‘How I Co-Founded An NGO’ Author Hannah Kam Shares 7 Ways To Impact Others Positively
Four years ago, Organisation for National Empowerment (ONE) co-founder Hannah Kam had never considered writing a book about her experiences behind the successful youth-led NGO. Back then, she’d probably have regarded the idea with the same vigour and optimism that she usually exhibits in the face of any challenge.
With the release of her new book, ‘How I Co-Founded an NGO’ this month, the young lawyer can now add the title of author to her current list of impressive achievements. Here are her 7 tips on creating a positive change in society.
1/7 Starting a meaningful movement isn’t as impossible as it sounds
Two things are all that’s needed: the heart to persevere, and a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. This is the advice that Hannah imparts to peers when asked how each individual can start his or her own journey towards nation-building.
“I’ve had a lot of young people come up to me saying ‘I want to get involved in nation-building and community work, but I don’t know where to start'," Hannah says.
“I always tell them that I didn’t know anything about running an NGO when I started ONE a few years ago. It’s been a learning curve for all of us.” As Hannah poignantly recounts what led her and her fellow co-founders to start ONE in her book, she hopes that each reader will be inspired to follow her example despite the surmounting odds.
2/7 What happens when ordinary people do extraordinary things
Unsurprisingly, Hannah hints that this book is just the beginning of greater things to come. Her central objective in writing ‘How I Co-founded An NGO’ is nothing short of inspiring:
“I hope it serves as a starting point for young people out there who can read it and say, ‘She’s a normal girl with her own challenges and a full-time job; if she’s managed to do these things, then maybe I can too.”
3/7 Handling criticism for what it is
“You guys will never make it.”
“No action. Talk only…”
“Silly young punks...”
In her book, Hannah only briefly mentions what has likely been a deluge of thoughtless criticism targeted at her and the other ONE co-founders. Wherever possible, she diplomatically redirects the attention on the more constructive opinions of those who matter most.
“I don’t get worked up about critics. I’ve come to understand the difference between people who give constructive advice and people who don’t. I can only assume that those who don’t give constructive advice don’t have good intentions,” she says.
“The silver lining is that these people are few and far between; the majority of young Malaysians I have met are enthusiastic, passionate and very committed. Even if people want to put us down, at least we know we’re being noticed and that our work is having an impact.”
Read also: Facing The Music: Muhammad Iqbal Ameer On Getting Through The FMFA 2014 Crisis
4/7 The smallest efforts can make a huge impact
Hannah’s internship at the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) in Kuala Lumpur in 2011 was both disheartening and empowering, an experience that would ultimately strengthen her interest in women’s empowerment and community work.
“I spent 3 months at UNHCR, day in and day out seeing some honestly horrific things, yet also seeing the hope that you can give people who have nothing to look forward to,” she says.
“It taught me that no matter how small you think something is that you’re doing, it can really make a huge impact on somebody’s life.”
5/7 Participate first
Forget lofty visions about a distant utopian future: what’s a practical way that young people can be involved in nation-building? Hannah’s advice: start participating in various initiatives and identify what interests you from there.
“While I would encourage everyone to join ONE, I understand that people have interests elsewhere. Go on social media – there are millions of groups there – see what events they have and if you’re interested, just give it a go!”
Whether it’s visiting an old folk’s home or meeting a group of like-minded people on a Saturday afternoon, Hannah’s perspective offers some encouragement:
“You don’t lose anything from giving something a try. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to continue on with it.”
6/7 Value the past, forge your own future
Convinced that her international school education cultivated a sense of tolerance and an appreciation for cultural diversity, Hannah also admits that critics often use her “privileged upbringing” against her.
“I didn’t go to a local school which is supposed to be inherently ‘bad’. But when you’re in an international school, people are from everywhere, there’s no racism or a sense of being different. That’s very much like Malaysia, or what Malaysia should be,” she says.
“I think it’s what you make of your own opportunities in life; whether you started in a local school or an international school, it’s about what you learn and how you apply that.”
7/7 No man (or woman) is an island
Hannah smiles good-naturedly; she explains that her book doesn’t sugar-coat the challenges she’s faced along her journey, and she's not under any impressions that change will happen overnight. What are her highest hopes for her new book? In her own words:
“I hope it encourages young people to understand that if you have the heart for nation-building and if you have the willingness to work together with your fellow Malaysians, anything is possible.”