Chicky Bhavnani: Truly Embodying The Semblance Of Female Leadership, From Creating An Impact In The Corporate World To The Startup Sector

Chicky Bhavnani: Truly Embodying The Semblance Of Female Leadership, From Creating An Impact In The Corporate World To The Startup Sector

Chicky Bhavnani, CEO

Chicky Bhavnani


Chicky Bhavnani, CEO of Makerbay, leverages more than 20 years of corporate experience to drive the success in the startup sector. Her corporate career allowed her to travel all over the world and live in India, Australia, US and Hong Kong. She has experience across multiple domains, cultures and countries enabling her to adopt and create tailored solutions for the customers. Chicky strives to impact every individual she encounters by empowering them to believe in themselves and their potential to create change. Her work deserves to be celebrated as she is leading the pack for women of color looking to be leaders.

Here are choice excerpts from CEO Insights’ conversation with the Indian leader and CEO of Makerbay Foundation, Chicky Yadav Bhavnani.

Tell us about your educational and professional background and what inspired you to venture into the startup world?

My father was in the Indian armed forces. Growing up in the army environment, I learnt to be mission driven and adopt the mindset that ‘when there is a will there's a way’. My childhood was filled with powerful life lessons that went on to be the founding principles on which I live my life. The army lifestyle enabled us to move every two years, by the time I started university I had lived all over India! This journey has enabled me to adapt, embrace and enjoy change and harness any and every opportunity that came my way.

I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering. I joined Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in 1995 after graduation. My stint with TCS lasted for eighteen years where I got to work on diverse technologies, and in different domains within the organization. I came to Hong Kong in 2011 with TCS and later joined AXA Asia as a Regional Director for the Asia Pacific region. While I was based in Hong Kong, I was handling programs for 12 countries across the region.

They say the challenge has to be 4 percent greater than your abilities for you to be able to grow. So the feeling of not beingready is exactly where you should be. So after 23 successful years in the corporate world, it was time for a challenge. I joined Makerbay Foundation as a Chief Executive officer in 2018.

Take us through your journey with Makerbay and the impact you are creating with the foundation.

Makerbay is a coworking makerspace with a focus on innovating to create a lasting social and environmental impact. We rank as the largest makerspace in Hong Kong and one of the largest globally.

For the youth of today to grow into successful future leaders, we require communities and environments to nurture their values, skills and passions. By enabling them to become hands on changemakers at a young age, we are empowering them and their potential to create a positive impact at the global level.

At Makerbay we have made things one can only begin to imagine such as the first unconventional driverless electric car in Hong Kong, marine litter detector, coral reef mapping Robot, and more. We also run a program in partnership with educational institutions in Hong Kong to enable the students to combine analog and digital disciplines to create and make things using their hands like, AI, robotics, woodwork, metalwork, 3d printing, and more. Making enables you to discover your potential as most people are unaware of what they can create. And for young people self-discovery is a big part of their lives.

What are some of the most difficult challenges you have faced while leading the organization? How did you overcome them?

After joining a startup I became conscious of the fact that we pay thousands of dollars to corporates when the goods and services have a value that is only a fraction of what we pay but the innovative solutions and impact programs that inspire change makers coming out of startups are priceless but finding funding and investors is an immense challenge. Funding for non-profits is a challenge under ordinary circumstances however the last few years have been anything but ordinary. The pandemic brought a wave of financial challenges to individuals and businesses worldwide, while corporates were making less profit. Small businesses were struggling to stay afloat. This was by far the biggest challenge during my time at Makerbay, finding ways not only to sustain the business during these unpredictable times but find ways to make it grow. Eventually I learned the best way for us to be successful was to adapt our business model as circumstances changed.

During the pandemic our use of technology was growing exponentially, and during that time I realized that Hong Kong did not feature on the technology talent map.

Being from a technology background and understanding the potential that technology has in today’s world. We designed a multi-year AI program focused on engaging underserved youth from local schools. The multilingual curriculum is available online and is a good mix of concepts and application in the real world and global exposure to participants. While the vision was clear it was a herculean task to get the funders, partners and sponsors together to join this program especially during COVID when everything was uncertain and funds were sparse, in spite of all the challenges we managed to launch the program in Oct 2021.

What are the major similarities and differences that you have observed in your career between working with startups and working in a corporate?

Personally the most important similarity is having a passion for your work. Being passionate gives you means to translate your efforts into something meaningful no matter where you work.

In terms of the biggest difference,I would say decision making in a startup happens at a much faster pace than incorporates, which opens the door for groundbreaking innovations in startups and the turnaround times to implement decisions is also a lot faster.

What advice would you give to someone looking to create an impact?

All the leaders create an impact in their own ways but they have one thing in common. A growth mindset, being ever committed to growth gives you confidence to find new ways to do things better but it keeps you humble in knowing that there is always room for improvement.

Which brings me to my next piece of advice, creating an impact or change of any form requires you to have a vision. Without a vision it’s difficult to communicate with others to drive your mission and turn it into a movement. Finally as leaders we can no longer afford to leave anybody behind we have to bring everyone up together to grow as a meaningful global community.

Chicky Bhavnani, CEO, Makerbay Foundation

Chicky is a leader focussing on empowering people to create an impact through education, social and environmental sectors. She has over 20 years of experience with Tata Consultancy Services and AXA Insurance, before transitioning to the non-profit organization, Makerbay. Chicky’s upbringing in the armed forces environment has given her an undeniable determination and helps her find a way to make just about anything and everything come to life.

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