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Women in Wealth: Asia Spotlight – Johanna Michelle Lim

Posted on 3 February 2023

Johanna Michelle Lim is the Founder, President, CEO, and Head Strategist of Dual Story, an impact-driven agency with a mission to create roadmaps for Philippines brands primed on insight, innovation, and impact.

Johanna is also the 2022 winner of the Women of the Future South East Asia Award for Media and Communications.

What woman (real or fictional) inspires you?

I gravitate towards a lot of women writers and characters who have a fundamentally adventurous and rebellious streak to them. Nellie Bly. Toni Morrison. Rachel Carson. Alice Munro. Rebecca Solnit. Jhumpa Lahiri. Zadie Smith. It's impossible to choose just one.

Other than writers, of course, my mother is on the very topmost of my list. She is naturally enterprising, and selfless, and beautifully balances softness and authority. As a single mother, I knew she had a tough time rearing and fending for us, but she did it so effortlessly well. Her strength is otherworldly.

Studies have shown that 80% of women do not feel comfortable discussing finances with family and friends. Is this true in your experience?

Yes, definitely! As someone born when the world transitioned to the digital age, I had to grapple with the idea of perception now being a currency, and how personal finance plays into that. They say my generation “adulted” late because of that distraction, and I tend to agree. It took me a while to realize that a healthy relationship with your Excel sheet was something that had to be cultivated, and that, in no way, does it make you less of a person (or a creative, in my case) if you discuss it. 

Of course, that’s a work in progress. The value of creation is quite secretive. I have to constantly reconcile the creative that creates social value, and the creative that needs to make an economic return out of her creation. They may not always be aligned, but I’m happy to see that the struggle is more transparent now, and the conversation is shifting to how it can entirely possible to be creative and to be financially literate too.  

What is the biggest risk you have taken?

I think taking the leap from being an individual creator to opening a creative business has been the biggest risk for me. I had to ask myself whether the impact that I would generate as an entrepreneur was worth the freedom and expression I would lose to create, to write, daily. 

Prior to opening a creative agency, I was traveling a lot, in search of peripheral stories, hoping to give a voice to fisherfolk, motorcycle drivers, mothers, social workers, through my writing. While I miss being on the ground, I bought into my own vision that generating social impact through a business platform was the most sustainable route. There is a poetic sensibility there too, I guess. 

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome? If so, how have you dealt with this?

Each and every time I get thrown into a new role, I ask myself whether the knowledge, insights and being I bring into it are enough. If they aren’t, I find that thinking in iterations instead of finality works for me. If I fail the first time, that only means I’ve gained insight for the second run, and so, that voice niggling in your head somehow becomes quieter and quieter the more confident you become tackling hard situations through repetition.

What achievement or experience are you most proud of?

Right now, I am proudest of the ins and outs of our company Dual Story. We’re a small but proud team of strategists, creatives, managers, and leaders, and despite how lean we are (we’re only 12 at the moment), I think we’ve made significant contributions to systemic and grassroots gaps in our city.

Internally as well, I think we’ve become this support system for each other that goes beyond work. We recognize each other’s humanness and that, it’s okay not to be productive the entire time. An outsider once told us, “We love the culture of your team! You seem to enjoy being with each other, and you get things done.” We asked ourselves, “We have a culture?” 

I guess that was bred because we got to know each other over a longer period. We’re lucky to be attracting individuals that have a great mix of empathy, strategy, and creativity. 

What is a cause that you are passionate about?

Dispelling the undervaluation and invisibility of the creative economy. In fact, we contribute about 6% of the global GDP. That should give us a seat at the table.

Tied to that, I also want to spotlight and hone leaders, these unique hybrids with the ability to create and lead at the same time. I think we need more of those if we want to mitigate the risks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What advice would you give to your 12-year-old self?

Be unapologetic about questioning what is, so you can reimagine what can be. 

What are you most looking forward to this year?

We created vertical companies specific to addressing our creative production, content development, and design needs, so I’m excited to see those plans push through while growing deeper into our vision to be a think tank and private R&D arm of the Philippines’ budding creative industries. As we say in my language, Padayon! Onward we go. 


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