Have a clear mission. When we set out to create the Dialight Foundation, we wanted to make it really specific to Dialight. What can WE do that is different and a value-add from other charities that already exist. For us, it really came down to the local impact and being a good neighbor in our communities. Having a clear mission will help ensure that your activities are always aligned with your purpose and will weed out things that might not be a fit.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fariyal Khanbabi, CEO at Dialight.
Khanbabi brings over a decade of C-suite experience to her role, having formerly worked as CFO at Harvest Energy and Britannia Bulk, LTD. Having spent her entire career in the technology space, Khanbabi has become accustomed to being the only woman in the room and thus has proven to be a strong advocate for women in the workplace, especially in the LED industry.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
My backstory is certainly unconventional. My first lessons in C-level management happened onboard a shipping vessel, where I spent my early childhood before joining peers at the Island School in Hong Kong. As the sole 8-year-old amongst a crew of mostly adult men, I learned very quickly how to feel comfortable being a unique presence in a professional environment. This skillset greatly benefited me years later as I often found myself being the only woman in various industrial workplaces and executive teams. Working through challenges and achieving success, despite having to forge my own path, has helped shape who I am today, but has also made me very passionate about helping the next generation of women have greater representation and opportunities that were hard won for me.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
The first is the ability to self-manage. It is hard to manage others effectively if you can’t manage yourself. Self-managing means being able to prioritize your goals and being responsible for accomplishing those objectives. As an effective leader, you must be able to regulate your time, attention and emotions, while remaining aware of your strengths, weaknesses and potential sources of bias.
Secondly, you must act strategically. A forward-thinking, open-minded approach is necessary for today’s leaders. We must always be prepared to adjust our strategies to capture emerging opportunities or tackle unexpected challenges. Thinking strategically is an ongoing process that involves assessing your business environment.
Thirdly, you need to know when to talk and when to listen. To be an effective communicator you need to explain clearly and succinctly what your expectations are. You need to be able to communicate on all levels.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
How truly adaptable and resilient the people of our company are. Dialight is a company that in recent years has become quite accustomed to tough times after surviving a failed outsourcing strategy, then most recently the impact of the pandemic. I accepted my role as CEO immediately before the pandemic hit with high hopes to get the company back to growth; then the next tidal wave came with COVID-19. Our team is very nimble and quickly adjusted to new ways of working without missing a beat to support our customers and one another. As a matter of fact, we were deemed an essential business during the pandemic and helped supply our LED indicator lights to ventilator manufacturers. Between the teamwork on our factory front lines and the entire organization rallying to create and fund the Dialight Foundation in the middle of the pandemic, it was truly remarkable to experience.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
There are three key areas we are focusing on to make a significant social impact. The first is through our Dialight Foundation, which is the non-profit arm of our company dedicated to children and women’s causes in our local communities. We believe women play a critical role in society and our foundation, helping improve both local economies and with climate crisis initiatives.
We recently partnered with the Women’s Earth Alliance as the sole sponsor of their COVID-19 and Climate Resilience project in Tijuana, Mexico. One of our manufacturing facilities is in Tijuana, Mexico, which is close to the Mexico/US border. 2021 has been especially hard on this area considering the impacts of COVID-19 as well as an influx of vulnerable asylum seekers looking to cross the border. It was important for us to support our local community during this particularly challenging time. Working with local grassroots organization, Espacio Migrante, Dialight’s donation directly provided food and information to thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers. Additionally, our donation of food, shelter and legal services has provided comprehensive support for 67 people so far. Along with the WEA partnership, the Dialight Foundation has directly worked with orphanages and low-income schools near our offices to provide essential supplies and materials to give the children a platform to learn and thrive.
Secondly, we are committed to helping women succeed in the industrial sector. The industrial world is still largely male dominated. We seek to set the right example from the top down. We are proud to have female leadership at both the CEO and Chairman level, while also being among the only publicly traded companies on the London Stock Exchange with a gender balanced board. We believe that having a variety of perspectives throughout all levels of our organization helps us make better decisions. Dialight also actively participates in mentorship opportunities that support women in STEM and manufacturing.
Another facet of our social responsibility as a manufacturer of electronic products is our due diligence in our supply chain to ensure the ethical sourcing of materials and fair labor practices. In addition to holding our suppliers and vendors to a high standard in this regard, we have also begun rolling out companywide ESG training to equip our staff, regardless of what department they may be a part of, with the right tools and information to make responsible and ethical business decisions that can help us contribute to a fairer and more resilient world.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
The Dialight Foundation is very near and dear to my heart. For one thing, it started in the middle of the pandemic in June 2020 as our organization saw just how hard COVID-19 was affecting the communities that have long supported us. But what really made the difference in the Foundation’s success was how our colleagues around the world rallied to contribute to this cause, despite many of them having had to take temporary pay cuts or facing their own struggles adjusting to a new normal because of the pandemic.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
To date, we have supported three orphanages in the Tijuana and Ensenada, Mexico areas and have also provided school supplies for 70 children in the Person County, NC school district. One of the orphanages we work with, Casa Hogar El Reino de los Ninos, is near our manufacturing facility in Ensenada, MX and is currently home to 36 children ages three to 23. We provided brand new beds and sofas for their facility as well as a Christmas celebration for all the kids. We are also in the process of procuring a solar powered hot water heater for their facility that will be delivered shortly.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
First and foremost, become aware. As it relates to the environment and working to achieve net zero carbon emissions, or any social cause for that matter, it is important to first be more aware of our actions in our day-to-day lives. Once we start being aware of how we are impacting the planet on a personal level, such as how much we are putting in the garbage or how energy efficient or not our homes are, it helps us to consider alternative solutions. Do I really need to print out that report versus reviewing it digitally? Can this meeting happen virtually instead of driving for two hours? What alternatives are there to single-use plastic? Once you know you can start making choices with alternative options and are no longer afraid of trying new things… you’d be shocked at how good a Beyond Burger is!
Start somewhere. When we created the Dialight Foundation, we didn’t have deep pockets or a seasoned board. We didn’t have endowments or large networks of influence — just employees who were committed to making a difference in our local communities. They sought out opportunities to help in any way they could and sometimes this could be as simple as gathering school supplies for a local school. The point is, you don’t need millions of dollars to make an impact. Start small and build from there.
Spread the word. By our nature, human beings are wired to help others succeed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether that be advice, resources, funding or time. As the saying goes, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Have a clear mission.
When we set out to create the Dialight Foundation, we wanted to make it really specific to Dialight. What can WE do that is different and a value-add from other charities that already exist. For us, it really came down to the local impact and being a good neighbor in our communities. Having a clear mission will help ensure that your activities are always aligned with your purpose and will weed out things that might not be a fit.
2. Ensure you have a committed board and keep standing meetings.
The Dialight Foundation board serves on a volunteer basis. There is no compensation for participating in this program and the responsibilities are on top of normal work expectations. When selecting board members, we looked for a couple of things: firstly, a range of roles and regions to offer varying perspectives and keep the projects balanced so as not to favor one region. Secondly, we looked for those with previous non-profit or other charitable expertise as an indicator of their commitment to causes of this nature. Commitment is highly important because accommodating all regions on board meetings inevitably means that someone is on a call really early or really late at night. Communication needs to be frequent so that progress can be made quickly.
3. Establish guidelines for fair decision-making.
One of the hardest things about having a Foundation is knowing when and how to say no. Unfortunately, funds are not unlimited, and decisions must be made fairly and equitably by being cognizant about what future precedent you might be setting by saying yes to something once. In our case, we tried to set some parameters including maximum possible funding for each individual project, fit to mission statement, level of urgency and access to other means of support.
It is profoundly important to communicate your planned initiatives and success with external stakeholders on an ongoing basis. Nonprofit organizations exist to make an impact and therefore funding does not and should not sit in the bank. So, you need to measure your success and communicate on this in order to keep funding coming in to support future work. Donors want to know exactly where their money is going. Show specific performance metrics around how many people were impacted, how many meals, supplies, etc. were provided to prove meaningful action is happening in a timely manner.
5.Plan ways to scale your organization for future success.
Having a vision for where you want to take your nonprofit and articulating this plan will further instill confidence that people are supporting a lasting cause. Lastly, find opportunities to collaborate with other organizations for a wider impact where it makes sense. Just make sure to do your due diligence to ensure that any other organization you associate with doesn’t have a negative reputation that could impact the perception of your nonprofit.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
For me, as with so many other people, the pandemic highlighted how important it is to live and work with purpose; to do meaningful work with the well-being of people and the planet in mind. A title and salary are nice and certainly a livelihood is important, but making a lasting impact is also incredibly rewarding. I know many share this view. We recently introduced paid volunteer time off at Dialight and it has been an extremely successful program that has been well received by our colleagues.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
Setbacks are to be expected in business and in life. The first step is to not overreact and keep perspective. It helps to not internalize and take on the burden completely by yourself. It sounds cliché, but I do believe you grow through what you go through. So, I take stock knowing that I am learning something from any setback that will help me in the future.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Elon Musk is someone who has really been a trailblazer forging the world onward from a Green Tech standpoint and whether that be in regard to the conversion to electric vehicles with Tesla, re-thinking new and innovative transport systems with underground tunnel systems with The Boring Company and so many of his other innovative pursuits. At Dialight, our purpose is to help decarbonize heavy industry and help our customers meet their net zero goals through our safe and energy efficient LED lighting products. Both Dialight and the Dialight Foundation are passionate about helping the industrial sector get to net zero for the benefit of all that inhabit this planet both now and in the future. Elon Musk would be a great champion in impacting change in heavy industry by influencing the adoption of more environmentally friendly technology.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
Work on Dialight and the Dialight Foundation can be found online at Dialight.com or you can also follow us on social media on Twitter (@Dialight), LinkedIn (linkedin.com/company/Dialight), and Facebook (facebook.com/dialight).
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.