In conjunction with International Women's Day last week, Life Inspired talked to two Malaysian women who have made an impact in their own lives and those of others.
Tengku Munazirah Tengku Abdul Samad Shah Alhaj, 31, founder of The Hope Factory Malaysia
Tengku Munazirah is the founder of The Hope Factory Malaysia, a social enterprise that creates awareness and supports the non-profits by giving back to six different areas of need ranging from medical care, protecting children, sheltering the homeless, education, preventing hunger and bringing awareness of animal rights to the public. She is also the Royal Patron and advisor to non-profit organisations in Malaysia, such as Humanitarian Aid Selangor Society, IMC Training Centre for Special Needs Children, Persatuan Wanita Bumiputera Kuala Lumpur & Selangor to Persatuan Kebajikan Mulia Masyarakat.
With a degree in International Hospitality Management from Switzerland, Tengku Munazirah – a member of the Selangor Royal family – landed a job with a five-star hotel in Singapore.
In November 2009, a few months into her job, she received the devastating news that her mother, Al-Marhumah Tunku Abdiyah binti Al-Marhum Tunku Dato Seri Adnan of Negri Sembilan, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.
She resigned from her job to return home to care for her mother.
“At that time a lot of people shared their stories and I learnt that some didn’t make it as cancer treatments are very expensive. This made me realise that there are a lot of unfortunate people who need help. So, I created a community piggy bank, together with my late mother, for Malaysians in need hence the birth of The Hope Factory Malaysia,” says Tengku Munazirah, who comes across as warm and down-to-earth.
Starting The Hope Factory Malaysia wasn’t easy and, being young and inexperienced, she was cheated by a water supplier but she says she grew from that experience. “Today, I’m not afraid to fail or I will never know what lies on the other side. Experience is an amazing teacher,” she says.
What she is most proud of is how she has handled her sadness at the loss of her mother in December 2012 and how she channelled her focus into something that gives other people hope. “Through my work I learnt about other people’s hardships and how people live with food just enough to fill up their tummy or with a few drops of water just to quench their thirst. This made me realise that there are many people who have their own war to fight and I’m not alone when it comes to dealing with my emotions.”
What inspires her to do what she does everyday are the children and the underprivileged who she stands up for. She explains: “They remind me of why I should get up in the morning and to make a difference in hoping to change their world.”
Aside from her social enterprise work, Tengku Munazirah also juggles her corporate job where she works with her father, Tengku Panglima Besar Selangor Brig Jen (Kehormat) Tengku Abdul Samad Shah Al-Haj ibni Almarhum Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Al-Haj.
For women to have a balanced life she says: “Women need love. They need to acknowledge that they love themselves first by doing things that they love. Work is never ending and it should never be sacrificed for family. Weekends are meant for families, not work as you have five days to do that.
“I try to find balance by planning ahead and ensuring that I have my own ‘me-time’ by going to the gym three times a week, which gives me more energy.”
Tengku Munazirah is a big fan of boxing, which she hones in the gym every week, and it’s something she picked up when she was going through an abusive relationship.
“The abuse led me to find something that would help me become stronger and be able to protect myself. Hence, I encourage women to learn how to defend themselves physically through a form of self-defence and most importantly, no woman should allow and accept physical abuse, and if they fall victim, they should report it and not be silent,” Tengku Munazirah stresses.
Tengku Munazirah believes that women can have it all - but not all at the same time. “All mean different things to different people. In life we have to choose which one we want to work better in that moment.”
For women to be successful, she says: Find a support system that complements you - be it family, friends or a spouse. We always need a strong pillar to lean on, someone who is not afraid to challenge your ideas and help develop it instead of someone who just agrees with you all the time. “Personally, I always feel better after talking to someone about tough situations. Sometimes when things get cloudy, other people’s opinions will help me see things in a different perspective.
“Finally, it’s important to surround yourself with people you trust and people who want the best for you.”
Jeyalatha Ganeson, 44, sales and marketing director
Jeya joined ISOFU, an award winning Malaysian outdoor furniture company, seven years ago and she has since been promoted three times to arrive at her current role. She leads a team of eight in Sales and Logistics, and she also shoulders the role of buying for the company - requiring her to travel to Italy and China at least twice a year and more frequently to various countries to attend industry conferences.
During Chinese New Year, Jeya took part of her bonus and packed 50 angpow packets and gave them to her staff, cleaners and security guards. She doesn’t celebrate Chinese New Year and she needn’t have done it but she did because that is the kind and thoughtful person that she is.
When you meet Jeya, the first thing you will notice is her friendliness and humility, and being in sales and marketing she could not have found a more appropriate career.
But, getting to where she is today was not an easy journey. Jeya - who was born in Kuala Lumpur and is the middle child of three daughters - was in an abusive marriage that lasted three years.
“One day I was hit and my head was spinning and swollen, and I had collapsed on the floor. At that moment I had to decide whether to stay on the floor or walk out the door,” says Jeya.
She said she had to think fast before her husband, who had left the house, came back home.
“I then called a good friend and said I was hurt and needed to walk out of the house before my husband returned. I left that day with just my handbag,” she recalls.
Jeya initiated a divorce in 2006 but it has been a long process as he has not put his signature to the final documents. She went home to live with her parents. But with the trauma she suffered, she went through depression, and this affected her sales and marketing job with a spa and health company.
After awhile, Jeya then decided to pick up the pieces of her life and sent her resume to at least 100 companies. She landed a job with a reputable furnishing company and then went on to work at a public listed construction company for four years in the same line, and all of this led her to where she is today.
“Career wise, what I’m most proud of is making a change in the industry that I used to work in to a completely new one, and nailing it. Most of my clients have become my friends.”
Work wise, Jeya says: “The biggest challenge is in staying strong as there is a lot of rejection in this business. You need to meet 100 clients to successfully arrive at about five clients.
“On a personal level, I have school friends who are now looking up to me and these are the people who never knew I existed. Friends and their children have told me that I inspire them. They have learnt about what I went through and what I had to do to be where I am today.”
What does she think women need to achieve a balanced life?
“I see friends juggling so many things from marriage, career, children, in-laws to finances and I think that when we are overwhelmed we need to pull the brakes. We need to take a step back and pause when our mind and heart want to stop. For me, I chill out and stay sane with good friends over a glass of wine and I make it a point to do this regularly.”
For women to be successful, Jeya says: “If they are single, they need to be self-motivated. If married, they need to ensure that their spouse is supportive. I want to tell young women that they have to be strong in making important decisions and to make better decisions whether it is marriage or career or having children. Think things through before jumping in.
“Most of us live hectic lives and when women are overwhelmed in their lives it is likely because they have chosen the wrong partner who is not supportive.
"For single women who are whining about being single I want them to know that being married or in a relationship is not the be all and end all in life.”
Jeya believes that women should not just say they want certain things in life, they need to be proactive in achieving them. “Don’t just say you want a happy life or a good husband. Make good decisions that will lead you to this path,” she says.