The Woman Leader of Tomorrow: A Conversation with Winny Arindrani, Co-President of Net Impact and Arts@Fuqua Clubs at Duke University

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Winny Arindrani, Co-President of Net Impact and Arts@Fuqua Clubs. Photo by Author

To wrap up Women’s History Month, here’s another article from yet another amazing female leader. Read on to hear more about Winny Arindrani and her experience leading several on-campus organizations as well as Tatoen, her own startup.

International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 every year. In the US, it’s a time to commemorate social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I sat down with Winny Arindrani, a second-year Master of Business Administration (MBA) student at Fuqua School of Business, Duke University.

Winny was born and raised in Jakarta. Before Duke, she worked in investment banking in Singapore. Upon graduating in May, she will be working at McKinsey & Co. “I hope to combine my finance experience with my consulting experience to build a well-rounded skill set that will help me build a long-term career in the social impact space in Indonesia,” Winny said.

You don’t need to know Winny for years to conclude that she is a promising woman leader set to make great impact in the near future. As for now, she currently serves as co-president of the Net Impact Club and Arts@Fuqua Club. Interestingly, she is also a lead singer of Fuqua’s school band, Supply & DaBand.

Winny is the only woman member of Supply & DaBand. Photo provided by Winny
Winny is the only woman member of Suppy & DaBand. Photo provided by Winny

How would you reflect on your time in the US so far?

I’m truly grateful because this is a rare opportunity that not a lot of people come by. Being in the US, I think it gives me a whole new perspective on life. Being away from your family, it’s not only about the independence and the freedom that you get, but also the experiences that you gain. In terms of the learning process, especially, I feel more comfortable in expressing my opinion. I can defend my opinion, but at the same time, I can still keep that Asian root, still being respectful but making enough points to make myself heard. I learned that a lot, especially here in the US because the environment pushes me to do that.

I’m also grateful to get a chance to study at one of the top business schools in the world. I have always wanted to attend an MBA program since I was 18. Taking an MBA program taught me to prioritize and have a balance in everything I do. For instance, I have learned that having that core skill set such as finance, marketing, and other business skills is essential, but at the same time I also need to keep myself abreast on the issues surrounding the business world. It’s not only about profits; for instance, you also have to understand climate change and how your company contributes to this issue and decide on actions to address this problem.  

How does your experience here relate to your long-term goal in Indonesia?

My goal is to go back to Indonesia and contribute to my country. I knew I wanted to come to the US for business school, but I also knew that I wanted to return to Indonesia in the long run. In five to ten years I want to be more involved in the impact investing area. Specifically, I want to focus on projects that have greater impact such as women empowerment.

About five years ago, I started a social enterprise called Tatoen, and I knew I wanted to return and continue scaling it. I have been taking some related courses here at Duke, such as Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing. These courses have opened my eyes; for example, it helped me understand that making profits and creating impacts can go hand in hand. I also learned about leadership; you can be a great leader or an amazing CEO of a private company, but it’s no use if you cannot speak the language of public sector or government because at the end of the day, for a company to be sustainable, you need to work with all stakeholders, including governmental institutions.

Could you explain more about Tatoen, the social venture that you initiated?

Tatoen is a social enterprise that manufactures and sells ceremonial attire for Muslim women. At the root of it, it’s about women empowerment—we employ almost 50 women in Pemalang, Central Java. These women are often the wives of farmers or truck drivers and though they have the time and desire to work, they have little opportunity to do so. At Tatoen, these women are able to do embroidery and beadwork on the garments. I started Tatoen five years ago with my mother who is a fashion designer. It is a relief to know she can help run day-to-day operations while I am here in the US, though I still had plenty of midnights Skype calls to deal with the time difference.

You are in the second year of your study now. How did you survive the first year? 

This is not my first experience living abroad, but it is my first time studying abroad. It’s still hard, even though I have lived abroad in Singapore. Singapore is different—even though it’s an international environment, it’s still in Asia so the context is different. Being an international student here in Durham can be tough sometimes—I feel like everyone is amazingly talented, and it can feel like it is hard to keep up while adapting to a new culture and adjusting to speaking English as the primary language.

The first few weeks of my first year were really tough because I was still scrambling around, trying to make as many friends as possible. In my first few weeks I signed up for clubs, including Net Impact Club and Arts@Fuqua Club. I also joined the school band.

Winny with Arts@FuquaClub. Photo provided by Winny
Winny with Arts@FuquaClub. Photo provided by Winny

How did you enjoy your first classes in the first semester?

During the first few weeks of class, I didn’t speak at all because I felt very intimidated. However, I told myself that I have to change this situation, especially because I carry my country flag on my shoulder.

To solve this situation, this is what I did: I read each case and then I tried to relate the case with the experience that I had back home or when I was in Singapore. Then I wrote all the talking points for the upcoming classes as it helped me a lot in structuring my thoughts. Once I have those bullet points, I know exactly what message I would like to convey  to the class. This strategy has worked well for me. English is not our native language so it takes more time to digest the information on the readings and to speak what’s on our mind as compared to the native speakers.

Group Study at Fuqua. Photo Provided by Winny
Group Study at Fuqua. Photo Provided by Winny

You currently serve as a Co-President for Net Impact Club. Have you enjoyed this experience so far?  

I’ve really enjoyed it! By being a Co-President of Net Impact Club, I learned a lot about how you can invest money into a good purpose. It has also enhanced my network. The Net Impact Club allows me to do more activities surrounding sustainability and social impact-related causes. Another important thing is that I learned how to be a leader in an international context because there aren’t a lot of Indonesians or even Asians in the club. To some extent, I feel that I have gotten that validation that I needed, like everyone can actually be a leader in any environment if they push themselves. This experience has also given me an opportunity to find solutions to some challenges that we have in our organization.

Net Impact Club Cabinet Picture. Photo provided by Winny
Net Impact Club Cabinet Picture. Photo provided by Winny

How did you end up being a Co-President?

I became the Co-President in my second year, so I feel like it was also because they look at the credibility that I have built during my first year. You have to show that you’re willing to go the extra mile to attend all the events and speak your mind to convince them that having diversity in the club and especially in leadership is extremely beneficial. I think Fuqua has really done a good job to emphasize gender equality as well. They are very receptive to having an equal balance between male and female leadership in all clubs.

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Winny spread positive vibes during the interview. She has a clear vision about her life and how she wants to contribute to Indonesia. She believes that the world is so much bigger than a classroom, so despite the busy schedule of business school, she still joins several clubs. My interview with Winny continues in another article next month. She shared some interesting stories, including her experience on participating in an exchange program in Chile and some tips to get an acceptance letter from a top business school in the US. Stay tuned!