May Musings - 20

It’s nice to have gotten into a writing rhythm. I’m not always sure what I will write about, but it’s nice to be forced into the discipline for a bit.

I recently watched the film, Mary: Queen of Scots. Have you seen it? I’ve never traditionally had much interest in films and TV on English monarchs, it feels a little unfaithful to suspend disbelief and enjoy the entertainment without thinking about the bloodshed and havoc the various reigns were responsible for. What was interesting about this film however, was the focus on two female monarchs with very different attitudes on monarchy, marriage and their crowns.

I recommend the watch, if only for Saoirse Ronan as Mary. Her ability to so completely inhabit the persona of the monarch makes for a powerful performance. Hers is a character who is so willing to serve and give her life for her people, but who also so deeply believes that these people are her subjects. She is their Queen, and expects the accordant deference. Juxtaposing Ronan alongside Margo Robbie’s Elizabeth the First didn’t do Robbie’s character a huge favour; the protagonist was very clearly Mary. But the film did give some insight into the challenge of being not only a monarch, but a female one at that, in a court where literally everyone around you is plotting and scheming in some manner. ‘A lonely job’ doesn’t do the isolation of that position justice. It would have been utterly exhausting.

I have such mixed feelings about monarchy, brought into sharp relief now that I live in the heart of the empire: London. I am confronted with regular news of this land’s Royals on a daily basis - the very same descendants of those in the film. How is it a moral or ethical system? Do we accept it because of their ‘tourism value’, as one Brit told me, or because ‘they are the true essence of the country’? I’ve been told the Queen holds the country together, and is at least the one thing people can believe in above the mess of Parliament. Perhaps these attitudes are credit to this particular Queen rather than the institution itself.

I find myself instinctively uncomfortable with the concept of monarchy, but who am I but an uncivilised Sudanese Australian, a double colonial subject? Either way, I am still not of this land. Perhaps it makes no difference what I think about it at all.

May Musings - 17

On Power, Change and Balance.


I want to say I was surprised by the result of the Australian election, but I am not. Rather perhaps, I am filled with a disappointment I was hoping not to feel, but am prepared for. It’s a hollow feeling though. I left the nation to live in London over 18 months ago, fed up of a politick and a rhetoric that I seemed unable to influence for the better. How can I feel disappointed when I am not one of the people who campaigned for change, who put up with the hate, who threw their hate in the ring, did everything they felt they could, and yet still find themselves defeated? In the Australian election, I am the critic in Roosevelt’s quote, not the famed ‘man in the arena’. That is my cross to bear.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Shortly after the results of the Aussie election rolled in, I found myself watching the recent Dick Cheney biopic, Vice. Have y’all seen it? Wow, did it take me back to the heady days of my teens, protesting on the streets against wars in the Middle East that seemed to just keep coming. Guantantamo Bay is still open and yet is so far from the political consciousness one could be forgiven for thinking it was old news. I guess there are newer, hotter, wildfires to put out. It’s one hell of a climate crisis out there.

The biopic reminded me of Cheney’s reprehensible legacy yes, but also made me wonder about the nature of power, and how we - and by we I mean those interested in working towards a fairer world for all - do that. How do we keep picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, fighting for fair, despite all that is ahead? How do we continue taking the high road, continue treating those who oppose us with dignity, continue to meet hate with love? It’s not as if anyone is immune to the heady effect of power, either. The hard left - communism - doesn’t have a stellar history, the same way that the hard right - fascism - was responsible for atrocities beyond imagination. Having visited a country in the Caucauses recently, the first place I’ve visited that experienced Soviet Rule, I cannot say with confidence that an extreme version of the left is something worth aiming for. Indeed, no extreme is ever worth aiming for, in my opinion. Indeed, Islam recommends the middle path, always. Surah Baqara says:

وَكَذَٰلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا

Thus, We have made you a justly balanced community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you. (2:143)

One version of the tafsir, or interpretation is as follows:

أَنَّ الْوَسَطَ حَقِيقَةٌ فِي الْبُعْدِ عَنِ الطَّرَفَيْنِ وَلَا شَكَّ أَنَّ طَرَفَيِ الْإِفْرَاطِ وَالتَّفْرِيطِ رَدِيئَانِ فَالْمُتَوَسِّطُ فِي الْأَخْلَاقِ يَكُونُ بَعِيدًا عَنِ الطَّرَفَيْنِ فَكَانَ مُعْتَدِلًا فَاضِلًا

The justly balanced (wasat) in reality is the furthest point between two extremes. There is no doubt that the two poles of excess and extravagance are destructive, so to be moderate in character is to be furthest from them, which is to be just and virtuous.

(Note that there are many interpretations, and this is one from this site. I have found the page on moderation useful but cannot vouch for everything else on the site).

I wonder - how does moderation win over extremes? Is it a matter of time? Or simply a question of faith? I’m not sure. Allah knows best, and indeed, that is all I have for now. Khair, inshallah. All I know is that we all gotta get into that arena.

Christian Bale acting as Dick Cheney, in VICE.

Christian Bale acting as Dick Cheney, in VICE.

May Musings - 13

People love a fall from grace.

We’ve all been there. Retweeted gleefully, sprinkled a hot take with a couple of well place gifs, revelled in the schadenfreude. There’s safety in a mob: the herd mentality that takes over when you’re part of a wave of condemnation means you’re no longer acting as an individual, but as a member of a movement, a cause, a mission. The overall goal or intended outcome of that mission is rarely discussed, instead, what is focused on is the destruction. The complete and utter annihilation of the subject of anger and disapproval. There is no space for redemption.

Hey, no shade - I’ve been there too. They have not been my proudest moments, but it felt good at the time. What makes it more interesting is that I’ve actually been on both sides of the coin: a member of an online mob and the one bearing the brunt of it. And let me tell you, as someone who has had their life irrevocably and irreparably changed by the viciousness of the pack mentality, it’s not something you get through unscathed. It’s also very rarely anything to do with the inciting incident. Often, the importance of the catalysing moment gets lost in the melee, making the whole experience all the more tragic.

Why am I writing about this today? Am I making a broad reflective comment on my annus horribilis, 2017? Or a comment on the James Charles situation (lol no, I wouldn’t be unwise enough to wade into YouTube commentary, a world I know little about!). To be honest, my thoughts could apply to all the above, but has been mostly sparked by the conversation I’ve seen building online over the past couple of weeks regarding a large US based media company founded by a young Muslim woman.

I’m not here to name names, though it won’t take you much to ascertain who and what I’m talking about. I’ve been mulling about whether to write something regarding the ongoing conversation for some time: I’ve seen it develop and have questioned whether or not it is my place to get involved or intervene, and if I was to say something, what the most Islamic or ethical for me to say would be.

My thought process was as such: what frameworks do I have for thinking about what is going on? How do I know what is right?

My first step was to think about legal frameworks of wrongdoing. To me, it appeared that what is being spoken about was less as legal and legislative matter, but more a matter of culture and ethics. In cases where someone has been accused of legal wrongdoing, it is easier to know what to do: there is a legal process us outside supporters can push for. In cases where the court of law has been less reliable, say in areas of sexual assault and harassment, it is also slightly easier to imagine what has occurred because of what we know occurs under a major structural power imbalance, say, in a case with a powerful older white man and a younger woman of colour. We have precedents and ways of dealing with such injustice.

But what about an issue of culture and ethics? An issue about the treatment of volunteers, promises of pay that were never followed through, the lack of credit given to creatives? How does one ethically navigate engaging with these conversations?

I guess it depends on the desired outcome. Is the desired outcome for an individual to resign? To make a promise publicly to fix the issues raised and move on? To bring people who have been wronged back in the fold? As this is a question of culture and ethics, once we start digging deeper we may realise that we have different ideas of what it means for issues like this to be resolved. So what does one do? Get a consensus from the community? Who gets to be part of the community that makes this decision? Again I wonder - how do we decide the best thing to do?

I honestly still don’t know the answer to this, beyond asking Allah for guidance. I’ve run a volunteer organisation before, from when I was 16 years old to 25 years old, and have no doubt that I wasn’t perfect. I’m loathe to throw stones. What I do know, however, are the values and principles which I hold dear, and my desire to push for them. I believe it is important to treat the people who work for us with kindness, professionalism and dignity, and if we get that wrong, do what we can to be better. I believe it’s important to credit artists’ work, and if we don’t perhaps that is our ego talking, or something off with our business model. I think it is important to pay people, but - I also ran a volunteer organisation for almost a decade, so I understand the struggle. It’s a balance I am still trying to figure out - and any mistakes I make, I hope to learn from and get better.

And I guess that’s the thing that makes me the most uncomfortable, and feels like a thorn in my side. I wonder to myself, what if I was in this founder’s position? What would I do? How do I redeem myself? Is there any room for growth? What do people want from me?

It’s a scary place to be in, because in one moment you have the expectations, desires, hopes and dreams of a community projected on you, and in another moment you are the epitome of everything they despise, everything they think is wrong with the system, the physical manifestation of structural inequality. The irony, of course, is that it has nothing to do with you as an individual. You no longer become an individual with fears and feelings. You’re an image, a projection on a screen, a reflection of whatever people want you to be. One could argue it’s an impossible ideal to live up to.

I’m not here to be judge and jury. Far from it. It’s sad to hear that a media organisation has left such a sour taste in the mouths of many who have worked for them. It’s sad to see a reasonable request for artistic credit snowball into something so messy and personal. It’s sad to know whatever I write about this, it will make someone unhappy - whether because I am seen as weak and not taking sides, or taking the side of one over the other, coming out too late, coming out too gently, whatever - I have no doubt that people will be upset. However, that’s not why I write this. I write this because it is important that we have measured, critical conversations about what it means to build a healthy community, online and off. What it means to treat each other with respect and dignity, in the way of our Prophet (SAW) - and that includes fair treatment in the workplace as well as when we hear bad news about people we respect. I write this because I am still figuring out the best way to engage, but that is certainly not to negate the experiences of those who are frustrated, angry, hurt and disappointed because of their experiences. For what it’s worth, Aima from @niqabaechronicles is an amazing graphic designer and content creator, and you should commission her - I certainly will be doing so as soon as I need one, inshallah.

Khair, inshallah. Allah knows best, and I pray that He guide me in tough moments like these. I’d love to hear your thoughts - respectfully - on what you think the best way to engage in conversations like this online are, and what you have thought / learnt / reflected on after reading this piece. Much appreciated x

Interview with Investment Magazine on Unconscious Bias

Yassmin Abdel-Magied delivering the Mavis Robertson address via Investment Magazine

Yassmin Abdel-Magied delivering the Mavis Robertson address via Investment Magazine

I was honoured to present the Mavis Robertson address at the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds in Brisbane this year.  As part of the engagement, I answered a few questions for Investment Magazine on #BeatingBias. Here is some of what I said:


In your 2014 TED Talk, you make the point that acknowledging unconscious bias is “not an accusation”. Do you find many people still resist discussions about beating unconscious bias and get defensive?

In 2014, unconscious bias was a relatively new concept in the corporate world. Today, I think many people are aware of its existence, but rather than be outwardly defensive, sometimes they think it is an excuse for biased behaviour – as in, ‘Oh well, I am biased, there is nothing I can do about it.’ The other thing I often hear is people saying that they aren’t biased, and then immediately follow it up with a statement or question that demonstrates the exact bias they were trying to deny. Sometimes those who think they are the least biased are the ones with the most deeply entrenched ways of seeing the world.

How do you suggest people start the process of identifying their own unconscious biases?

It starts with being open to the idea that we are all biased, and that all of us need to go through processes of identifying and acknowledging the biases that we hold. It’s about asking ourselves about every single assumption we make and then questioning why we have made that assumption – where has the information come from, and is there space for that assumption to change? If we have a gut feeling someone is going to be a good leader, for example, is it because they have actually demonstrated anything, or is it because they are tall, they seem sure of themselves, they remind us of ourselves, etc? We need to be comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable – challenging our own biases is never a comfortable experience, but it is worthwhile.

In that TED Talk, you challenged people to seek out and mentor someone different to them. Have you seen any good examples of organisations doing that systematically? How has it worked?

There are a couple of organisations I see do this well, and it tends to be places where the idea of inclusion is a value that is built into the very DNA of the organisation. Organisations that understand how power dynamics work, that demand that you are on board with the culture of the organisation, that see supporting and empowering those with structural disadvantage as a must have, not a nice to have. It works best when everyone in the organisation understands that this is a company-wide ethos, and when individuals are willing to do everything they can in their power to make a difference for others. That sometimes involves sacrifice and discomfort, but when people believe in a goal that is bigger than themselves, it works out well.

What is your advice for someone who knows there is a problem with unconscious bias within their organisation but feels they are not senior enough to lead change?

Leading conversations at a peer-to-peer level is incredibly important and powerful, so that should not be underestimated. Cultural changes need to be both top down and bottom up, so finding ways to stimulate the grassroots conversation can be a stepping stone to broader understanding within the organisation. Also, looping in a champion, or someone else at a higher level who believes in the need for change, is also a good option.

What would you say to any senior executives or directors who are confident they are not afflicted by unconscious bias?

The science says that we all are – even me! The more we think we are not affected by it, the bigger the cognitive blind spot is. The first step in addressing any problem is to admit there is a problem, so I always encourage people to be open to admitting there might be bias, even as a thought experiment. Acknowledging unconscious bias isn’t saying someone is bad per se, but it is an opportunity for improvement – and what senior executive doesn’t like finding ways to improve?


The End of the Road: Leaving Youth Without Borders.

…the end came without fanfare.

Today, the 31st of October 2016, I chaired my final Board meeting at the helm of the organisation I founded in 2007, Youth Without Borders.

I was 16. 16! It was a time of dial up internet, Nokia 3210s, and my traditional hijabi look. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what journey I had just begun. I also had no idea why people thought it was such a big deal, starting something at 16. I just had a lot of energy and wanted to change the world! My parents wouldn’t let me do drugs, so I started an organisation instead. Seemed like a fun thing to do. Why not, right?

The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

This end has arrived without fanfare. It has crept up on me, not unexpectedly, but with a finality that leaves me unmoored, bobbing in the current of an uncharted future. I’m left with sense that one should be celebrating, but I mostly just want a long afternoon lying on the grass, starting at the sun, reminiscing at times that will never be experienced in the same way again.

‘My baby’ is all grown up. It walks and talks, it lives and breaths. It is different to what I wanted it to be, what I hoped for it when it was born, but then — aren’t all children like that? Like I assume it is with kids, I did my best to provide a solid set of morals and values that will guide it through the world, and the rest, well. It’s not my choice anymore, really. Isn’t that scarily beautiful?

Honestly, one of the main reasons why we still exist almost a decade later, as one of the oldest true youth-led organisations in the country, is the fact that we stuck with it. Boring, right? We just didn’t quit. We almost did, many a time… but importantly, we didn’t.

‘We’ was quite often myself and a few of the engineering boys I corralled into doing a fundraising BBQ. ‘We’ was whoever I could convince to stick with it for a little while. ‘We’, was sometimes just me.… but ‘we’ made it. Teenagers and young people wanting to change things, before being a ‘youth-led organisation’ was part of a government’s plan to reinvigorate the economy. Subhanallah.

First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

There are many stories to share. For now, I just take this moment to acknowledge and thank every single one of the people who were a part of the Youth Without Borders journey. Without you, we would have never existed. Really, YOU are what makes this organisation great. Lucy, Anthony — the OG’s — thank you for believing in me at the very beginning. I may have inadvertently made your life difficult at times, and for that, I apologise. To all who may have had a less than optimal experience: for what it is worth, we always tried to do our work in good faith. I hope you will forgive me having to learn critical lessons at your expense.

I am who I am because of Youth Without Borders. But Youth Without Borders is not what it is because of me. It is thanks to the collective sweat equity of hundreds of young people who gave the organisation life, and in doing so believed in their capacity to make a positive impact on the world around them.

In a time when things seem to be falling apart, it’s nice to remember that all over the world, there are young people determined not to let that happen. Have faith in that. Have faith in the fact that the good stuff doesn’t make it in the news, but the good is happening all around you, all the time.

But it does its work and leaves. Its touch is light, imperceptible. Good happens without fanfare.

Fanfare.

Fanfare.

Alhamdulilah for the strength to lead, for the capacity to be heard, for the fortitude to forge on. Alhamdulilah, always.

This was originally posted on Medium.

Why We Must Listen to Hanson, Trump and Leave supporters.

So a couple of things have happened in the last few weeks that have caused my Facebook feed to lose its collective mind.

The first was Brexit.  The media post the vote (which apparently, no-one took seriously) bordered on openly derisive towards Leave voters.  

I love Trevor Noah as much as the next third-culture-kid, but he was just one of the many whose commentary post-vote was essentially, 'how could they do this, don't they know what is good for them?'

Now hold onto that thought, and how the tone might play out.

The second thing that happened was Pauline Hanson's election to the Senate. If you haven't heard of Pauline before, here is a taste of her world view.

Again, her supporters have been labelled as xenophobic, ignorant, racist, etc etc. 

She's tapping into the populism that has fed the Brexit, and the same that is supporting Trump! On this, the general commentariat is agreed.  

Now check out this video... and I want you to listen to what Pauline has to say about 'grass roots Australia'.

Hold on a minute... Start listening to grass roots Australians! ...I know what the people are thinking and how they’re feeling... Let’s get the kids jobs and pull it together as one!
— Pauline Hanson

Now I don't share the world views or policy platforms of Pauline Hanson, Drumpf or Leave voters in any way, shape or form.  However, I think it is incredibly dangerous to ignore and deride those we disagree with. When has derision ever worked to persuade someone to your perspective? 

The question then becomes - well, if we are not to deride and ignore, what to do? How do we deal with these vast feelings of frustration, hurt and exasperation? 

Honestly, I think what we *must* do is start by truly listening. 

Pauline is right on one thing. Leaders haven't been listening to what sections of the population have been trying to say, and so the 'unheard' have taken to yelling in the only way that seems to get the attention of progressives and intellectual elite (a social segment for the purposes of this argument) - by voting in ways that will hurt them - despite what said elite say is 'logical' and 'rational' and 'good'.   

Listening doesn't mean agreeing. But what it might help us to do is *understand* why populism is taking on the hold is has, and understand what needs to be done to tackle it.  

Who is this group? Well on that I don't have a definitive answer, and smarter people than me are working on nailing down the exact demographics. There are some interesting leads though... Check this graph out. 

Note the blue line; inequality within country groups.  It is relatively flat (although increasing slightly) during the industrial revolution, but takes a definite dive during the early 20th century. it gets pretty flat again during the period following the second world war... and then it starts rising in recent decades. The world starts seeing an increase in inequality within countries from about the 1970's. Globalisation has been around for a while by this point, but an interesting reflection is the change in the cost of flying.

According to the Atlantic, 'in 1965, no more than 20 percent of Americans had ever flown in an airplane. By 2000, 50 percent of the country...the number of air passengers tripled between the 1970s and 2011.'

So the crudest way of looking at this is that in the last 40 or 50 years, people have started to increasingly look different in countries (because it was just easier to access different places on planes and thus the link to the anti-immigration sentiment), and coincidentally inequality within countries increased, yet everyone was being told that what was happening in the world was good for them.

What was happening in the world was good for the world, yes. The graphs above demonstrate that on the whole, the world is less unequal (there are less people at the super poor end of the spectrum). 

What hasn't changed though, is the fortune of the poorer people in the richest nations.  The people who globalisation (in the modern, airplane driven sense) hasn't really helped. The ones who have lost positions of privilege and power due to the improving status of the world but who have not been swept up with the tide. The ones who in some sense, feel like the world is forgetting them and leaving them behind. The ones who were once proud of their identity and place in the world, and are searching for that feeling once again. 

Their vote is equal to everyone else's, and they are some of the people that aren't being heard.

Being unheard - silenced even - is not a fun place for anyone to be.  


Inequality is frightening. I truly believe it is one of the most toxic ailments that can afflict a society and so much of what is at the root of the current wave of populism is due to the increasing levels of inequality within nations. Watch the video below (click through) to hear some of the reasons why I think we must keep talking about this deep disease. 

Why inequality is not okay.

Why inequality is not okay.

So what does this have to do with not laughing at Pauline Hanson's voters?  

It's about reminding us to think about the long game. To think about why people are at the stage they are at, and realising that rather than derision, they deserve - like anyone else - to be listened to and heard. That is the minimum we owe. We may disagree, but what is more important is then to tap into that and dig deeper - why are you feeling the pain you are feeling? What in our systems is causing this entrenched and divisive societal ailment? What can we change?

Our societies are meant to be built to protect the lower income ends of society.  It is not supposed to exploit them until they have no way of speaking out and thus turn to being societally destructive.

The world is being served some timely reminders. It is also worth noting that the relative peace and harmony we have been working on and have enjoyed for the past few decades has only occurred because people worked at it.  Harmony doesn't just happen; social cohesion is a constant project and we all need to roll up our sleeves and get stuck into it, on the daily. A socially cohesive society starts with understanding and respect, and a vision that is about the greater good and systems that reinforce that belief. 

We've got some work to do. Khair inshallah... 

 

Guest Blog: A Matter of Being Heard

This is a guest piece by Iman Salim Ali Farrar, the young Muslim lady who is the 2015 YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Premier.  I'm honoured to have her poignant contribution to the blog. 

I was fortunate enough to be elected by the youth delegates as Youth Premier of Queensland in 2008 and it fantastic to see Iman in a similar position this year in NSW.  Chyeah! 

IMAN SALIM ALI FARRAR

IMAN SALIM ALI FARRAR

There comes a point in the hub-bub of everyday politics when the discussion on real issues which face our vast communities seems to give way to disjointed partisanship and strong-arm showmanship. Thus, this shows a neglect of the voices which often need to be heard most. Certainly, the lack of balanced and nuanced debate surrounding such issues by our nation’s leaders has heightened deep visions, sensationalized trivialities and disenfranchised many, particularly the young, from mechanisms of political institutions.

Now, it is with great humility and respect that I was provided with the opportunity to lead this year’s NSW YMCA Youth Parliament as the NSW Youth Premier for 2015. The Youth MPs I had the pleasure of working with are some of the most intelligent, outspoken, talented and politically active people I know; I could not be more honoured, and I thank them sincerely for entrusting me to lead them.

Throughout my life, I have lived across four continents and five different countries; I have traveled and I have been immersed in several different cultures, however, due to this, I was never able to fully settle and develop any deep attachment to call anywhere home. I will not deny that this gave me a realisation beyond what I was exposed to in my home and local area – it showed me the different governing systems, the different values and the inherently different lifestyles that came with that. It developed the value that I now have for the many cultures of the world, but I have never felt more at home then I do here in Sydney, Australia. I may have a British accent, I may not have been born here, but my Australian identity is as strong as anyone else’s. I am a migrant, in fact, besides the indigenous, we are all migrants to Australia, and we have all adopted this place as our home. When you see me, you wouldn’t guess that I am half English, and half Malaysian, that I speak 3 languages and can read and write in another two which I do not understand, and that I am a very, very passionate young woman who will not stand to be discriminated against, especially based on my identity as a Muslim or a woman. I may not look or fit any stereotype of anything that you may have in your mind – but against all the odds; of both a society often fearful of Islam and of a society that does not value the opinions of the youth nearly as much as they should, I am still proud to call Australia my home.

Iman with QLD's Former premier, Anna Bligh.  Reppin' QLD! 

Iman with QLD's Former premier, Anna Bligh.  Reppin' QLD! 

I preach for diversity. For it to be fully accepted in society, in managerial positions, in educational standards, and in State and Federal Parliament, and for it to not be a point of discrimination. I believe that it is about time that our Parliament reflects the diverse and multicultural nature of our population. I preach for diversity to be realised, for our true multicultural society to reflect on this notion of diversity, and for our youth and broader society to have their say on matters that affect them, on issues that they have the ability to put forward resolutions for.  As a woman, it fills me with great joy to see that 60% of the participants in this year’s NSW Youth Parliament are women. It is even more impressive that out of the Government Executive in the Legislative Assembly, 4 out of 5 of the executive positions are filled by some of the most inspirational young women I have met in my life who have such drive and passion for positive change in our society. Not only are we challenging the statusquo represented in current state and federal parliament through closing the gap of women in powerful positions, but we also encompass the multicultural nature of New South Wales that we have all come to embrace.

Through grassroots’ apolitical forums such as YMCA NSW Youth Parliament, the voices of this State’s young leaders are allowed to cut through much of the clutter and put into creating legislation and open debate regarding the issues facing their own communities as well as broader society. I believe that it is pivotal to acknowledge that this is not a matter of small significance. Rather, the Youth Parliament program kindles that political awareness and superb quality integral to the next generation of our states’ leaders – ensuring the future burns even brighter than the past.

And who said we, the youth, don’t have a voice?

It is simply a matter of being heard.

-- 

This is a guest piece by Iman Salim Ali Farrarthe young Muslim lady who is the current 2015 YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Premier.  I'm honoured to have her contribution to the blog and stoked to see more and more young Muslim women doing awesome things and leading with compassion, integrity and vision.

Iman Salim Ali Farrar

Iman Salim Ali Farrar


On Sabrina & Blasts from the Past

When I was 13, I read a book that changed my life (so dramatic!)

"It was a book about Sabrina the Teenage Witch..." the tale always begins.  

Sabrina, in her infinite wisdom, had erased herself from existence, but could see what life was like without her. Her aunts didn't talk to each other because she wasn't there to broker peace, her boyfriend was in jail because he had gone off the tracks without her guidance and her best friend was dating an abusive guy because Sabrina wasn't around to help show her she was worth more.

In short, Sabrina understood that even though she might recognise the impact she had on the people around her, every interaction she had - her very existence - changed the world around her, for the better.  

I decided, at 13, to make that my mantra. Life was to become about making every interaction one that would have a positive impact on the world around me.

Easier said than done, of course.

Sure, it is the ideal framework to have in mind, but it can often fall to the wayside while going through #life, or simply struggling through life's challenges.  When things are busy or challenging, it become much more difficult to consciously be thinking about the impact we are having on those around us.  Instead, we are focused on how to take the next step, how to get through every moment.


After graduating from University, I spent near-half a year with my family in Sudan, attending the International University of Africa to learn formal Arabic.  It was a crazy experience and was actually the inspiration to start this blog - many of my early blog pieces were about trying to understand what was going on around me.  

The classes I attended were made up of young women from various parts of Africa, often mothers who brought their kids to class and who lived incredibly different lives to mine. It was eye opening, enriching, enlightening - but also, incredibly tough. I tried to be myself in a world that had a very strong view on what I 'should be' - and I wasn't playing by the rules.  I had to learn how to navigate a new system I didn't quite fit in, and so often disconnected.

I made friends, some of whom I still occasionally talk to today, but unfortunately, I lost contact with most of my new friends and colleagues. That is why a recent email in my inbox caused me an unreasonable amount of joy:

Salam alaikum dear Yassmin...welll I really don’t know where to start from coz I’m excited. I thought I should share my excitement with you coz you are someone I have always been convinced is of great intellect and life touching potentials, even though I only met you for a short time and we got to talk a few times.

Oh! Interesting, I thought. My curiosity was piqued. 

Yes! we’ve met before and that’s the more reason why I’m excited...sometimes in early to mid 2012 we were at the same institute of Arabic language (ma’ad lugha al arabiyyah) at International University of Africa, Khartoum, Sudan.

We weren’t actually classmates but we’ve had the opportunity to study together at one of those instances where the teachers have to merge students together for some classes. It was on one of those occasions we met and we talked not so extensively, but heartily. You might not remember who I am, but I do vividly remember you, such that when I randomly watched your TED talk on YouTube while just surfing the internet, I knew it was you even without remembering your name, I just knew it was you...that’s how people with infectious personality, high intellect and extremely inspiring leave me feeling even if we’ve only known each other for a few seconds.

You might be wondering why I’m excited. I’m excited because since I stopped seeing you around at ma’ad lugha, it would cross my mind once in a while what you are up to where ever you are. Seeing you on TED and reading a few other things about you, and realizing that you’re doing great for yourself, and not just that, you’re also inspiring others to bring out the best in themselves is just amazing.

I’m really proud and greatly inspired by you. Keep up the good work and Allah is your strength.

We might not have so many things in common, but like you said in one of your talks, “you want to do so many things, that at the end of the day, you just want to be useful”.

I think we share that in common, and you are one of my inspirations to work even better at achieving that goal. I also have a few things going on in my life, if you do not mind, I could share them with you.

Take care.

That is what makes it all worth it. 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the spice of life. To know that our actions are having an impact on others in ways we cannot even imagine, is incredibly humbling. To know that a conversation that you have - a single conversation - can be remembered, is powerful, because it reminds us of the potential of every.single.interaction.

We must never forget that.

I recently met a guy who left his high paying job as a lawyer to start his dream company. When I asked him why he studied law, his response was further proof of the impact of small moments.

Well, at my speech night someone - an important someone - asked me what I was planning to do with my life. I told him, and he said “No son, you’re going to study law and commerce and do this, this and this...” and that’s what I did!

Now that 'important guy' may not even remember the conversation he had with a young graduating student, but his comments shaped this man's life.  


What keeps me going? Knowing that any of the conversations I have, the smiles I share and the paths I cross has the potential to be life changing - for me, or for those around me.  

The same applies to you! Without realising it, you could be giving confidence to the next Mohammed Ali, helping out the next Malala or giving the nudge needed for the next Elon Musk.

How exciting is that?!

That Speech: Obama in the House!

“How much time did you get with him?”

The message was insistent.

“Oh I duno, maybe 10 seconds? Five?"

“Take me through every single second…"

I grinned, cast my mind back to the brief moment of the handshake and let my thumbs fly...

#obama

A photo posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

 

The News

 ...the coolest kid/leader in town - President Barack Obama - was coming to visit my alma mater was everywhere.  Fan girls and boys extolled their excitement with exclamation marks and witty status updates, an exuberance tempered only by the ire of the UQ (University of Queensland) students who realised that ‘day kids’ (students who didn’t stay at college) wouldn’t get a chance to attend. Understandably, it was an unpopular decision, to say the least.  The news that only 40 or so students from every residential college was able to secure one of the sought after tickets rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way.

I have it on good authority that it was the University’s decision, and may have been due to the fact that they had to get RSVPs and confirmations with only a few days notice. The US Consulate/White House (as far as I have been led to believe) was keen to get as wide a demographic as possible but left it in the hands of the Universities and schools.  Make of that what you will...

I was fortunate to snare a spot in the crowd, thank you US Consulate!  Awkwardly though, I didn’t realise the tickets had to be picked up a couple of days before the event (at UQ!) until I was called up by the staff on the collection day!  Sitting in my office in Perth, I scrambled to get a family member to pick up the invite for me. Predictably, no-one in my family picked up the phone! A friend came to my rescue and operation “Ticket Collection” was a success. (Shout out to my saviour Romy!)

I arrived in Brisbane on the morning of the event, rushing home from the airport with my little brother at the wheel and hurriedly deciding what to wear. It had to be comfortable, I thought, in order to be able to handle the incredibly sticky Brisbane heat.  Not too crazy I told myself, but also with just enough ‘Yassmin-ness’ (read: flamboyance) to be appropriate.  Smart Casual, the invite said, but since when did anyone pay attention to what the invite says? I went high waisted pants (*cough* cue *cough) and killer high heels (modest, of course!), so that I wasn’t just tall but towering. Ha, nothing like height to demand presence right?

Securing the Seat

Doors opened at 10.45am: I strolled in and secured a spot three rows from the front.  I hadn't realised the President wasn't arriving for hours, so couldn't understand why the place wasn't immediately full.  As I looked quizzically around the center, the guy next to me explained:

"Well, this is what happens when you rock up two hours early..."

Ah, indeed.  Fortunately though, there was plenty of entertainment. 

Politics of the young people in the crowd aside, the invite list was fascinating.  Once the room began to fill up, there were a few hundred students in the risers complemented by hundreds of the men and women who help shape Australia.  In the far right hand corner of the room sat the ‘heavy hitters’, and boy were there a few! Ex-Governor Generals, Premiers, former Premiers, business men and women and stalwarts of the Australian political scene.  Wayne Swan, Qunnie Bryce, John Story, Sam Walsh, Bronwyn Bishop, Colin Barnett, Campbell Newman and Tanya Plibersek to name a few. It was daunting, but honestly? An awesome opportunity to make some new friends, I thought.  The worst part was not recognising someone I really should have, particularly when they clearly think you know how important they are (sorry Colin Barnett).  Something I am working on…

 Funnily enough, one such 'High Net Worth Individual' commented on the number of heavy hitters in the room.

“The thing is,” he said. “I am not sure they are used to being made to wait!" …and yes, waiting is what they were doing.

Doors opened at 10.45am, but the President didn’t make his entrance until after 1pm. That is a lot of time for someone who deems their time critically important, but alas, if not for Obama, then who for?

The Entrance

The Vice Chancellor of UQ stood up to make a speech.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity... but I'm going to get off this stage because I know no-one is interested in what I have to say! I'm like the warm up act for the Rolling Stones!"

People chuckled, but it was true. There was a buzz in the air. Everyone was excited to be there, and even the loftiest figures a little bit groupie-like.  The background music would occasionally fade out between songs, and every time there was a moment of silence, the room would instantly hush in anticipation.  This is the moment, we were all be thinking, and then a note of the next song would ring out and the building erupt in (slightly nervous) laughter.  The tension was palpable...

Then, the moment we had all been waiting for.

A booming voice over the loud speaker: "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the President of the United States of America..." The rest of the statement was drowned out as everyone leapt to their feet, cameras in hand, half cheering, half taking selfies.  It was a little bit hilarious...
(Obviously, I was not immune. Here is my video of the entrance...)

The announcement of #Obama # universityofqueensland   A video posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

The Big O

I am not a massive fan of Obama's policies, and anyone who has had a discussion with me knows my opinions on his legacy.  That being said, there is no denying his power as an orator.  He came out and instantly the masses swooned, laughing uproariously at his aussie jokes and comments about "Fawr X".

His charisma is undeniable, and he used it to good effect: starting out bolstering the Aussie pride and subtly reinforcing our status as allies.

"As the world's only super power..." he would say, a silent barb towards China.

"These are our choices, oppression or liberty."

The real clincher however, came after he mentioned Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.   The real surprise was what dominated the headlines; Obama's commitment to an International Climate Fund, aiding developing countries tackle the effects of climate change.

This is a fascinating development, particularly as I am personally interested in the effects of energy poverty and the dilemma around setting up countries to gain equal access to clean, cheap and sustainable energy.  More on this at a later date...

The Handshake

It happened like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nopWOC4SRm4

(All jokes aside...)

Speech was made, and he moved to the side of the stage. We had no idea if he was going to meet anyone, but the moment he started descending via the stairs, the crowds surged towards the barricade. There must have been ten secret service / body guard guys on each side, warning people not to shove cameras in his face as he walked along the black fence and greeted individuals.

I was aided by my enormous heels and wide hips.  As I swung my way to the front, a former colleague from the Queensland Museum smiled at me.

"Get in there Yas!"

I grinned back. Oh yes indeed!

As the President turned towards me, my mind raced. What do I say? This wasn't the time for a foreign policy barb I supposed...

The handshake was firm, and his eyes fixed on my face, seemingly like an uncle I hadn't seen in a while.

"Thank you sir" was all I managed.

"How are you," he said (I think. It is a bit of a blur).  He looked right at me (slightly up, I was really tall), perhaps slightly surprised to see someone who looked like me in the Australian crowd.

"Good, thanks..."

The lack of inspiration in my answers is slightly embarrassing in hindsight, as was the fact that I didn't go for the fist bump instead.

The aftermath

Lots of squealing. From everyone involved...

Solid handshake with the President of the United States. #auspol #thishappened #obama

A photo posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

Defence Australia wants to know what we think. Help me tell them.

Ladies and Gents, occasionally we have to use the tools the system has given us to agitate some change. That time may be now...

Defence Australia is calling for submissions from the community to inform the Defence White Paper, which will guide Australia's Defence spending for the next 20 years. 

They want the community to send in thoughts - and if you have ever wished you could change the way Defence spends their money or thinks about things, this is the opportunity you have been looking for.

It is so important for marginalised and minority voices to be heard in this sort of forum.  I'd like to make sure, in whatever way I can, that these voices are heard.

Therefore, if you want to write a submission (or a short paragraph showing your feelings!), check out the links below:

WHITE PAPER (What on earth a 'white paper' is...)

COMMUNITY CONSULTATION (Some info about the consultation process)

PUBLIC SUBMISSIONS (Where you make a submission)

2014 PAPER (What the 2014 paper said).

If you don't want to write your own submission but want your voice heard, email me: yassmin@youthwithoutborders.com.au and tell me what you think, or we can have a chat in some other way.

Make sure your voice gets heard. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE BLACK: Thank you!

A great big thanks to Catherine Fox and "In the Black" for including me as part of the 2014 Young Business Leader's list. Screenshot 2014-06-21 22.09.49

 

It's an absolute honour, and an interesting branch into a world I had never really considered myself a part of before: Business.

Check out the write up here.  While you're there, read up on the other leaders! Everyone is doing something absolutely amazing and inspiring...

[While I'm here, shout out to my folks and the mentors who have helped me along the way!  Honestly if it wasn't for their encouragement and support, I wouldn't be at full, I'd be at no throttle at all].

An excerpt:

Still in her early 20s, Abdel-Magied says the best advice she’s been given is to be adaptable, and to use the leverage you have. A young Muslim girl interested in working in the community and with an engineering background is an unusual combination, she admits, but it means people listen.

“I’ve always looked at the opportunities that have come my way and had a goal – but don’t let that blind you to other avenues. The job that I’m in now, it was almost a whim that led me to apply to work on a rig and led me onto a new path. And you need to ask all the silly questions when you are in the early part of your career before you are seen as ‘the expert’.’’

 

"My Agenda"

Hey hey hey! How are we all this Easter long weekend? I am cooped up in bed with a throat tickle and cold, thinking this is my body's way of forcing me to have some time off.  Fair enough, but that isn't going to stop me from furiously following the F1 and my lads Liverpool this weekend!  An awesome week of emails, study and sport. #Goodtimes...

Onto more formal matters...

I've been fortunate to be invited to be a part of a new initiative named 'My Agenda' that has been launched recently.  I have a couple of months to play around with it and it looks interesting so far...

Screenshot 2014-04-19 14.03.34

'My Agenda' is like a LinkedIn for women with a bit more support.  It "enables you to connect with Australia’s best professional coaches through discussions and regular events."

I've been encouraged to jump in, ask questions and register for events.

Seems like an awesome way to meet strong women and make some new friends. Check it out here and let me know what you think?