Hafiz Kasman (BBM, 2017) has been quite literally a poster boy for SMU, having appeared in SMU's various marketing campaigns, most prominently on a large banner hanging from the lobby of the SMU Administration Building. A Summa Cum Laude graduate and one of the first three recipients of the MERCU-SMU Excellence Scholarship for Malay Singaporean undergraduates, there is much to be admired about Hafiz. Beyond possessing both brain and looks, Hafiz most crucially also has a heart for the community. Feeling that a buddy system for local undergrads at SMU was lacking, he did not want to graduate without seeing the creation of a student mentoring programme. He gathered his friends, brainstormed, surveyed fellow students, discovered a demand for a student mentoring initiative, sought support from various offices at SMU, and finally after a long time, The Mentoring Circle (TMC) was born the same year he graduated. It was an incredible, ground-up collective effort, spurred by a desire to improve the learning and student life experiences of Year 1 and 2 students. Speaking on behalf of the co-founders of this student club, housed under the Office of Alumni Relations, is Inspiring Alumnus Hafiz to share his journey.
Hi Hafiz! How are you? Tell us more about what you are doing now after graduating from SMU!
Hi OAR! On weekdays, I work in a management consulting firm, Oliver Wyman. On weekends, I generally love to chill and meet people over coffee and brunch -- very typical millenial!
What made you want to pursue finance- or banking-related work?
I never meant to pursue it as an end goal to be honest, I just grew into it as one internship led to another. Over time, I decided to stay in the industry as I realise how strongly financial actors could drive broader societal change.
During my SMU years, I managed to experience this in different forms. For instance, I once had the opportunity to travel to Myanmar with a financing firm to study whether the clean-cook stove industry could be better managed and financed. On another occasion, I also had the chance to intern at South East Asia's leading P2P lending firm in Jakarta where we helped hundreds of SMEs in Indonesia to more easily gain access to financing. I see myself learning quite a lot in these areas and the learning curve is still far from peaking.
In your opinion, what aspects of your work do you enjoy most?
I enjoy most being in the company of really smart problem-solvers and basically being the dumbest guy in the room most of the time - you can really learn a lot. In management consulting, we also get quite good exposure to senior-level clients so that is very interesting for me as someone fresh out of university. Of course, I also do enjoy the travelling (required for work) too!
As an alumnus, together with a group of friends, you were keen to create The Mentoring Circle, a student-to-student mentoring programme from the ground up. Why was that? Why student mentoring in particular? Was that a pet passion for you?
Quite a few of us started The Mentoring Circle (TMC) together actually, alongside with Masahiro Tan (BAcc, 2017), Soon Zhengxiang (BSc (IS), 2017), and Benjamin Wong (BSc (Econs), 2018). There were also quite many other peers who have contributed their time and inputs too. Personally for me, I think there were two reasons.
For one, I thought it will be good for anyone in a new institution to have a senior person as a point of informal contact and advice. This helps a lot. I remembered when I was first entered primary school, I had a Primary 3 buddy. He was very helpful bringing me to the canteen, bookshop and all the other places and became someone I could count on for many of these seemingly trivial things. So I wondered why a buddy system (for non-international students) did not exist at SMU!
Secondly, I felt that the culture in SMU needed a shift. I recalled when I was a freshman in SMU, at about one semester in, I felt that the environment was really quite competitive. Maybe it was just me but I felt that students were constantly trying to outdo each other in an unhealthy way like hogging study seats or slandering people during class presentations and class participation. Many times it felt that everyone had a bell curve mentality and you need to always 'take' something from others to succeed. Of course, this wasn’t entirely true but I was very impressionable then as a freshman. I can imagine I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. When compounded, I think it could be quite toxic for everyone. In short, I think mentoring helps by reversing this impression - that people who succeed should be seen as givers, not takers.
(Hafiz, front row extreme right, with the founders and first Executive Committee of The Mentoring Circle, TMC)
(The other founders are Zhengxiang (front row extreme left), Masahiro (front row, second from left), and Benjamin (second row, second from right) who was also the first President of TMC in 2017)
What challenges did you guys face, and how were these challenges overcome?
One of the hardest challenges was commitment. We knew that forming a student mentoring programme will take a lot of time, and we knew there were a lot of things that could demotivate and stop us. To overcome this, we actually took on the Entrepreneurship Curriculum as a module and used this idea as a project, so we were forced to work on it! We also had to really make it good now because how else are we going to get our 'A' (insert laughter)?!
Next challenge was getting it right. There are hardly any KPIs in mentoring which made the programme quite hard to measure and improve upon. Everyone has different expectations when it comes to something as personal as mentoring. For instance, what were engagement levels supposed to be like? Even matching the personalities of mentors and mentees felt almost like we were playing cupid!
Surprisingly, the easiest thing about starting this was getting people involved. It was very easy; many students really wanted to be a part of the student mentoring programme and give back to the school! I recalled us having our first trial run (known as Coffee Chats). We marketed the event through private Telegram chats only, and all 30 slots were taken up within 24 hours!
(Student Mentors and Mentees in The Mentoring Circle)
How do you balance your passion for mentoring (currently as an alumni mentor to a student), and work?
I don't! It's hard! Since I left school, the current TMC team is doing all the work. I just meet them for coffee every once in a week or 2 to catch up and see how things are going. Most of the time, I'm also just probably giving unsolicited advice (insert laughter). Getting a professional coaching licence on the side to me now seems like a good next step, but let’s see if I have the time!
What advice do you have for people who might want to start an initiative/programme in future?
This is a hard question! My very honest answer is this: starting an initiative is easy but maintaining it is super hard and relies a lot on working with the right people. We were truly lucky to have strong, highly driven leaders like Benjamin Wong (the first TMC President) and Tan Xin Hao (the second and current TMC President, Graduating Class of 2019) to push the club forward and to be backed by a good-hearted community of Exco, mentors, mentees and alumni. The only advice I can give is if you do believe in the initiative, and if it's a positive one benefitting others, then press on. Find the right people to work with and your collective passion will force you to be resourceful and drive you to make it succeed or work. If you need any help, I think you’ll know which club in SMU to reach to for advice ;)
(Hafiz, centre, front row, with The Mentoring Circle and other Alumni Mentors during the Alumni Mentors Appreciation Night in 2018)
The Mentoring Circle is a programme where Years 1 & 2 students are mentored by Years 3 & 4 students.
The Alumni Mentoring Programme is a programme where undergrad (UG) and postgrad (PG) students are mentored by UG & PG Alumni.
Last updated on 21 Jun 2018 .