How The Gang Murder Of Her Father Inspired Jazz Tan To Help At-Risk Youth
“When my dad was around, my mum and I were always worried about who was going to be outside our front door,” says Jazz Tan, her voice wavering slightly over the phone from Kuala Lumpur. She always knew her father was involved in gang activity, and late at night she’d often “hear arguments and people coming to look for him.”
But the night he was murdered by gangsters in their home still rocked her to her core. When he died, I realised I was going to have to grow up very, very fast, she says.
“My mum used to stay at home and care for me, but suddenly losing my dad meant we also lost our only source of income,” says Tan. “I was working in coffee stores, washing plates—whatever I could do to just keep us alive.”
I wanted to keep kids off the streets. I wanted to put them into healthy activities. I figured that events are the best way to do it
— Jazz Tan
At just 14-years-old, struggling for money and in a single-parent home in the Malaysian island of Penang, the odds weren’t in Tan’s favour. But Tan’s mother pushed her to study harder and create a better life for herself. “My mum told me that if I didn't get a scholarship, [we wouldn't have enough money] for me to go to college.”
Tan chose to study computer science, looking ahead to a future in the aviation industry. But as she was starting her studies, a conversation with a friend changed everything, sparking the idea of a platform to help at-risk kids who were drifting into a life of gangs and violent crime.
My friend wanted to organise a concert at her school to raise funds for her community, but her principal rejected the project. So instead she asked me to help her organise the concert with her and work with other students to raise money. That’s how my entire business got started, says Tan.
See also: Is Tech Still Forgetting About Women?
Tan realised that the business idea—raising money to fund resources that encourage young people stay in school, find their passion and build a positive relationship with their community—was the perfect way to give back to her neighbourhood. “I didn’t want other youth to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” says Tan. “When you’re at an age where you are still discovering yourself, if you start being around the wrong kind of people and participating in the wrong kinds of activities, your entire future will end up differently.”
“So I thought, rather than channeling all this negative energy towards whoever murdered my father, I could instead channel that energy into my self-development,” says Tan. “I wanted to keep kids off the streets. I wanted to put them into healthy activities. I figured that events are the best way to do it.”
See also: 7 Inspiring Biographies To Read From Brave Women Across The Globe
If you’re revengeful for what’s happened to you, you’ll end up feeling very empty—even if you take revenge on the person who did you wrong. Instead, channel your energy into making yourself successful
— Jazz Tan
In 2013, nine years after the death of her father, Tan finished her studies and launched YouthsToday, a platform that allows students to launch projects based on their passions, and provides funding to make these visions a reality. “Our system matches the student’s programme with sponsors or companies who are willing to fund the students, and in return, the students run a promotional campaign or marketing campaign on top of their student projects to help the brands market to their university.”
“I built the platform while I was at college and now it’s grown into the feasible business model it is today,” says Tan. YouthsToday is now in both private and public universities across Malaysia, and has partnered with brands including KFC and Sony. Since its launch, the company has raised almost RM1 million (over US$230,000) to support more than 50,000 young people.
See also: Scientists Use AI To Find Optimal Coronavirus Treatments
“I remember there was one boy who wanted to drop out of school,” says Tan, looking back to the early days of the project. I asked him, ‘What’s your passion?’ He told me it was photography. So I suggested he should go back to school and run a photography competition for himself and his friends, just to try something out!”
“We got Sony to sponsor his project, and they provided cameras as well as monetary sponsorship. And he went back to school, he didn’t drop out. Now he has his own photography studio, and he actually shot at the Olympics in 2016!”
See also: Singapore's Youngest Ever Nominated Member Of Parliament On Fighting Sexual Harassment On Campus
For Tan, YouthsToday is not only an opportunity for her to shield young people from the fate her father faced, but also a way to teach them how to deal with negative situations—no matter how futile it might seem. Changing your mindset is the first step, Tan says. “Channel all that negative energy you’re feeling into bringing good into the community,” she says.
“If you’re revengeful for what’s happened to you, you’ll end up feeling very empty—even if you take revenge on the person who did you wrong. Instead, channel your energy into making yourself successful. Trust me, that feeling itself will definitely help you to grow further and it will change your life in many ways.”
See honourees from the Education category of the Gen.T List 2019.