"I always had a dream to go overseas, but my dad told me that he had no funds to send me. I felt like it was not fair that my friends who were genuinely richer were able to go overseas. The other friends got scholarships. I got 8 A1s and 1 C5 (for Bahasa Malaysia), but I just couldn’t get a scholarship. So I took action on my own hands.
I went to government embassies and looked for all the addresses of universities around the world. I wrote to universities like Harvard and Princeton, and said, ‘Please give me a scholarship. I am very good, I play football and represented my school for a lot of competitions. You will be very stupid if you don’t give me a scholarship.’ I said it in a nice way la (laughs).
At that time, my father was working in the government and he got an award for me doing well in SPM. I got RM100 per A1, so I got about RM800. I thought, must do something more productive with this money. So instead of buying stuff, I bought stamps to send the letters, and spent the rest of it to take my SATs and TOEFL exams.
I did really well for my SATs - I got 800 for Maths and 640 for English. I got early entrance into Princeton and Georgetown Universities, with a small 25% scholarship.
Eventually, I got a full scholarship from Bridgeport University, covering tuition fees, food and lodging. I got the letter on December 22nd, and school started on January 4th. So I dropped Form 6, asked my father for a few thousand dollars, and flew off to the US.
The scholarship was given by the university. They gave 10 scholarships to each country, all 160 countries, so it was like a mini United Nations (UN).
The Chinese gave the scholarship to the top 10 students from top Chinese universities including Peking university, so they were super smart kids. But some of the Africans nations were different - some were corrupt, giving the scholarships to the government officials’ kids.
I knew the Sudanese Finance Minister’s kid, and then 6 months later, he said that his father was killed in a coup d'etat. Another one of my classmates were Sharon and Fatima Mugabe, the Mugabe sisters from Zimbabwe. At that time, Robert Mugabe was still a freedom fighter.
From a young age, me and my best friends always wanted to do crazy stuff and somehow managed to get away with it.
For example, we didn’t have a padang to play football, so we looked around and found a padang. We cleared the land together, and we told our friends to go steal grass from their house. Don’t have a cangkul? We lent them a cangkul. We did all of that just so we can have grass on the padang to play football.
In hindsight, I realised it has helped teach us little lessons in leadership. I had to influence 20 boys to steal grass from their own house. In a way, I was creating a followership. Part of being a leader is to create followers. You have to cast a vision for them, like ‘when we have this padang, we can play football anytime we like.’
I don’t know what I was doing at that time - I was just a kid trying to convince them just to get things done, because i just want a football field. But that starts to teach you, that you need to learn storytelling, you need to put things in perspective, you need to tell the story of the future in order to be a leader. Because when they see the future, they are more willing to put the effort.
That’s called visioning. That’s part of our science of building leaders in Leaderonomics.
Leaderonomics started when I was helping underprivileged kids in Sabah and Sarawak through giving leadership camps. It was quite interesting, because not only were these kids impacted as individuals, but the communities that they lived in also had significant impact.
I wondered, why can’t we take this and make it a bigger version? If we take one person, and impact the community that they live in, their leadership will spread and create a great community of love. And that is how Leaderonomics was born. It is simply an initiative to help every single person become the leader that that they were meant to be.”
Humans of Kuala Lumpur is partnering with Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) in featuring inspiring and impact-driven entrepreneurs, problem solvers and startups in their mission to solve Malaysia’s problems! #HumansofMaGIC