A conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

21st century leaders who will inspire you – Yassmin Abdel-Magied

At just 16 years of age, Yassmin Abdel-Magied established the organisation Youth Without Borders, a forum that empowers youth to work together for the implementation of positive change within their communities, locally and internationally.  On an international level, the organisation is working with a youth group in Indonesia to establish mobile libraries and is in the early stages of discussion with the Queensland State Library to expand the project to include Papua New Guinea.


Locally, Yassmin works with schools to promote diversity and understanding using sport as a medium for change. She is currently coordinating Shinpads and Hijabs, a soccer training program for young Muslim women. The program has six local female Muslim community representatives involved as volunteer coaches and mentoring is being provided by players from Queensland W-League club Brisbane Roar. Yassmin also sits on the board of the Youth Affairs Network of Queensland and while still at school became the Deputy Chair of the Queensland Youth Council. She serves as a Director of the Queensland Museum and is a member of the Premier's Design Council.


Yassmin's work in the community is empowering young people to make positive changes in their lives and their communities.

On June 17 1,000 special guests were part of a leadership dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This luncheon at the Brisbane Convention Centre explored the theme of values in leadership and the importance of environmental thinking and was moderated by Sandra Sully.

Green Cross partnered with luncheon presenter, Dalai Lama in Australia Ltd, because we believe that the Dalai Lama has a special ability to connect spiritual and environmental values. We selected a panel of business and community leaders to join Sandra Sully after the Dalai Lama spoke, to help our audience connect with inspiring leadership at a personal level.


Here we profile luncheon panelist Yassmin Abdel-Magied, 2010 Young Queenslander of the Year. Yassmin graduated with an OP 1 in her high school and is a recipient of the University of Queensland's Deans Excellence scholarship. She is finishing up her Engineering degree, planning for an international career in Formula 1 racing, and scaling up the NGO she founded: Youth Without Borders while serving on a number of government and community boards.


MB - Yassmin I can't count the number of leadership roles that you have embraced - what is the youth edge to leadership from your perspective?

YAM - My generation is optimistic about the future and that's a great place to start when it comes to changing the world - which is what leadership is about. It's not that young people are naïve or 100% optimistic all the time. It's that they have faith that they can make things happen.


That has consequences for the style of leadership that works with young people. It means we work more collaboratively towards project aims - check out who's doing similar work, share things on social media, and create wide reaching networks that help people to link together.


My idea of leadership is more democratic - probably because of the transparency that a digital society enables.


I recently read an article in The Australia that suggested that young people are moving away from party politics. They are more interested in democratic forums that are open.


MB - What inspires you to contribute to the community?


YAM - A number of things. I'm really fortunate to have parents that instilled community values. We go back to the Sudan, where I'm from, every few years and we look for ways of giving back, especially given the privileged access to education that I have had in Australia.  [ed. note - in 2009/10 Yassmin was Apprentice Mechanic at the University of Sudan where she dismantled and studied four cylinder petrol and diesel engines and learned about the four systems operating within the engine and basic maintenance techniques].


I think that regardless of my background and Muslim religion, I have an innate drive to give back - everybody has that drive to help others - whether or not they are able to do that depends on whether they have the opportunity. So a lot of what I do is to provide young people with the opportunity to give back..


MB - Share with us some examples of things you have created that make a difference in the lives of young people…


YAM - The One Moon project is one of my favorites. A friend came up with the idea to send extra sanitary products to hospitals and refuge camps in Africa where women suffer through very difficult conditions while struggling to care for their families. She didn't know how to go about it, so our charity - Youth Without Borders (YWB) - offered our networks as a foundation to link her with other resources and people. We supported her to the point where she was sustainable enough to start her own organisation, and she's now progressing the work successfully!


For me that's a big idea - let people develop opportunities themselves.


Another example is "Shinpads and Hijabs". This idea came from New South Wales where a group, Football United, wanted to provided opportunities for young Muslim and indigenous girls to get soccer training. We valued this idea enough to support it and now YWB has established a grass roots coaching program that's making a difference. This program has become collaboration between Football United , Q-Connect, the Islamic College of Brisbane and Vikings Futsal with support from a number of organisations. I'm the head coach of the program, and I hope it will lead to more collaboration within community and sporting groups.


The idea for a mobile library project came form a 15 yr old Indonesian girl. She connected with YWB and told us that in her town of 1 million they didn't have a public library. YWB contact the Australian embassy and other organisations and together we developed a proposal for a system of mobile libraries. By pulling together resources already there were able to work together. These days 150 young people use the mobile library every week.


MB - So how do spiritual values motivate you, if at all?


YAM - My spiritual values are my guide book. When I want to work out my path, I come back to my religion because it gives me a framework. It's the way I live my life. However in terms of helping others - yes, it motivates me, but its not the sole reason I do it. The fact that I'm religious is one of the many motivations at play. I am very grateful to be a spiritual person because it makes life more simple - it guides me in what's right and what's wrong, allowing me to live life without having to lose my way in the gray areas.


It's been something that has grown over a long period of time. That's what it is. As a Muslim we have all these issues to deal with, my visual appearance etc - but I really do appreciate it.


I'd like to make a big disclaimer though  - religion is purely personal thing I don't feel the need to preach unless people ask, because it is so personal and everyone has their own choice of how they live they their lives.


MB - How does sustainability fit into your values?


YAM - Sustainability is something that I've been brought up with as a given. My parents taught us not to waste anything because everything is a gift, everything should be enjoyed in moderation.


Ironically sustainability is becoming something that everyone finds important - its been a long time coming, and now its finally front and centre.


For young people, the last 10 to 15 years have seen a massive shift - the environment is one of those big issues that everyone has some passion for. It will remain one of our fighting points in the sense that it is a defining issue - gone from fringe to mainstream issues. Let face it - this is the defining issue of our generation.


MB - Yassmin what's it like to be a young person in positions of power - what challenges do you confront?


YAM - More often than not, even when young people are in decision-making situations, they are pegged as "youth reps dealing with youth issues". It's unfortunate there are not more young people in decision-making to break this mold.


Leadership is being redefined for my generation. How it will manifest when we are leaders of world is quite different because our style is so different. I understand that still a lot of young people feel they are not being heard (they sit at the kids table).


We need to understand that young people are interested in societal issues - wider perspectives - so they are not typecast and can address broader challenges.


MB - What achievement are you most proud of?


YAM - No single thing. For me, what inspires me is the daily challenges I overcome - continuing the work behind the scenes that people don't see. That scholarship or that award, they are a culmination of years of work. I am proud to have capacity to inspire others to go out and do good things. That passion to empower others is what I'm most proud of…


MB - Final question - so what does a powerhouse at age 20 do for a day job when she finally gets her first job???


Actually my real passion is F1 Racing! I am in love with Ferraris - they are beautiful machines. I just came back from the UK where I spoke with a number of people in the F1 industry looking for career opportunities…. (ed. note: watch this space!!!)

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