Contrary to the advice of many popular listicles, the solution to your lack of personal fulfilment may not be to quit your job and travel the world.
As a bold new generation of Malaysians is realising, having both a high-flying career and helping out in the local community is providing a level of satisfaction higher than lugging a backpack across South America.
Riyana Razalee is one such example.
After spending almost four years working hard to establish a career as a banker, shefelt she had become too caught up in the corporate world.
“In a moment of reflection, I realised all my goals were about me,” she said. “It sounds corny, but I wanted something more.”
Resolving to do something more for a community where she barely knew anymore, Riyana joined Global Shapers, an initiative of the World Economic Forum (WEF), designed to empower youths aged 20 to 30 as they worked together to make a tangible, positive impact on society.
There is a network of over 6,000 Global Shapers around the world, each one chosen for their potential, past achievements, and drive to do even more for their local community.
They are organised into 457 city hubs where their mandate is to bring fresh entrepreneurial vigour to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
The San Francisco hub, for example, created ShelterTech which uses free internet, an app called Ask Darcel and other tech solutions to address the needs of low income, homeless and underserved people.
Here at the Kuala Lumpur Hub, there are a number of successful social projects in progress. The Global Shapers Speakers Series (SSS) for example, hosts public forums to discuss global issues and how they relate to Malaysians.
“Our awareness of Asean in Malaysia is amongst the lowest of all member states,” said Global Shaper Zaim Mohzani, 26, co-founder of NGO Nation Building School. He came up with the idea for SSS to address this ambivalent attitude towards global and regional politics.
“As Malaysians, we need a shift in mentality,” he says. “We’re very inward looking and most of us don’t know much about foreign affairs and policy.
“If we’re going to keep up with the world and find our place in it, we need to start thinking about and engaging with these big issues. That’s what SSS gives people a chance to do.”
The most recent SSS event saw Bukit Mertajam MP and Young Global Leader, YB Steven Sim share the story of the #BetterPenang app with members of the public.
The app allows members of the public to submit complaints to the local government online instead of dealing with paperwork at official offices. App users can keep track of the response and so far all complaints have been addressed within 14 days – from fixing street lights to dealing with illegal parking.
“The topic at the last SSS event was Responsive Leadership, and it sparked something,” said Riyana, who is also part of the SSS team. “People left thinking about how they could create similar projects here in KL.”
The Global Shaper in Malaysia also go down to the ground to help the community through projects like After5, led by digital marketer, Liew May Ling, 25.
Growing up in a rural town, Liew had no idea of the opportunities and scholarships that were available to her after she left school. It was by chance that her mother’s friend gave her some scholarship applications which lead her to Kuala Lumpur.
That small but life-changing experience inspired the project – she wanted all school-goers to have the knowledge they needed to plan for their future and to find out more about their career options, whether they achieved good grades or not.
She and her team came up with a one-day course that would help students discover their interests, potential, and the opportunities available to them.
Liew is also working on a new module: financial literacy.
According to the Insolvency Department’s records, almost 25,000 Malaysians under the age of 35 were declared bankrupt between 2010 and June 2015.
“Most of us haven’t been taught properly about money and investing,” she said. “There are gaps in our education system and if I wait for someone else to act maybe only my grandchildren will benefit!”
It might seem like a tall order, having to juggle both corporate jobs and community work, but for Zaim, Riyana and Liew, it’s all about time management, which, by the way, is an unofficial requirement for anyone hoping to become a Global Shaper.
Accountant Arinah Najwa, 26, thinks this marriage of corporate and social worlds is a perfect combination. “In today’s day and age, you must be able to do both.”
She admitted to feeling overwhelmed by the seemingly endless flow of articles and videos about human suffering.
“I needed to channel that feeling into something,” she said, and she did, by running the BetterStreets project. It started off as an urban regeneration project to improve run-down urban spaces in KL through art murals and installations.
The project recently shifted focus in response to United Nations projections that Malaysia will be an “aging nation” by 2030. The team is now conducting research and planning strategies for its next project, to make the city more liveable for the elderly.
The best thing about being a Global Shaper, she said, is that helping the community didn’t come at the expense of her career.
“Sometimes people do full-time charity work and they can’t afford to live,” she said. “They become disenfranchised and quit altogether. It’s a waste.”
Young, passionate people like Zaim, Riyana, Liew and Arinah are what the nation needs in order to develop into a first-world country – youth who have seen a problem or injustice, and realised that they are capable of changing it.
“Maybe I can’t change a policy overnight, but I can change one person’s mind, and that’s the first step,” said Arinah.