman who is recognised as one of the United Nations’ nine Solutions Makers.
Aside from writing, Veronica, a holder of a Master’s degree in Social Science from Imperial College London, finds joy in sharing. “I love to speak a lot to everyone as young as the fifth grader to university students and I think mentoring young people is awesome. The investment at that age is golden. I see myself going forward in the next 20 years doing what I truly love” she says.
She recently became a Big Circle mentor, along with Arto Soebiantoro (CEO of Gambaran Brand), Rene Suhardono (Limitless Campus), William Tanuwijaya (CEO of Tokopedia), Billy Boen (founder of Young on Top) and others. “These are really amazing, selfless people who continuously inspire and make a real impact in the world every day,” says Veronica.
This year, YCAB placed at No. 40 among the world’s top 500 NGOs. It’s the only NGO from Indonesia in the top 50. What is Veronica’s hope for the future? “I hope that YCAB will outlive me. Because the cause itself is noble: helping youth to be self reliant should stand for hundreds of years. That will be my greatest contribution to the world. Seems ambitious but not impossible. I purposely built a structure that perpetuates YCAB’s existence in the world. Why? Because this is not just YCAB business – it’s about our nation’s presence in the world.
“But everything YCAB has done, I owe it all to God’s grace. When people ask me ‘how have you achieved all this, Veronica?’ Honestly, a lot of things I didn’t know how to do it all at the beginning, but I guess God led the way. His grace truly flows when you are simply willing.”