Issue 128 | Jan-Mar 2022

Levelling The Playing Field

Why success to Mr Pranama Moorthy (Engineering ’08) — a champion for the causes of vulnerable women and domestic workers — means more than just doing well for himself.



Mr Pranama Moorthy works in the global financial services sector and has spent the past decade equipping vulnerable women with basic financial literacy skills through his work with Aidha. For his commitment to helping open the doors of opportunity for migrant domestic workers, he was recognised by the Singapore Committee for UN Women and received the HeForShe Everyday Hero Award in 2017. 
Most children who receive preferential treatment from their family members do not question their good fortune. But not Mr Pranama Moorthy: as a child, he noticed that his elder sister was treated differently from him. “Being a girl, my sister was dumped with most of the chores at home, and I wouldn’t be assigned as many,” explains Mr Moorthy, now 36. This struck him as unjust, and he bravely questioned his elders about their actions, before making sure that both siblings were treated the same way. “I would go ahead and help my sister with her chores, which led to a mindset change at home.” 

This early experience with the unequal treatment of females struck a chord with him, and he would eventually turn his convictions into concrete action. “During my time at NUS, I learnt how to execute gender neutrality and provide equal opportunity across genders,” he recalls. Shortly after graduating, he put these lessons into practice by volunteering with Aidha, a non-profit organisation committed to helping migrant domestic workers — who are among the most vulnerable of all women in Singapore society — shore up their money management, communication, computer and entrepreneurial skills. “I was one of the first volunteers to join,” he recalls. “In the early days, I took on various roles, teaching everything from computer literacy to finance and entrepreneurship.” 


Over the past year, Aidha has held 689 classes for more than 800 students. These were facilitated by 173 mentors. Through these efforts, the monthly savings of students grew by more than 38%


Given his equally gruelling day job at a global bank, Mr Moorthy’s volunteer work was a demanding commitment, but his strong sense of purpose kept him going. He was deeply struck by the impact that Aidha was making on a group that was heavily underprivileged. According to The Business Times, foreign domestic workers directly contributed more than $1 billion to Singapore’s economy in 2018, and in turn allowed local working mothers to contribute more than $3.5 billion. But despite their impressive contributions, close to half of them did not even have access to a bank account, which stymied their ability to save and support their families. Research has shown that only six per cent have saved enough by the time they return home.

Mr Moorthy and his team of volunteers hope to change this through their weekly lessons with migrant workers. He was pleased by the commitment they showed to learning, with up to 15 workers attending each session. But he soon realised that the impact he was making went far beyond those present in the classroom. “We discovered that for every one domestic worker we were able to teach, we could impact nine other lives in their home countries,” says Mr Moorthy. “As we progressed through the modules, I was reminded of the sacrifices that all women make and how they are able to juggle priorities equally. If anything, the experience has only made me feel even stronger about treating everyone equally and providing equal opportunities.” He also appreciated the fact that this learning was two-way. “I learnt a lot from the students every week, understanding the hardships they faced from their employers, as well as the challenge of sustaining and supporting their families back home,” he adds. It was not just the challenges that he learnt about; he also picked up insights on running small businesses, as many of these women had ambitions of setting up restaurants, farms and boutiques. “Mentors like myself would brainstorm with each student about their ideas and help to make them better and successful.” 
Mr Moorthy receiving his HeForShe Everyday Award in 2017.

The gender pay gap exists even today; I wish employers would look into raising minimum wage, increasing transparency in pay, achieving better work-life balance and expanding paid family and medical leave.


As Mr Moorthy knows all too well, the issue of gender inequality doesn’t just plague low-income women. It’s an issue in all sectors, including his own field, where he is the director of the cloud platform of a major bank. “The gender pay gap, unfortunately, exists even today; I really wish employers would look into raising minimum wage, increasing transparency in pay, achieving better work-life balance and expanding paid family and medical leave.” 

Having been on the ground for nearly two decades, he understands the problems that can arise if gender equality is not achieved. “If this issue is not addressed now, we will see a significant gender pay gap in the next few decades,” he predicts. “This would also demotivate women from joining the workforce, which would result in some of the smartest talents essentially ‘sitting it out’.” And he feels that it is not just something for C-suite executives to think about; instead, he believes that more people, especially at middle and junior management levels, should discuss the issue and bring it out into the open. Men, too, should be at the forefront of these conversations. There may be resistance to voicing out these issues, but Mr Moorthy suggests that men consider the source of their discomfort. “It’s important to understand what the shackles are that prevent one from stepping up. Often, it could be an inner fear of how people perceive these acts of gender equality in society and at the workplace. But all I can say is that my involvement has helped me strive for things that really matter to me in life.”

That being said, he does understand that men who champion gender equality face several challenges. For instance, he points to the “pedestal effect”, where men who do the slightest bit for gender issues are lauded far more than women who do more. “And that invariably creates a vicious cycle of gender bias,” he says. He overcomes this by paying little attention to the accolades that have come his way. “I try to remember why I got involved in the first place. It is because I enjoy the work and find that I can add value with my support.” 
Mr Moorthy was a panellist for the Aidha Alumni Development Programme Big Pitch, where he mentored Ms Janet Bermudez Bisares — who hoped to set up a Junk Recycling store in the Philippines — for a year.
Text by Keenan Pereira.
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