Nora Murat, 40, Executive Director, Amnesty International Malaysia
People meeting Nora Murat for the first time are invariably struck by her bubbly personality, a stark contrast to the tough battles she has fought through her two decades championing for human rights.
She got her head start as a volunteer in AWAM (All Women's Action Society), a women's NGO. After two years of working in a law firm, she eschewed the conventional corporate route and joined Sisters in Islam to work on women’s rights full-time.
While handling over 1,000 cases a year, she played a key role in SIS milestones like amending the family law, the 1 Suami, 1 Isteri campaign and dialogues on Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. Whilst she was making significant headway, it dawned on her that to effect real change, public awareness - aside from taking on dogmatic stances, lobbying work and challenging the authorities - was a key factor in determining the success of any advocacy movement. Overseas stints in Bosnia and Kabul, where she was exposed to different ways of strategizing, further matured her education in promoting human rights.
Today, publication, training and public education are major components of her strategy in AIM. She brainstorms with her skeletal team of four staff to devise the most creative approaches to engage the public - from monthly gatherings to write letters to protest human rights violations to street photography exhibitions and stage concerts in small towns. And mind you, their educational approach is not about force-feeding information. Instead, participants are encouraged to arrive at their own conclusions.
“At our events, we don’t tell people what constitutes human rights. Instead we ask questions. What do YOU think human rights is about?” By allowing discussions, she feels we can bring about not just tolerance but understanding and a genuine respect for one another.
Since taking over as executive director in 2008, she has focussed on engaging youths in AIM projects. “We need to build a strong second layer,” she says. She is proud of AIM’s youth ambassador programme, where 50 budding young activities are trained to go around the country to promote human rights causes. Less than six months old, it has gained significant moment. “They have branched out from Amnesty to apply their learnings to projects like Undilah or working with refugees,” she reveals.
Spearheading a high-profile organization like Amnesty International can be daunting, Nora admits, but AIM’s many success stories – many of which take pride of place in her office – keep her eye focussed on the ball.
“I’ve always followed my heart. When I have the opportunity to effect change, how can I be a bystander?”
Adelaine Foo , 34, CEO & Founder of TOC (The Otomotif College)
Looking back, one might think that Adelaine Foo was incredibly foolhardy for jumping into an arena outside her training. The holder of a Masters in Chinese Opera had no management training, nor was she well-versed with the education system or legislation. To make things harder, it took 16 months to obtain a licence from the Ministry of Higher Education to issue a diploma.
“We lived from month to month, survived by doing short courses and kept our headcount very low. My partners and I had already invested a substantial amount so I could not back out. There were many nights spent crying and begging for help.”
More critically, the local automotive industry was hardly a magnet for talent, though she knew plenty of youths secretly harboured a passion for the industry.
Thanks to its stigma as “uncool, low tech and dirty, parents were reluctant for their children to enter this industry because they thought it was a worthless career. The automotive industry itself feels that automotive technology was too simple to require education and qualification,” Adelaine reveals.
In just few years, TOC has given the local automotive industry a dramatic image makeover.
“This new breed of skilled, thinking technicians now earn an average starting salary of RM1,200, with some fresh graduates bringing home up to RM6,000, a huge leap from the paltry RM600 to RM800 that its first batch of graduates earned. More than 2,000 students have gone through or are currently going through their education at TOC. The quality of our education is being recognized by universities around the globe. Our graduates are also slowly being recognized by automotive industries outside of Malaysia as we have begun to place students for their first job internationally.”
TOC is even attracting companies who wish to sponsor individual students or become technology partners. Expanding its second campus to Australia was another major milestone.
By providing a structured channel to develop young people’s passion for cars into a marketable skill, Adelaine hopes to contribute to making Malaysia a future hub for automotive and motorsports studies for local as well as international students. But more importantly, she is grateful for the chance to transform young people’s lives through education.
Being the eldest child in the family probably had something to do with her nurturing instinct. “My mum says you can either teach a person to be good or bad. The right guidance can change a person’s future.”
“When you see someone succeed because of you, there is a glow in
your heart that you had a part in that.”
Elina Noor, 33, Assistant Director, Foreign Policy & Security Studies, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.
Oxford alumnus Elina Noor is one of a handful of women in the field of international and national security.
Through her work in ISIS, she aims to increase women’s representation and inclusion in the realm of foreign policy and security. “As security issues affect all of us equally, equitable women's representation in the sphere is important to ensure different perspectives and priorities are heard. There is enormous scope for women to help the nation craft strategic policies in the international arena and contribute toward the long-term security of our country and international community.”
With their high EQ, women are an untapped, potentially powerful resource to lead the delicate and high-octane task of conflict handling. In Elina’s case, she actively promoted greater awareness and exposure to the diversity of the Muslim world - beyond Washington’s preoccupation with the Arab world as representative of the Muslim world – during her work in Washington DC, post 9/11 when Islamophobia was at its peak. “I tried to showcase Southeast Asia, and particularly, Malaysia as an alternative image of a Muslim-majority country that is pluralistic, economically successful, and politically stable notwithstanding its own domestic challenges.”
Aside from her responsibilities at ISIS, she reaches out to a wider public by writing for local and international media, including the New York Times and the Asia-Pacific Security Outlook series. Her latest publications appear in A Handbook of Terrorism and Insurgency in Southeast Asia, 2008 and Conflict, Religion, and Culture: Domestic and International Implications for Southeast Asia and Australia, 2009.
Ironically, as a child she used to think that news and current affairs programmes “were dreadfully boring,” she reveals with a laugh.
In contrast, she now believes that “regular exposure to the world and the issues that affected it shaped my consciousness, awareness of current issues, and my eventual career path. I’ve come full circle.”
“Women can and should do all sorts of amazing, non-traditional activities without sacrificing their feminity.”
She urges women to forge their own footprints in the sand. “It is the unique journeys we each create and undertake that shape us as women and individuals. Understand your own capabilities and limitations and then challenge those to just beyond your comfort level. ”
HOW TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVOURITE?
Click on the image below to learn more on how to vote for your favourite Great Women of Our Time 2011 nominee:-
Be sure to grab your copy of The Weekly's November issue today to find out more about these amazing ladies! Available at newsstands near you for RM5.80.