By Heather Blahnik (Madison ’96, US ’98, AI ’99)
When we first join AIESEC, we have little knowledge of how AIESEC will change our lives. But the mission and values of AIESEC resonate with us and motivate us to take on leadership opportunities, to go abroad and to explore the world. This was the case for Henry Balani, who is originally from Singapore and joined AIESEC at the London School of Economics. He got involved with the local and national committee and later took 2 traineeships in Istanbul, Turkey and in Chicago, Illinios. He traveled the world, made life-long friends and also met his wife, a fellow AIESECer, to whom he has been married for 25 years. Henry got reinvolved with AIESEC last year as he wanted to give back to the organization that gave him so much.
“I want to build a better world. I want to make sure that everyone across the world has more common experiences than different experiences. Every single country that I have been to I see that everyone has the same values – they want to be able to live a good life, to have good friends, and to feel safe. What we want to be able to do is share those core basic values with everybody so that we build a place that is better for the next generation. That is why I am motivated to continue to push the AIESEC message and bring more trainees into my company.”
Henry is the Head of Innovation at Accuity. Accuity focuses on providing technology solutions to banks to help them drive down costs, identify transactions with high-risk entities, and perform due diligence. Accuity has a strong presence in the US and other English speaking countries and wanted to take their solutions related to transaction screening to non-English speaking countries. The need for banks to screen transactions has grown in recent years as countries are seeing the benefit of prohibiting certain transactions in order to fight corruption and money laundering.
Identifying a need in the market, the company decided to develop a solution for Asia. The solution required taking the name of an individual, for example on a payment or in opening a new account, and matching it against lists provided by the government. The whole process becomes complicated when the name is in Chinese, Japanese, or in any other non-Roman character alphabet. In those instances, the only option is to take the non-Roman character name, translate it into English and then match it against an English name in one of the lists. Accuity needed help through that process.
Henry and his team talked with local translation services, but either they were too expensive, they were not flexible enough, or they just didn’t get what they wanted to do. Then Henry thought of AIESEC. He contacted the local committee at Northwestern and was able to bring in a trainee from China, who spoke both Chinese and Japanese. With his help, they were able to launch the project late last year. The team was so happy with his contribution that they offered him a full-time job which he started on May 1st. Henry had the following to say about Kevin, the trainee, and what made the traineeship a success.
“First there needs to be a strong recognition of what the value is that AIESEC brings to the organization. That was my job as a sponsor and as a former trainee and AIESECer. Secondly, I made sure that HR was clear about what value this person brought to the table. What our HR Director said was, “This is great. I don’t have to deal with visas. I don’t have to deal with any of the paperwork that comes with bringing someone to the organization and it’s also very cost-effective. In addition we get someone with international experience.” Lastly, when Kevin came I was careful to monitor his traineeship, but not push it on the team. It’s important that the value that a person brings to the table comes from the ground up. Thus the decision to hire him permanently was not mine. It was from the project management team themselves, saying that he is a positive contribution, we have an open head count and he is a natural person to fill that role. We now have more AIESEC supporters in the organization.”
What advice would Henry give to AIESEC alumni about promoting the program in their companies?
“The issue really is that we understand that we are dealing with a student-led organization and that while they try to be as professional as they can, they are still students. What alumni need to be able to do is coach these students in terms of the process. Even before I brought AIESEC in to do the pitch, I told them that they need to do their research and to understand who we are as an organization. If not, it is easy for them to do the standard presentation and not answer questions that the employer really cares about. Is it convenient? Can I get the type of folks that I need? Do I need to worry about visa issues? Is it cost-effective? Can temporary become permanent? We need to make sure that they are aligned to that perspective. Also the job of the sponsor is to champion it within the organization and to talk to the different business units and condition them, to let them know that this is student organization and to cut them some slack. In the end, I knew that AIESECers are young, hard-working, bright and ambitious and that they would blow the expectations out of the water, which they did.”
Henry had the following to say about why he became active with AIESEC again.
“I am now at a point where I want to give back and it’s because of the positive experience that I had. To me all the values that AIESEC represents have been embedded internally in my psyche. I want to share it with others. What I have been doing is obviously sharing it with AIESEC Northwestern. The trainee kicked it off. I will keep pushing AIESEC in the organization and looking at other opportunities. I am working with Karan, who is on the Member Committee for 2014-2015, and we are working on how best to position AIESEC with companies. There are always tweaks you can make in terms of how you pitch your value proposition. I think that we need to work on AIESEC’s positioning so that AIESEC is more effective. I am so passionate and believe in it that I have asked my kids, who are still in high school, they share the same love of travel and the same bug, so hopefully they will join AIESEC when they go to university.”
If you can take a trainee, or know someone that can, let us know. A member of the AIESEC US team will be in contact with you shortly