Bridging the Gap Between Youths and NGOs

Jordan Lok
Supriya Sivabalan
April 30, 2021

Youth today are the leaders of tomorrow - they are the future. The YSEALI Project celebrates this and champions Malaysian youth by providing them an avenue to make change as potential leaders. 

After two intense months, the YSEALI Project finally drew to a close on 29th September 2019. How time flies! We have travelled across Selangor, Sabah, Sarawak, Johor, Penang, Terengganu, Kelantan, and Kedah - a total of 8 states where hundreds of passionate university students worked with NGOs performing astounding feats in their respective fields - be it with people, animals, or the environment.

Nurturing Changemakers and Sparking Youth Development

The YSEALI Project was made possible thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, whose aim was to focus beyond urban Kuala Lumpur in their outreach program. Hence, the idea of a travelling project was pitched. In the YSEALI Project, NGOs had the opportunity to present their most pressing issues, and participants huddled up to curate solutions. The best solution would be selected and the team will be given a cash grant for an implementation stage after the project. That’s exactly what happened in each of the eight states - Selangor, Sabah, Sarawak, Johor, Penang, Terengganu, Kelantan, and Kedah - with 2 NGOs, 50 students, and 2 winning solutions.

“I’ve seen many projects that focus on entrepreneurship and leadership, but this project is definitely among the very few (if not only) that included social entrepreneurship as its core themes,” said student Rebecca Lee on her participation in the Kelantan leg. 

Rebecca’s team went on to become finalists with their idea to create a streamlined volunteer management system through an online recruitment platform and data management system for Yayasan Orang Kurang Upaya (YOKUK). Our partner Positive X joined us on our trip to facilitate a 2-day Design Thinking workshop – a first for many of the students involved! A human-centric approach to problem-solving, we sent students through a structured learning process that enabled them to problem-solve effectively and efficiently. Positive X facilitator, Marcus Koh, elaborated that this approach requires participants to articulate their thoughts, feelings, and opinions – a behaviour that doesn’t come naturally to many of us in the context of a typical Asian upbringing.

“[Design Thinking] gives students the ability and the confidence to solve problems that are complex. It teaches us to experiment with our ideas and embrace failure. It is in failure that we learn the most.”

From March to May 2019, a total of 16 teams were chosen as finalists (2 per state), with each given a cash grant of RM2,000 to work closely with the respective NGOs. Fast forward 4 months later, the YSEALI project was wrapped up in a 3 day grand finale in September which showcased the progress and results of all the winning teams’ efforts in creating plausible change to everyday communal issues. 11 projects were successfully implemented at the end of YSEALI and 5 more were developed further upon completion of the programme. 

Understanding the Bigger Picture

Tackling the issues of 16 NGOs nationwide is no small feat. The YSEALI Project has fostered a strong connection between YSEALI members and various leaders across the country who worked collaboratively with a shared vision and end goal in mind. This enabled a spirit of entrepreneurship among the participating youths which created a ripple effect through the community as these young people began to adopt a changemaker mindset throughout the programme. When given the opportunity, these young minds truly stepped up to the challenge and presented fresh, confident ideas as they spoke from the heart of the community. “The enthusiasm of all the participants, their creativity, and their desire to help was inspiring,mentioned Kathryn Rivai of Etania School in Sabah. The “all talk, no action” notion of leadership camps and projects was obliterated by YSEALI’s approach as the ideas proposed by participants were actually carried out through the implementation of a micro grant programme which kick-started the plans. 

“I think the biggest highlight of the bootcamp is taking on a real-life case study, and designing our solutions around the problem. The abundance of help and resources that I get from the facilitators in the bootcamp, and having to pitch our ideas to the NGOs and U.S. embassy representatives was also very exciting,” mentioned Kang Yao, one of the participants who took part in the Johor leg. 

Kang Yao’s team proposed a series of activities to target university students in embracing the startup culture in Malaysia - which is the challenge posed by JohorStartup founder, Feng. Kang Yao and his team found the YSEALI journey extremely impactful and vowed to continue to be student ambassadors for the startup industry in Johor to advocate for the startup culture, even once the programme ends. Besides Kang Yao, participant Esther Kana has mentioned that YSEALI has given her a fresh perspective as it ignited her interest in social entrepreneurship. Esther mentions a lack of social enterprises in Sarawak, where she participated in the programme. She is inspired by the US Embassy’s efforts under YSEALI to further spark passion within youths in East Malaysia, given the gap of opportunities in this sector. 

Without this education, before this bootcamp, it would seem impossible to tackle social causes, making me [reluctant] to work more in my own community. I believe a job well done is an understatement for the organisers because they are willing [to] continue to help the winning teams beyond their means even after the YSEALI bootcamp.”

Integrating Malaysian Youth and local NGOs

The YSEALI Project has highlighted the passion and potential of Malaysian youths, besides bringing sound solutions for social challenges to the table for several NGOs in Malaysia. Ultimately, positive development in the community sector was achieved. Changes were tried, tested and made as young leaders were shaped in the process. 

Jordan Lok

An INFJ personality type and a savant of everything peculiar, Jordan often finds themself dabbling in the likes of self-advocating, creative writing and music.

Supriya Sivabalan

Supriya is an actuarial science student and a budding content writer at heart, sowing the seeds of copious alluring and magnetic narratives to tell memorable stories.