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For Profit, To Non-Profit, What Made Wilhelmina Mowe Take That Leap?

Updated: Apr 22

Here is a classic joke, a finance person walks into a bar then walks out a social worker. Personally, I would not know if this joke has any basis in real life, but one close real story is one of Wilhelmina Mowe.

A lot can be said about someone who risked it all to do what she thinks is the right thing, from holding a position in an international finance institution, to now, holding a position in a non-profit, Good Shepherd Welfare Service or now operating as two entities, Good Shepherd Services and Global Shepherds Berhad.

What drives a person to make that jump?

From corporate to non-profit

I was introduced to social work when I joined the Good Shepherd Welfare Service in July 2010 after my early retirement from the corporate world.  My role was to manage the programme at the centre in Ulu Kelang. 

Being new to the world of social work and without formal training in the field, my perception was that social work was simply providing services to those in need.  How wrong I was.

Photo from: Unsplash, Etienne Martin

Be Curious

I had to learn from scratch what case management meant, how a shelter is to be managed, what a “do no harm” principle entails, how to manage safeguarding at all levels of the ecosystem.  In fact the many social workers I met, both from the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat and non-government organisations, would speak of social work as caring “from the womb to the tomb”. 

So I learned how to be curious about social work. Being curious means looking beyond the symptoms and going to the root of an issue. Asking the right questions and learning that every case (and the person in the case) is different. 

Being curious meant reading as much as I could about the issues and understanding how interventions are identified. Being curious meant learning from the practitioners and networks. Being curious meant learning about the person in front of me, the backstory and the situation, without being intrusive and without judgement.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Be Compassionate

I had to learn that being empathetic was good but wasn’t enough. One has to go beyond empathy to being compassionate.  What that means is to assist the person to identify solutions that will help them out of their situations. 

To assist the vulnerable means helping to both advocate and enable the person to self-advocate. To hold the hand of the person until the person is ready to let go and stand independently.  One had also to learn how to let go.


Such skills do not come naturally and requires a person to seek both the skills and knowledge to assess, identify and act in the right way, in a way that did no harm and instead, restores the person to rights and dignity.

Be Capacitated, Be Competent

So with all the curiosity and compassion for the other, one must be willing to “go back to school” and expand one’s capacity and competence. This is essential as the role of the social worker is to assist the other to make decisions that affects the individual’s life, family and the larger community. It is a huge responsibility and the social worker has to be held accountable for decisions and actions taken. 

However, in Malaysia social work is perceived as a feel good career option or volunteer work. This is unfortunate as it can have consequences that can be harmful and tragic.


We have large numbers of establishments that exploit the vulnerable for their own benefit. The Malaysian public do not question “charitable” homes, orphanages without licenses and unregistered establishments that receives money from the public, unchecked and with little or no accountability.

Firstly, without proper regulations, people in vulnerable situations are harmed and exploited. The effects of which can result in generational trauma as can be seen in second and third generations of children in “orphanages” and/or substance dependent.

Secondly, without a proper framework for social care practices, social workers are left to defend themselves, remain unsupported and if not checked, are exposed to vulnerabilities as well. Their work is not recognised and the pay does not commensurate with the long periods of time that they spend with the programme participants. 

Social work is not a “nine to five” job. People who are in situations of crisis cannot regulate their trauma to suit an eight hour shift. It is no wonder that many who received social work degrees eventually leave to seek new unrelated careers as the current situation of social work is not sustainable.  

 The country needs to ensure that persons who enter into social work are competent and accredited to do the work. That they are supported by a framework that can recognises and sustain the profession. 

Thirdly, without a proper framework, social workers will continue to be challenged by the enforcement who are hampered by their own regulations and standard operating procedures that allows them to work only with licensed professionals or designated / elected protection officers. This became really essential when the organisation began to work with undocumented people, statelessness and trafficked migrants.

Professionalisation of social work can bridge the gap in ensuring people who are marginalised receive the assistance they deserve.  Hence, taking a collective approach to ensure all persons in vulnerable situations are cared and safeguarded.

Let us not “live and let live” but take intentional steps as a country to care for its rakyat, that all can have access to their basic rights and live with dignity as Malaysians. 

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