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Nirupama Kondayya
6 Oct 2018 . 1 min read

A Supportive Man Can Help A Woman Move Mountains: Malini Saba, Founder-CEO of The Saba Family Foundation & Industries


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Women are the real architects of the society, said Harriet Beecher Stowe, and it is certainly true in case of Malini Saba.

A businesswoman who knows what it means to build an empire from scratch, she’s the Founder-CEO of The Saba Industries and The Saba Family Foundation. Her story is inspiring to say the least, and much more can be learned from her strong will, passion and the hard work that she puts towards what she believes in.

In a chat with SHEROES, she talks about how her life has panned out, about The Saba Family Foundation which is very close to her heart and what it takes to be a leader.

I was born in a small town in Malaysia, the eldest of 4 siblings. We did not have much growing up and hence, my goal was to always provide for my family. I studied and put myself through school and University by working three jobs, only to start my own business 26 years ago. 

I now live in Vietnam and part of the time in Monaco. I have a beautiful child who is my life and soul. I’m grateful to have a spouse who is so supportive of my career and a strong man who is able to be home while I work.

His support means everything to me because it confirms to me that a supportive man can make a woman move mountains.

Helping Others Was What I Wanted To Do, Always

I knew early on in life that helping others is what I wanted to do. I strongly believe that my role in this world is to help others. In order to do that, I had to build myself up and establish a company that earned money to fund the Saba Family Foundation.

My father always helped his not-so-well-to-do family in Sri Lanka. He consistently told me that money is not to be taken for granted. It is a privilege given by God and if you ever make a lot of money, you must always give back.  

Having grown up the hard way, studying and working through all sorts of odd jobs, I know what it is like to not have money, to struggle to feed yourself, pay your rent and take care of your siblings.

While this keeps me humble, it also makes me work hard to earn money and to make sure that I am able to manage the Saba Family Foundation and give back.

My nature is to make the wrong, right. I am not afraid to fight the biggest and the strongest. That has consequences but it has to be done to help those who cannot, and do not have the funds to, defend themselves. 

The Saba Family Foundation & Its Vision

We are the catalyst for change. We believe that when you help one woman, you help a community, and in turn the nation. I believe in a woman's right to stand her ground, her right to read and work.

A woman is not an ornament to be passed around, she does not belong to people.

The foundation exists to fund scholarships, legal battles for women, engage in campaigns for women issues and help young girls.

Helping With Women Centric Issues

We work with well-known partners like CARE, NETAID, VITAL VOICES and  UNICEF. We also fund the build out of schools in different countries like Mexico and Ghana, to name a few.  We helped YUVA in the early part of the Millennium to build their sight in Mumbai too. 

We also hold our own campaigns like the anti-bullying campaign through schools, work environments, and older adult housing. We feel domestic violence is a form of bullying too.

Our mission stays the same - help a woman to have a voice.

Taking The Leadership Role Early On

It has been an enriching experience and the best ride of my life. I have had three failures through the course of building this company, once almost losing it all. But I stuck through it, reviewed those failures and learned about people.

I think the best lesson is if you truly believe in your business and yourself, don’t ever give up! Stick through it, no matter what someone else says to you.

You will get there and it would be beyond your wildest dreams. Success never comes easy, it comes with its own share of problems. But the growth curve is high.  

You also learn about those who will stand by you because of you and your vision, and those that are there only to be riders on your coat tails. It is very important to learn how to read people. If you have those two traits, you will be fine.

Women Leaders In Industrial Arena

It is very different for women to be in this area. Most people who are in this field are men and women are in really small numbers. There are very few that have built it from scratch. Usually, it’s passed on to them from their husband or family. But I did not have that luxury - I had to build Saba Industries block by block. 

Women are not much respected to know their stuff in this field. I have always wanted to keep my femininity and be strong. I feel being a woman is not a weakness in this field, it’s actually a strength.

The Challenges Of An Entrepreneur

Our foundation is funded by the business. When it comes to the foundation, to find and fund the right groups that hold true to the vision, is very important to me. I am always involved with the final selections. I treat it like a business and make sure all the due diligence is done to make sure whatever we fund is viable and will be able to have an impact or get the result it needs.

But building a business is not easy - the biggest hurdle is getting others to believe in you to help you raise funds or debt. They felt I did not understand this space. They would give me lip service - entertain my proposal but politely say, “We will pass. Come back when you have sales.” 

I decided to take a loan and used my credit cards to build it out. Basically, I put in all my life savings to buy the first couple of concessions for gold and iron ore to move ahead.

The third knock from the Universe was the worst, the funds we were expecting never showed up and that put us in such a bad place - it was followed by the markets tanking and price volatility. It was a nightmare but I believed in myself and my dream and the vision. I told my closest loyal staff, we have to stick it through and once again, my savings came into play.

But when I look back, it was all worth it. Now we are in 8 countries, in different mineral and agricultural space; but I am always careful because anything can change and you have to be prepared. This business is something that should outlast me and hopefully, my child will take over it.

What Motivates Me

Life experiences are what motivates me the most. I want to change and a better work environment for women, better political environment for women and education for women. I also want us, as a society, to embrace the changes because it’s inevitable.


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Nirupama Kondayya
Nirupama feels that life is all about #TakingCharge, one step at a time, everyday. She truly believes that women have the potential to achieve their dreams, once they put their heart into it. She also believes that being grateful for little things has big impacts in life.

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