Inspirational Woman Interview: Veronica Colondam
Veronica Colondam is the Founder and CEO of YCAB Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Indonesia that aims to promote youth development programs through educational and economic empowerment programs. YCAB has reached more than 3 million underprivileged youth and aims to impact five million people by 2020. YCAB continues to evolve into a global social enterprise piloting programs in five other countries – namely, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uganda, Mongolia and Laos – and is ready to expand more in the South East Asian region. She is also the author of several books on youth development and risky behavior. She is also the youngest recipient of the United Nations Vienna Civil Society Award and was appointed as Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum. Veronica lives in Jakarta with her husband, together they have three children.
How did you come to found the YCAB Foundation and what are some of the YCAB’s programs for youth?
Veronica Colondam: YCAB Foundation was founded in 1999, when I was only 26 years old as the result of my spiritual journey, as I was seeking to find meaning in life. Though I find contentment being a mother and a wife as it is very fulfilling and purposeful, I wanted to do something more – something that people will remember me by after I am no longer here in the world. Therefore, my mother – whose strength and grace still inspires me to this day – encouraged me to start YCAB Foundation.
YCAB Foundation focuses on youth development through its education and economic empowerment programs. To date, YCAB runs 77 Rumah Belajar (Learning Centers) for school drop-outs and underprivileged youth throughout Indonesia and 6 other countries, and has reached out to more than 150 thousands women micro-entrepreneurs in order to send their children to school, and help them acquire jobs.
In 2017, YCAB ranked #44 on the Top 500 World NGOs, and is the only NGO from Indonesia in the Top 50 of this ranking. YCAB Foundation is part of a bigger entity that aims to break financial barriers making education accessible and affordable for all. We have run several programs that have reached 3.24 million underprivileged youth; our particular interest is a social investment initiative.
Can you tell us about YCAB’s impact investment fund and microfinance program?
Veronica Colondam: YCAB uses incentives at the household level and microfinance to provide education and employment opportunities to young school dropouts. YCAB also has an investment arm of its own that runs mission-driven microfinance (MFi). The heart of our MFi’s is youth empowerment – to enable the continuation of their school. MFi is also one of the Foundation’s business units that opens our path to sustainability.
It is very important to improve income for the poor to enable education, with “better welfare for all” as the bottom line. Economic empowerment and education must be addressed simultaneously to create meaningful change. In YCAB’s case, we make education the precondition to access of our loans. This little innovation makes a whole lot of difference! By working this way, YCAB not only creates positive impact for the children, but also the whole household, and therefore communities and nations.
What are some of the biggest issues related to youth development / risky behavior among youth in Indonesia?
Veronica Colondam: We are working to make underprivileged youth become self-reliant, which means that they need to generate income to break the line of poverty. How? By giving them access to education. But we cannot help all youth; we can only extend our help to those who want to change for the better. For the organization, that’s the challenge we encounter – to keep the kids’ spirit up, to never give up hope in fighting for a better future.
If we are talking about risky behavior, in Indonesia especially, we are currently talking a lot about how to use social media responsibly, bullying, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
What were some challenges you faced when scaling the YCAB in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uganda, Mongolia and Laos?
Veronica Colondam: Since our mission is also to be an enabler to other organizations, we are also working with some local partners. It is also applied with our international programs. So the challenge is to find the right local partner. We are not only talking about their capability and reputation, but they also must have the ‘heart’: the heart to serve others, to run the programs. After the two-year programs that we piloted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uganda and Mongolia, we then developed a strategy to just concentrate our focus in South East Asian countries. Therefore, we discontinued programs in other countries while keeping Laos and Myanmar in our portfolio.
Can you share the inspiration behind your books Raising Drug-Free Children and Journey to Impact?
Veronica Colondam: My inspiration is my children. In fact, being a mom to them is what inspired me to establish the YCAB Foundation. Now they are growing to be mature men and woman. However, when I came up with this book, I had concerns about the issues of drugs, especially because there were many possibilities that they could affect my kids too. So that was the background why I wrote the book Raising Drug-Free Children. This particular book is mainly a parenting guide book to help raise children to avoid high-risk choices in general, with drug abuse as one of the risky behaviors. And the book I am currently working on at this point, Journey to Impact, is my memoir that captures my journey with YCAB. This book will be launched sometime in mid or end of August in celebration of YCAB’s 19th anniversary.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Veronica Colondam: My mom, who started YCAB Foundation together with me was very gracious and my best supporter during the early years of YCAB. I will always remember her as a relentless prayer warrior. She’ll always be the strong pillar that holds me up when life knocks me down so I would get back up again better than I was before. Her presence was very important to me growing up; she was always there for me. And even now when she’s gone, she’ll always be the voice that resonates in me when I feel too discouraged in my journey growing YCAB as well as being a mother and a wife.
What are your favorite books, websites, films and resources?
Veronica Colondam: My favorite authors are C.S Lewis (A Grief Observed), and Bill George (True North).