SPENDING a few years studying in Britain gave these Malaysians the confidence and courage to chase their dreams.
And their tenacity paid off when they were named the award winners at the recent Study UK Alumni Awards 2019-20 held in Kuala Lumpur.
The recipient of the Entrepre-neurial Award, Goh Ai Ching, says the best thing her British education has done for her was to “nurture the rebel inside” her.
And, she remains a rebel to this day, saying that this is one of her secrets to entrepreneurial success.
Goh runs an IT company based in Penang together with her husband.
Their web app Piktochart, which Goh co-founded, is a visual communications tool that makes it easy to condense and consume information using visual design.
As a startup that operates from Penang but services over 18 million users globally, they have taken an unconventional approach to growth.
She says she studied experimental psychology at the University of Bristol and her rebellious nature was what drove her to study in Britain.
She worked three jobs during her student days to keep herself afloat and not burden her parents.
One of the jobs was as an alumni telethon caller which had her cold-calling university alumni to ask for donations.
“This was probably my most prized and cherished job, and such a good experience being in a room and making phone calls with other students, ” she recalls fondly before accepting her award.
“I had very good conversations with the alumni I called, and I was a lot more exposed to the legacy of the university, ” she says, adding that this helped her build her confidence and ability to think out of the box and be more unconventional in her approach.
Skills, she adds, are highly necessary to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Goh made it a point to interact with students from other nationalities and did not only rely on the Malaysian community, although that would have been the more comfortable option.
“I think diversity is very important in the world today as we’re recruiting (in our business) and in talent management as well, ” she says.
The Entrepreneurial Award recognises alumni who are active in initiating, or contributing to, innovative new ideas or business opportunities with strong growth prospects.
She is grateful and humbled by the recognition as she knows of many other friends and alumni who have also gone on to become success stories in the same field.
Assoc Prof Oon Chern Ein says she had a “very traditional mindset”, courtesy of her upbringing, before she went to the University of Oxford to pursue her PhD.
In fact, she admits to wanting to reject her scholarship to continue her studies at the prestigious university because she wanted to stay in Penang, finish her PhD quickly and settle down.
Like her friends, she always pictured herself as married with children by 28.
“But I realised that with a PhD education from the University of Oxford, I could actually do a whole lot more for the people, ” adds the molecular oncology lecturer from Universiti Sains Malaysia.
“My PhD education could actually change the world and this is what I’m striving for with all my science outreach programmes.”
Oon received the Professional Achievement Award which recognises British alumni who have distinguished themselves through exemplary leadership and achievements in their professional industry, and who can demonstrate the impact and scale of their achievements in their profession, and beyond.
“Studying in Britain changed my life completely, ” she says, adding that this was also due to the culture shock she experienced there.
Oon points out that tertiary education there is different compared to Malaysia.
“I was intellectually challenged and had to read more, learn to speak up.”
She says she was advised by a postdoctoral researcher there to “if you do not agree with your supervisor, you can sppeak up.”
Oon did voluntary work with Cancer Research UK although she only had three years to complete her PhD and says the experience is “priceless.”
“I brought back what I learnt to Malaysia and am now working with the underprivileged communities and cancer survivors as well, ” she adds.
Cancer Research UK is a cancer research and awareness charity in the United Kingdom.
On her return, Oon was turned down multiple times as she wanted to continue working on her research on molecular targeted cancer therapy in Malaysia. She was told “her work did not fit” into Malaysia’s research scene.
Although she was disheartened and felt she was not receiving enough support, she did not give up.
“There and then I had to make a decision whether to follow someone else’s dream or my own dream and make it work, ” she adds.
Since she could not find like-minded researchers in Malaysia, she collaborated with researchers from countries like Singapore and Australia.
Her choice to follow her passion has left her with no regrets, and she advises other scientists to do the same.
“You have to find ways to work on your ideas because there’s no point doing science if you do what people want you to do.
“You have to think out of the box and find ways to achieve that (your goal), ” she adds.
“My British education has actually given me the confidence to power through, ” says Oon.
To overcome this problem, she conducted many science communication and outreach programmes to educate people on the importance of her research in cancer drug discovery.
Howe Wong received the Social Impact Award.
Wong worked closely with government agencies to benefit 30,000 households in the rural non-electrified regions in Sarawak through the implementation of his rural electrification projects.
As a result of his work, the communities are now able to enjoy 24 hours of electricity rather than having to pay for costly fossil fuel generators.
British Council Malaysia director Sarah Deverall says the awards recognise the achievements and contributions alumni from Malaysia have made to the world and their communities.
She stresses that building professional networks is imperative, and this is one of the reasons the British Council hosts the awards - to allow the finalists to develop their networks with other high profile individuals.
All the finalists and winners of the award in Malaysia will have the opportunity to compete with other Study UK Alumni Awards globally.
They will also stand a chance to win £50,000 (RM268,157) at the global Study UK Alumni Awards 2020 in May.
Although the international awards are open to British alumni from around the world, what makes Malaysia special is that it is one of 12 countries to have a national level award as well, says Deverall.
“This year, we are proud to say there were more than 1,200 applications received from alumni in more than 100 countries.
“The awards also enable us to come together to celebrate the role international students have played in making Britain one of the dynamic higher education destinations, ” she adds.
At the same ceremony, British High Commissioner to Malaysia Charles Hay says: “I think what Britain offers is a world-class education of high quality.”
“We instil creativity and an innovative spirit in the people that study with us.”
To the alumni in attendance, he hoped that the network they had built while studying in Britain would continue to benefit them throughout their career journeys.
The awards were presented by the alumni award ambassadors, who are outstanding individuals in their own fields, adds Deverall.
Representing the Professional Achievement award is Permodalan Nasional Berhad president and group chief executive Jalil Rasheed. Anya Hindmarch and Halcyon Days managing director and franchise owner Shea Pin Soo was the ambassador for the Entrepreneurial award while Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs founding president Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin was the ambassador for the Social Impact award.
Did you find this article insightful?