This is a speech I delivered at Girl for Girls network on women leadership recently. I hope my two daughters will read it someday.
My name is Shaun Hoon. I am the founder of Curious Mind. I am also the person many would recognize as the previous publisher of Inspire magazine. While the name of my company and my job title have changed, what I do is largely no different. I pride myself as the distributor of inspirational stories. It used to be through publications, but now I bring together people in person through meetings and conferences to share their stories, especially to the youth.
50 Most Influential Women in Brunei
7 years ago, when I started Inspire magazine. On the very second issue, we published 50 Most Influential Women (download here) in Brunei. We published this at the backdrop of the month after the implementation of Syariah law in Brunei. I wanted to proof to the world that women discrimination in Brunei is a total misconception, I wanted to use our magazine as a vehicle to show that the women in our country are diverse, capable and are actively contributing to the society. Above all, I wanted the world to know that they are proudly celebrated.
On a personal level, I wanted the issue to be the future blueprint for my two daughters when they grow up, that Siena and Alannah can be anything that they want to be, just by drawing reference from those 50 women that daddy once wrote about.
You Can’t Be What You Don’t see
When Shan-Lyn Ma, the founder of Zola.com (the world’s leading platform for “everything-wedding”) was asked about how to inspire girls to be leaders, she said something very simple but yet profound. She responded: You Can’t be What You Don’t See. I guess she brilliantly summed up the voice in my head in that one sentence; that I wanted my daughters to dare to dream, looking at women that have come before them. I wanted them to summon the courage like Dk Najibah – the first Brunei woman to have successfully completed an expedition to the South Pole. In this instance, perhaps they can try the North Pole. I wanted my daughters to aspire to be like Datin Adina, the first female Deputy Minister in Brunei. In this instance, why not the Minister.
Changing the minds of the Young Boys
3 years ago, I attended the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation award ceremony in Manila where they recognized the most outstanding leaders that made significant societal change in the community across Asia. An articulate young woman asked the panel for advice for young women aspiring to reach their full potential one day. The RMAF awardee, Ms Vo Thi Hoang Yen from Vietnam responded with an out of the box answer that I have never considered of before. She cited; “It’s hard to change discrimination against women equality. Men (would) always refuse to change. If you really want to promote the rise of young women, you have to start by working with the young boys, so that they can change their mindset. For if they are open and are able to change their mindset, it will be easier.” I guess this explains the wisdom of why I am invited here to speak by Ms Zubaidah today, even though I clearly don’t fit the mound.
Needless to say, it is absolutely critical for both genders to work hand in hand to advocate for women’s equal opportunity in the future. For the parents out there, you must do your part in educating your boys at home since young!
So if you ask me, after hundreds of interviews through my years with some of the most outstanding figures locally and abroad, what have I personally learned from the Women leaders that I have spoken to, which I can share with you today?
Perhaps what I observed is more pertinent than what I have heard through the interviews – it struck me that the most outstanding women leaders ubiquitously share a belief that they are no less capable than their male counterparts. Nor do they feel any less deserving of their leadership position.
This Self-Belief is critical because as a woman, your biggest enemy is never the opposite gender or the societal norm. But your own internal dialogue with yourself.
I once interviewed a female doctor who was determined to breaking the family mould to becoming one of the most spectacular doctors in Brunei simply because her aunt told her that her future belongs to the kitchen floor at home. If she had not reached into her internal belief that evening, if she had listened to the shallow world view of her aunt, we would not have Dr Noor Affizan inspiring so many would-be female doctors in our midst today.
As a male species, we have never thought of our own gender as a limitation because we had never been brought up to think that we are any less than the opposite gender when we were young.
Why should it be any different for you?
One of the most important legacies that COVID-19 will leave to humankind, in my humble opinion, is how women can be, and will be a better world leader than their male counter parts. As a father of two daughters, I am feeling optimistic about the possibilities that my daughters will grow up in an era where the pendulum is swung the other way, that it’s finally their turn to shine for a change.
Today is a very special day for me, for if my Grandmother had been alive, she would have been celebrating her 93rd birthday. I want to conclude by paying a special tribute to my grandmother, for she had been the pillar of our family and a prime example of women leadership for me on so many levels, way before I could articulate all these. I want to take this opportunity send my advance thanks to all the women at present today, for you will be the source of inspiration for my two girls, because of your decision to be their role models today.