Monday, October 24, 2011

Nominees of Great Women of Our Time 2011


Dr Cheong Sok Ching, 37, Group Leader, Oral Cancer Research Team, Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation (CARIF) & Adjunct Professor, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Malaya (UM)

Great people, as history has proven, often take a cue from other great people.
In Dr Cheong Sok Ching’s case, meeting two inspiring mentors during her PhD studies, convinced her to pursue her passion for medical research, though not many people (at that time) in Malaysia were doing.

“With their mentoring and support, I was able to build a career in cancer research.”
At CARIF, Dr Cheong focuses on mouth cancer, often dubbed an “Asian cancer” as 70% of these cancers occur in Asia. In Malaysia, mouth cancer is the second most common cause of death in males due to cancer in public hospitals.

As the lack of understanding of the genetic mechanisms underlying this cancer has hindered the development of effective drugs for treatment - unlike other cancers - Dr Cheong believes we need a critical mass of people in cancer research to combat the disease. Her team works with both local and international collaborators to train as many scientists as possible in this field.

She shares happily, “One such workshop, which enabled South East Asia researchers to learn techniques at a fraction of the cost, if they had to travel to the west, has encouraged them to start their own research teams in their home country and start contributing to the body of knowledge in mouth cancer.”

For their contribution in the development of novel therapeutics and laboratory models for mouth cancer in the form of cell lines, her team has won several awards including the Norman-Rowe Award 2005, Loreal for Women in Science Award 2008), several Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) fellowships and the American Association for Cancer Research Award.

Dr Cheong is grateful to her parents, who instilled the importance of doing her best in whatever she chose to do. “I realised that I can make things happen if I put my mind to it. We should never underestimate our own ability, we may not be able to do everything, but indeed, we can do something.”

While hard work is important to excel, she says that working hard on your own cannot take you very far. “I attribute my success to being able to engage and work with people with similar aspirations as we can draw on each other’s strengths. I believe in sharing knowledge without boundaries.”

Is she confident of finding the cure for mouth cancer? “At this point I am not sure if I can say “yes” in my lifetime but by setting the path and interacting with the young and budding scientists, I can surely say that someone will be passing on the torch until we do.”

Nuraizah Shamsul Baharin, 40, owner and managing director of Madcat World.

By any measure, Nuraizah Shamsul Baharin has done extremely well.
Madcat World, the company she heads which aims to transform Malaysia into a hub for mobile content, has won a string of accolades including awards from ITEX 2010, 9th Invention & Innovation Awards 2010, represented Malaysia in 2010 Mobile Premier Awards in Barcelona and 2011 MEFFYS Awards in France and winner of the MSC Mobile Interactive Content Competition 2007 and APICTA Awards 2007.

But Nuraizah believes success is not about the individual, and this shows in her willingness to share, collaborate and mentor others.

“The pie is big enough for competitors to collaborate and work together. We need new people and new ideas to seed and generate the growth in mobile content and mobile industry,” she asserts.

With this spirit in mind, she proactively helps young and new entrepreneurs to market their ideas and content through MADCAT’s channels.

Since 2009, her team managed the Mobile Content Challenge where they scout for new ideas in universities and provide guidance in commercializing these ideas. “In 2010, we helped five teams become entrepreneurs,” she shares excitedly.

Nuraizah is also an EXCO member in WENA (Bumiputera Women Entrepreneur Network Association), which helps women build business networks, and a mentor with the Cradle Investment Program, where good ideas get the funding to help with the development of a prototype.

Though girls are leading the scholastic achievements in colleges and universities, they lack the courage and role models to be entrepreneurs, she points out. “Becoming an entrepreneur is a very difficult step for graduates to take and goes against what parents advocate for their children, unless we can create pathways that make it simpler – this includes having mentors and associations that help entrepreneurs.”

She points out, “We are lucky to be in Malaysia – anyone can be an entrepreneur here, regardless of your age, ethnicity and social status. The consumers and corporate world are very supportive of entrepreneurs and being a woman gives you an added advantage since women entrepreneurs are generally seen as honest and reliable people!”

At her alma mater Bukit Bintang Girls School, it was drilled into her head that young women could make a significant difference in our society. She still takes this to heart: “I’ve always believed that if you want to make a difference or feel that things could be done better, then step up and do it, don’t just complain!”

Dr Joean Oon, 41, Principal of the Naturopathic Family Care Centre; Penang Lecturer for the International Chinese Cancer Prevention Society

Popularly known as the Garbage Enzyme Lady, Dr Joean Oon believes we can reduce our carbon footprint by converting our kitchen waste into an organic solution that, when poured into drains and sewer systems, will help cleanse the rivers and oceans of toxins.

Produced by the simple fermentation of fresh vegetable and/or fruit skin waste, brown sugar and water, the production of garbage enzyme generates ground-level Ozone (O3), which reduces the earth’s temperature by releasing the heat trapped by the heavy metal in the clouds, explains Dr Joean. The fermentation also produces nitrates that can help enhance the fertility of the soil. By not throwing away your kitchen wastes, you will also help to reduce trash and reduce landfills.
“If every household turns its garbage into enzyme, we can protect our ozone, live in a smog-free environment and eat food free from toxins.”

She learnt this solution from Dr Rosukon Poompavong, an alternative medicine practitioner in Thailand, who has been awarded outstanding farmer by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2003.

Since then, Dr Joean has run hundreds of garbage enzyme roadshows across Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and India, where they conduct talks and give away free bottles of enzyme. A classic example of someone who works within her own means to champion her beliefs without expectations of monetary reward, she pays for her own expenses.

“People tell me I am so generous to do that,” she admits. “But to me, it's like a holiday, and I ask them back, don't you buy your own flight tickets to go on a holiday? Don't you enjoy it? It's the same with me. I enjoy doing this.”

The response was viral, with overwhelming support from the man on the street, to even local governments - one of Dr Joean’s staunchest advocates is the Sibu municipality. At least one fruit plantation has reportedly increased their yield by replacing commercial pesticides and fertilisers with garbage enzymes, while some restaurants have reduced their operating costs by using garbage enzymes as cleaning agents.

“The best evidence is to try it out,” says Dr Joean. “If it cleans well, if your vegetables taste great after soaking in it, if your plants grow well after you use it as fertilizers, then it's good. You're saving money, you're reducing your wastes, and it's so easy to make.”



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Nominees of Great Women of Our Time 2011


Khoo Salma Nasution, 48, Social historian

Fifth generation peranakan Khoo Salma Nasution’s journey as a social historian began in earnest when she was completing her art degree in Duke University. Influenced by other Malaysians who shared her passion for the arts, she began to see a city as an accumulation of past events, traditions and achievements.

Returning to her home state Penang after graduation, she looked at George Town with new eyes. Back in the 90s when Penang was known only as a beach destination and the term 'cultural tourism' was virtually unknown here, George Town was mired in a state of neglect and disrepair, but Salma saw its potential. “This was once a magnificent city, full of untold stories that could ignite its creative future.”

She walked around town taking photos to the bafflement of other skeptics who thought the young woman was being silly to venture into 'bad hat areas' to record oral histories from the residents.

Her efforts culminated in the wildly successful Streets of George Town, Penang, hailed as a bible for both laymen and academics for understanding the city's rich architectural heritage. She designed, edited and funded the publishing of the book with her own savings, like many projects she undertook, including the restoration of the shophouse at 120 Armenian Street, Sun Yat Sen's base for strategizing the 1911 Chinese Revolution. Her remarkable body of work on Malaysia's heritage includes More Than Merchants, A History of the German-speaking Community in Penang, 1800s-1940s; Penang Postcard Collection; Kinta Valley: Pioneering Malaysia's Modern Development, Sun Yat Sen in Penang and Heritage Houses of Penang.

She thinks children should learn history from heritage sites, not just textbooks.
“Only when Malaysians – descendants of both indigenous people and migrants - can find stories that resonate for them, will their interest in documenting and preserving their rich architectural heritage be rekindled."

Her efforts have played a significant role in revitalizing much of George Town’s heritage, culminating in the city's listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. When complimented on her achievements, she simply says, “If only people knew what collective wealth we have in heritage, they would be as passionate as I am.”
Between being president of the Penang Heritage Trust, managing a publishing company Areca Books with her husband Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, running Dr Sun Yat Sen's Penang Base and endless heritage conferences, she has her hands full with three children. But she remains deeply committed to interpreting and documenting the heritage, history and values of Penang's landmarks, with particular emphasis to cultural diversity.

“Since the 1970s we have been suffering from a brain and talent drain. I wanted to give young Malaysians a reason to come back or at least remain connected to their heritage. Like Melaka, George Town has a long history as an international port city. Its multicultural heritage can provide an inspirational setting for a creative community that is locally rooted yet global in outlook. The possibilities are exciting.”

Lara Ariffin, 44, Documentary film-maker

Lara represents a growing movement of women filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of the documentary form by examining neglected issues, lives and people through sensitive observations and relatable stories.

Among her hundreds of productions for both local and satellite television networks, the biggest feather in her cap is, arguably, the 2009 documentary "Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh" for National Geographic. It won the “Best Wildlife Documentary” at the Asian Television Awards and "Best Wildlife Film" at the 2010 Malaysia Documentary Film Festival.

While she concedes celebrity is necessary to lend visibility to a cause, her heart lies with the little guys, as she calls them. Which is why, other than the high-profile leaders and big names - who “have books that thousands can read” - she consciously gives airtime to “the real people getting their hands dirty and doing the work. Unlike their leaders, their stories will never be told in a book, but they are just as important too.”

In the name of work, she has often gone out on a limb, and we’re not just talking about Fear-Factor-grade physical feats - like trudging inside a claustrophic tunnel under compressed air conditions, or walking for days in leech-infested jungles. Believing deeply in the importance of the stories she is telling, Lara has sometimes taken on uncommissioned projects for the primary purpose of changing mindsets. Her self-funded documentary on the Temengor Forest Reserve inspired a massive publicity campaign and helped Malaysia Nature Society win the Merdeka Fund of RM500,000 for their Belum Temengor Campaign.

Raised by parents who instilled in her the spirit of learning and the passion to live life to the fullest, Lara tries to pass down these values to her two daughters by taking them travelling as well as involving them in her work. “They will watch my work and give their opinions. Recently, I was showing my daughter the clips of the World War II interviews - they’ve learnt bits of it in the school – and she’d say things like, “You gotta put that piece in Mamma.”

Ultimately, Lara aims to educate, encourage questioning and catalyse positive change through her work. “"Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh" was meant to inspire people about the magnificent orang-utans. Projects like "The Malayan Emergency" and "Highland Towers" show people that our history is something that must be appreciated and never be taken for granted.”

“I’m a strong believer of hope and people need to be encouraged. One must show not only the problems but the resolutions to solve them. Life is too short to consider as half-empty.”

Rathimalar Govindarajoo, 32, Dancer

Lead dancer in Ramli Ibrahim’s Sutra Dance Theatre; Co-Artistic Director of Sutra Dance Theatre; multiple Cameronian Arts Awards nominee; principal dance partner of the celebrated Ramli Ibrahim himself - Rathimalar’s impressive resume in the performing arts needs little introduction.

What few people know is how her eventual destiny as a dancer par extraordinaire was charted. Following the death of her father, her mother sought solace at the Temple of Fine Arts. She would often bring then eight-year-old Rathimalar, who grew intrigued with the dancers. She recalls, “Recognizing my budding interest, my family encouraged me to take part despite our difficult financial circumstances”

Since then, Rathimalar has racked up a track record that instils not only motherly, but national pride. The New York Times, no less, described her as “spellbinding, with sharply percussive feet, wonderful plasticity and stillness, and a riveting facial beauty. This is a dancer who casts the spell of the Odissi form by the fullness with which she performs it.”

Rathimalar is thankful to have met kind benefactors like Ramli Ibrahim, who gave “little children” like Mavin Khoo and herself to assume leading roles in theatrical productions, then an unprecedented move.

After obtaining her PR qualifications from Olympia College PJ, Rathimalar joined the renowned South Asian British funded dance company, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company (SJDC), where she broadened her horizons by touring Europe through major productions and contextualizing performances with educational and outreach work for five and half years.

With her extensive international exposure, she hopes to contribute towards the flourishing performing arts scene in Malaysia. “With its strong tradition, I feel Malaysia is ready for a leap in terms of output and mindset. Performance arts can bring nations and traditions together. As dancers, we have a responsibility to create and maintain that thread.”

The key is education, she asserts, which is why she has diversified into teaching. Other than her stint at Sutra Dance Theatre, she also teaches Hip Hop in Sri KDU Smart School Damansara and conducts a combination of Body Conditioning and Indian Classical Dance classes for adults and children.

“What I am hoping is to start it off by building the foundation for a fresher, newer output. With patience, faith and believe we can do anything in this life!”



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Nominees of Great Women of Our Time 2011


Fung Lee Jean, 53, Laughter Yoga Teacher, Director of My Pharmacy

When you spot “Sunshine The Clown” in her job description, you know instinctively that Fung Lee Jean is no conventional pharmacist.

Recipient of the 2009 Pharmacist-Entrepreneur of the Year award and founder of the highly successful chain MyPharmacy, Lee Jean believes the prescription for wellness should include “a hearty dosage of joy, happiness and laughter.”

In her mission to bring joy and happiness to those she is in contact with, she is dedicated to spreading the healing benefits of laughter yoga, a revolutionary exercise that combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing.

She first stumbled upon the novel concept while searching for creative activities to add positive vibes to Breast Cancer Support Group meetings, of which she was an active member. Intrigued, she enrolled herself in a session conducted by its founder Dr Madan Kataria in Melbourne.

Greatly motivated, she set about sharing her newfound knowledge, starting with her hometown Johor Bahru. To this end, she has registered a club called the Johor Bahru Happy & Joyous Club.
She reveals that her long journey into holistic well-being actually began with a life-changing programme called Money and You in 1999. The new entrepreneur, who left a successful stint with established names to set up her own pharmacy, was struck by several epiphanies. “I realized the importance of work-life balance. I learnt to go with the flow and not to take life and money seriously.”

She took in partners to help her run and expand her business, which freed her to spend more time on her growing passion for wellness.

Before she met Dr. Kataria, she marvelled at those who could laugh heartily either at jokes or while watching comedies. But, after the training, she was convinced that people can laugh for no reason at all. “Even fake laughter gives us the same physiological benefits like good hormones,” she explains.

She attests that the benefits of laughter go beyond the physical. “I’ve seen how shy housewives, who once dared not speak in crowds, are now confidently leading yoga sessions. There is a strong element of self-development as well as developing other people.”

“My aim now is to have as many laugher yoga leaders all over the country to spread laughter to the people.”

From primarily residential areas, she hopes to spread this concept to the rest of Malaysia. “City people need more laughter,” she says. Her wish-list includes starting a laughter session in an lrt coach!

Her motto is as contagious as laughter. “Cultivate an attitude of gratitude, curiosity and lifelong learning. Laughter is still the best medicine as it is healthier and cheaper.”

Datin Dr. Lela Yasmin Mansor,53, Chief National Transplant Procurement Manager & Donor Coordinator, National Transplant Resource Center, Hospital Kuala Lumpur; Senior Consultant Anaesthesiologist

Even doctors are uncomfortable about broaching the subject of organ donation. As Dr Lela Mansor puts it, “Here they are grieving over a loss. How can we take from them?”
So witnessing her speak about the subject is an eye-opener. “Every single day, I personally witness to people donating and bear witness to the beautiful human spirit wanting to help others when they themselves have lost so much. I get nurtured spiritually every time every time I meet a donor family. I can tell you regardless of race and religion, people give.”

What began as a job for her has evolved into a calling. Beyond saving lives, she has witnessed how the whole process of organ donation can be restorative. “Nothing is going to make losing your loved one worse. Talking about the person and reminiscing about the person’s goodness can add positivity to what a very negative experience. We must present the chance to the family members, opportunity to carry out the person’s wish.”

With 180, 000 pledgers - less than 1% of our population - Malaysia’s organ donation rate lags far behind much of the rest of the world. It’s worrying, because “as our population lives longer, organ diseases and health problems like diabetes – one of the main causes of kidney failure – are expected to rise, creating even greater demand for organ donations.”

Some blame this on Malaysia’s opt-in policy, whereby a family must give express consent (as opposed to opt-out, or presumed consent, in countries like Singapore, Spain and Kuwait).

Dr Lela has a different view. “I believe in giving rather than taking,” she explains her stand. “The giving must be with blessing. Even if somebody has signed up as a donor, in the event the family objects, we’d rather say no. I never believe in imposing. Neither do I say, you must donate. Whether people donate or not is their right. Just because you don’t doesn’t make you a lesser or not a good person. Thank them and don’t leave them with guilt. Grief is already bad enough; they don’t need more guilt to be landed on them. ”

Dr Lela believes the primary reason for this low rate is fear stemming from lack of knowledge about organ donation. “People don’t talk about it enough. In order to be sustainable, we must get it to the level where people can talk about it openly without fear. It is important for organ donors to inform their family members of their wishes when they pledge to donate their organs. Not to do anything is not allowing the donation to happen whereas that person may not have any objection.”
“Malaysians, like every other human, have an innate longing to help others. It’s our fears and prejudices that keep this instinct locked. As doctors, it is our duty to disseminate the right information and cultivate this sense of compassion.”

Associate Prof. Dr Nik Hazlina Nik Hussain, 49, Associate Professor at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM); Head of Women’s Health Development Unit, School of Medical Sciences, USM.

The prospect of chronicling Dr Nik Hazlina Nik Hussain’s remarkable list of achievements is intimidating.

The widely published author, obstetrician and gynaecologist, and medical researcher has dedicated more than 21 years of her life to improving the quality of life. As generic as that may sound, it’s probably the most fitting description considering the remarkable breadth and length of her work, which runs the gamut from the esoteric - research in reproductive endocrinology and sexual health, traditional and complementary medicine and feto-maternal medicine to improve patient care - to on-ground work - providing medical check-ups at a remote immigration detention camp.

Service to the community is second nature to the doctor, whose clinical career is matched by a strong track record of research and advocacy. The Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia alumnus has been involved in many activities at various levels as a lecturer of obstetrics and gynaecology department or as associate lecturer to the Women’s Health Development Unit as well as associate lecturer for School of Health and Allied Sciences, Health Campus, USM. Though she still runs a fertility augmentation clinic once a week, Dr Nik Hazlina has focused more on promoting health awareness and training young medical personnel in the last two years.

As a Kelantanese, she hopes to raise health awareness levels in her home state, where women have the highest HIV statistics in the country. “There is insufficient awareness of health matters as well as their rights as wife. With proper information, they can take appropriate precautions and protect their lives.”
As part of her outreach strategy to disseminate correct medical information to the public, she frequently conducts public talks and workshops, develops worldwide linkages to enhance the dissemination of life-saving medical information, and writes books and media articles, including a women’s health column in a popular newspaper.

As a mentor to young medical trainees, Dr Nik Hazlina advocates holistic personal development beyond academic excellence. To develop their creative skills, she encouraged her students to be her co-writers for health books - to date, already five books have been published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, she shares proudly.
She believes strongly in involving her students in events that require them to interact with the public, notably the Community Family and Case Study (CFCS) program which won the prestigious “Moreira Award” in 2003 and 2011, because “learning how to deal with, be close to, to show concern for, and to educate the public is a big part of a doctor’s life.”

How does one woman cram so much into 24 hours? Her formula is simple: “Love, enjoy and share your work. We can climb the steepest hills with determination. Start with a slow and steady pace and let the momentum propel us forward.”



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Nominees of Great Women of Our Time 2011

CATEGORY: Finance & Commerce

Angela Yap, 30, Founder & Director, Akasaa

When her former employer encountered financial difficulties and stopped paying her salary for eight months, she saw how even the most heavily regulated system was not foolproof against unethical practises.

“I saw how human greed could ruin lives, but felt that business still held that great potential to change lives.”

Combining her experience and knowledge as a corporate strategist, she set up Akasaa, a publications, communications and consulting specialist that does business with a difference – it helps companies execute business strategies with a conscience.
“I wanted Akasaa to become the change I wish to see in global business - by managing finances well, putting people before profits and to create strategies that will always be a force for good,” she explains.

Her social consciousness had an early start. Upon graduation, Angela worked with the United Nations Development Programme-TUGI, a regional programme dedicated to pursuing urban governance issues in South & Southeast Asia. At age 22, she became the youngest elected Board of Governor to Amnesty International in Malaysia.

In a short duration of three years, Akasaa has witnessed encouraging results, chalking up big names like Sunway, Astro and Public Mutual as clients. She has also contributed her knowledge to a diverse range of social, historical and economic issues by co-authoring or editing the critically acclaimed books like Answering is an Art, which has been praised by the Western Australian education council as an innovative approach to teaching business issues; Cities, Citizens & Civilizations: FAQ on Good Urban Governance for the United Nations Development Programmes (2004); Be Aware of Yourself C.C.C. (2009).

But like the breed of social entrepreneurs who go against the tide of "business as usual", Angela also likes to highlight lessons we can learn from the ordinary. Expressing her admiration for a popular burger seller, she writes in an editorial, “More than just a great meal, I'd just gained insight into a small business that chose to put people ahead of profits, a focus that many forgo.”

While social entrepreneurship is still a relatively new business model in Malaysia, pay-it-forward moments like this keep Angela motivated:
“After a motivational workshop I ran a session for refugees to help them overcome depression, a participant said the technique had worked so well for her that she taught other women. I'll never forget how that moment because it didn't hit me until then the immensity of what our work meant to others.”
“Every letter, card and thank you note sits on my shelf to remind me that Akasaa doesn't need to be a giant like Coca-Cola. We just need to do great work, with great sincerity and keep the courage to think different.”
“Everyone can choose to stand up and make a difference - to radically change humanity by using our knowledge the right way.”

Ebby Loo, 50, Managing Director, Euro-Atlantic Sdn Bhd

Beneath Ebby Loo’s soft-spoken, poised and immaculately dressed exterior, lies a spine of steel.

When her husband Eric Goh had difficulty finding the right candidate to steer Euro-Atlantic Sdn Bhd back in 1991, when fresh produce was a nascent industry, she had no qualms taking on the role despite having little experience; her previous job was a banker.

Predictably, the early years were tough going. “As a young company, we had little experience so it was a steep learning curve, getting to know the different types of fresh produce, what seasons, what month they are available, besides fine-tuning our quality and service. While managing the A-Z of the company, I had to juggle being a mother to my two young daughters.”

From a single packing factory, they expanded to three companies with a 150-strong workforce. Come December 2011, EA is starting a new company in Sabah to cater for the growing demand of the locals and the increasing tourist arrivals. Their marine products division, which imports Atlantic cod, live scallop, king crab, etc, has grown so exponentially that it has got an operations centre of its own. EA was awarded the globally esteemed HACCP certification, an internationally recognized system of food safety management. Its distinguished clientele base range from five hotels to airlines, foreign embassies and supermarkets.

Not only driven by profit, the company practices CSR actively through collaborative relationships with Malaysian AEON Foundation and Shangri-La’s Charity annual programme “Embrace Gift of Life”. Fresh produce is donated to Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherds and the Cheras Myanmar Refugee camps.

In addition to sound management policies and an unrelenting focus on quality and service, she attributes her company’s success to its staff, many of whom have stayed with her for over 16 years. “In a time-sensitive industry like ours, the chances of things going wrong can attain disastrous proportions. Without good & trustworthy staff, it would have been impossible to manage profitably and expand the company.”

She shares, “Many of our important decisions taken are through several rounds of discussion among our key management staff. With their participation, they feel they are a part of the company & contributed whole-heartedly. We encourage all employees to speak up on their area of work without fear. Their feedback has brought about many changes that have benefited the company in the long run.”

Under her leadership, EA sets a high bar with its exemplary welfare benefits. One of the few companies that offer an Education Subsidy programme for tertiary going children of its employees, EA also conducts training for its staff across the board -from research and purchasing officers to the delivery transportation people who deliver goods to the customers’ doorstep.

“You can’t succeed on your own,” she says firmly. “In any successful business, there should always be room and opportunity for its people to develop and grow.”

Mac Chung Lyn, 38, CEO of Nandos Malaysia

When Mac Chung Lynn brought in the international Nando’s chain to Malaysia 13 years ago, many sceptics foretold her business would last no more than a few years in the local dining scene. “I was brought up with the belief that hard work comes first. There was no room for failure and I had to work through to take the business all the way to success. I was determined to push Nando’s to the top of the pecking order,” says Chung Lyn, who was trained as an architect.

She makes no secret of her drive to excel and inspire her staff to excel as well. Today, the brand has plenty to crow about, with 38 restaurants nationwide in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Malacca, Johor (and counting!), plus two new outlets in Singapore.
Chung Lyn adds, “As people grow increasingly health-conscious, I believe Nando’s will be a preferred name for those seeking healthier dining options. This is because our fresh, quality chicken is flame-grilled, rendering it low in fat and salt, without any MSG or added preservatives.”
As well as nurturing her business, Chung Lyn also engages and supports emerging artists and students to come up with Nando’s inspired art pieces as part of the brand’s global art initiative.



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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.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nominees of Great Women of Our Time 2011


Dr. June Ngo Siok Kheng, 41, Deputy Dean (Postgraduate and Research), Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) &
Director, Textile Design and Production, Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah (YTNZ)

Dr June Ngo is instrumental in pioneering the transformation of songket, as we know it, into a contemporary handmade textile for broader usage. From a stiff, unwieldy fabric limited to ceremonial use, songket has now been innovated into soft, flowing and drape-able pieces which are extremely versatile yet retain their lustrous and luxurious appearance.

The new songket has attracted international accolades, including a second prize at last year’s prestigious ASEAN Silk Fabric and Design Competition in Thailand. “This is a significant achievement,” she shares proudly, “because it places our artisans at par with those in countries with very established weaving traditions such as Thailand, India and Cambodia.” At the first Malaysian Royal Weaves Exhibition in London in June 2011, Sarawakian weaver Ramlah Kipli and Dr Ngo had the opportunity to introduce the craft to a wider audience by giving a series of talks and demonstrations.

These encouraging developments are only possible because of her technical brilliance, robust research – and formidable people skills. When she sought the master songket weavers in the East Coast for help, they initially thought she was “out of her mind” to attempt what nobody else had succeeded at, Dr Ngo recalls ruefully.

But as she continued to spend time understanding their techniques and problems, slowly, the old weavers warmed up to her patience and sincerity.

“It was immensely satisfying when I saw the prototype taking shape.”

Soon after the completion of her PhD, she joined Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah (YTNZ). The Foundation - which aims to improve the lives of artisans by ensuring the sustainability of heritage crafts like songket - supported her work by providing funds to support songket weavers, textile designers, marketing, PR, equipment and research, culminating in the breakthrough songket now sold under the brand Royal Terengganu Songket (RTS) – and which has changed the face of the songket cottage industry.

In addition to her role in ensuring the sustainability of the songket legacy, Dr June will be likely be remembered for empowering the young by providing an economic lifeline through traditional crafts. The foundation’s production centres in Kuching and Kuala Terengganu, which employ young women on a full time basis with a fixed salary plus EPF and Socso, are not only providing a sustainable approach to ensure the perpetuity of a heritage, but imparting young underprivileged women with marketable skills.

“With knowledge empowerment, they have a better chance to be financially independent and break free from their economic disadvantage,” says Dr June.

“I wish not only to give many more weavers the opportunity to make a career in their beloved craft but also to inspire many more to value and cherish our cultural heritage so that they will play a more important role in preserving and uplifting the standard of songket weaving.”

Amee Philips, 52, Jeweler

With a good eye on quality gemstones and an inventive approach to design, Amee has carved a solid niche in the jewellery business.

Philips’ signature V-Clip, which took six years to be patented, was her breakthrough. A special clip which allows individual pieces to be securely added on to other pieces of jewellery - hence multiplying their uses - it won the coveted Malaysian Good Design Award in 2006.

Such versatility, she said, heralded “the turning point in jewellery” as “it empowers women to design things the way they want it, every day.”

Amee’s foray into the jewellery line began while scouting for gemstones for her mother during her stint as an interpreter interpreter in Frankfurt. Interest piqued, she delved further by researching books about gemstones and marketing. On her return to Malaysia in 1993, she became a full-time gemstone wholesaler on Pitt Street, Penang.

“I learnt how to identify good gemstones from the bosses of jewellery shops,” she recalls.

Diversifying to retail jewellery to withstand the 1997 economic crisis, she quickly gained a following with her innovative designs – despite not knowing how to draw, though she could “arrange the stones and tell the goldsmith what I want.”

“Whatever jewellery I wore, people would buy them from me,” she said, adding that this gave her the confidence to try her hand at jewellery design.

“My motto is simple: nothing is impossible.”

While the name Amee Phillips – the brand and the designer – is already a familiar name in Malaysia, her star is expected to ascend higher with her recent coup: She collaborated with fashion darling Zang Toi on his new line of accessories, and her first store in Europe is slated to open soon.

Her workaholism is well-known. Her husband, Drew, is reported to have said, “Back in the old house, we used to have a desk in our bedroom where Amee would work at night. When I wake up, she would still be arranging stones and sketching designs.”

The secret to her success? Backed by a team of 15 craftsmen, she is not one who sits on her laurels and is ever ready to raise the bar. Recently, she unveiled Nyonya fusion jewellery, which modernizes Nyonya jewellery while faithfully retaining its old-world charm. She also does makeovers for old jewellery.

Amee says, “A good piece of jewellery is almost like an art piece by Picasso. It’s not about the cost of material. It’s about the intricacy and artistic value of the creation.”


Motivated to lead an environmentally-friendly lifestyle after the birth of her daughter, Tengku Chanela Jamidah Ibrahim partnered with good friend Anita Hawkins to set up The Ultra Ultra, a blog on sustainability.

While searching for the best products for her daughter, she noticed a gap of sustainable and attractive products locally despite the growing green movement worldwide. A chance meeting with two up and coming Malaysian fashion designers Jonathan Liang and Tengku Syahmi prompted her to expand the blog into a collective called We Are Ultra in 2009.

Made from eco-friendly materials such as pineapple fibers, wood pulp and salmon skin and recycled polyester, their repertoire is chic and wearable -
think draped jackets with artsy cut-outs or waisted shorts with sharp bottom cuts - while being kind to the environment, drawing glowing reviews such as “a breath of fresh air in a region where sustainability and contemporary design rarely mix.

While the price points of sustainable fashion are still high, she believes that it can go mainstream. “Making a concerted and conscious effort to start promoting the use and acceptance of these materials will create a trickle-down effect of lowering down production costs.”

More than a clothing line, a product, or a brand, We Are Ultra aims to collaborate with designers, companies and organisations to create meaningful products, experiences and workshops from a sustainable point of view.

“I want to show that living green can be incorporated into our daily lives, while at the same time bring something fresh and innovative to the scene,” she says.

One way to encourage everyone to consider the impact of our lifestyle on the planet is by building on emotional connection and active participation of the masses. So in addition to their blog, they maintain active accounts on Twitter, Flickr and Facebook. They communicate regularly with supporters and maintain full transparency about their sustainable practices.

This open community approach obviously works: they recently raised nearly $10,000 on crowd-sourcing platform Kickstarter to fund their trip to Tranoi during Paris Fashion Week.

Ultra’s meteoric success convinces her that it is possible to stay true to your passions. “You can succeed without succumbing to society or others’ interpretation of what something should be.”



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.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nominees of Great Women of Our Time 2011


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. ”



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.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Inspiring Women

The Malaysian Women’s Weekly established The Great Women of Our Time awards in 2006, to acknowledge and recognise excellence, leadership and performance in a new generation of great women, all of whom we believe are the leaders of tomorrow.

There are six categories which include:

-Education & Public Service
-Design & Style
-Finance & Commerce
-Arts & Media
-Health, Sports & Wellness
-Science & Technology

A panel of judges will select six category winners who will receive a commemorative trophy. Additionally, one nominee will also win a special award; "Reader Vote: Great Women of Our Time, 2011" who will receive RM5, 000 from The Weekly to give to a charity of her choosing. This Reader Vote winner will be selected based on a reader SMS poll.

The winners will be announced at a glamorous gala dinner in November.

To find out more about these amazing ladies, grab your copy of The Malaysian Women’s Weekly’s November issue at a newsstand near you. Stay tuned as we blog about the 18 finalists for this year’s nominees this coming October 22nd, 2011.