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Gaining by giving

Annie Yeo, Director of Deutsche Bank's Corporate Social Responsibility wing, tells P. Sujatha Varma that the joy of giving can get addictive

Photo: Raju V.

So much to do Annie wants to do her bit to better her surroundings

Compassion is her innate trait and it first surfaced prominently when she was in sixth class. “We had this English teacher who was a real bully. She would target children from impoverished background and humiliate them in front of the class. Once she picked on a girl, asked her a question and dragged her out of the class by her plaits. Everybody watched helplessly but I protested and pleaded with her to leave the girl. I was punished for the act and was made to stand on the bench,” recalls Annie Yeo.

Even today, as the Director/Head of the Corporate Social Responsibility, Asia, Deutsche Bank AG, Singapore branch, Annie feels the same way for people in need of help. “Standing up for others is what we all ought to do. Every human goes through a period of invincibility and vulnerability. Even I did. I come from a large family of nine members. My father was in business and at one stage, things went awry and I had to go door-to-door to collect laundry for my mother. But by God's grace, all of us are well-placed and are level-headed today,” she says.

Speaking enthusiastically about her 16-year-long association with the DB, Annie says she is extremely grateful to God for being in a privileged position of helping others. “The best part of the DB is that it does a whole lot of good things quietly. “We don't seek publicity anywhere by putting our bank's name forward or call press conferences. We are here to perform – in business and beyond. We do this with a unique mix of passion and precision. This measured approach gives us the confidence to enable agile minds to look beyond the obvious, gaining advantage for everyone we work with,” she says.

The DB's CSR wing works on key principles of enabling talent through education, creating opportunities through social investments and fostering creativity through art and music. Of the 17 nations in Asia where DB is actively operating, Annie is involved in 14 of them. “Asia is full of poverty. A marathon exercise precedes finalisation of aid to NGOs. We need to be very cautious to keep at bay bogus organisations that siphon funds. We talk to people in the industry to check their credibility, make personal visits and review their performance.”

She says the DB looks for smaller organisations which do not create big hype but are genuinely dedicated to their cause. “One drawback is that they are not well structured.”

As a bank, the DB is very strict on compliance. “We insist on transparency and accountability and prefer long-term relationships because we understand it is difficult for them to find new sponsors,” she says.

The enormity of the issues she deals with is daunting. “Initially, I felt helpless and even wanted to give up. There is so much need everywhere but we have to move on. We give these NGOs a start and expect them to find sustainable avenues,” she says.

Pulling out a lovely handbag made with recycled newspapers by a women's organisation in Cambodia, she says the Bank is looking for such projects that provide livelihood to many.

In India, the DB's major partners include Vijayawada-based Vasavya Mahila Mandali implementing an educational programme, Pratham in Mumbai and Vidya in Delhi that provides scholarships to slum children.

On the personal front, Annie is fond of art. “Learning more about art is a wonderful form of relaxation. For instance, the tiny Chinese snuff bottles fascinate me. I have a small collection and I want to add more of them,” she smiles.

Challenges abound but work must go on. “There's so much to do and so little time,” she mutters, adding: “We may not be able to perfect the world in our lifetime, but every effort we put forth counts. More importantly, giving people the strength to move on gives me a huge kick.”

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