Jemmila Leaders - Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Meet our Jemmila Leader Yassmin Abdel-Magied an engineer, activist and founder of Youth Without Boarders. To nominate yourself or another inspiring Muslim woman, click here.
“The message I’m really big on is that you don’t have to wait for anyone. I was only 16 with an idea and I was able – with the support of those around me – to make it happen. No matter how young you are, you have that in you. Realize you can change the world around you.”
Yassmin, you have been chosen as a Jemmila Leader because of your continuous involvement in empowerment of women and youth, starting from a young age. How does one become a change maker?
I think what you really need to do is believe in the cause. When it comes to being a change maker, it’s not necessarily about you – you are not the important thing – the important thing is the change that you are making. Youth Without Borders, for years, started on really small projects because that was the capacity we had. You don’t have to do huge crazy things to make a difference.
You founded the organization Youth Without Borders at the age of 16, could you tell us what the organization entails?
What we’re about is empowering young people to be leaders of positive change. Not necessarily in any particular field but just be leaders of positive change in their community. We do that by building their capacity through community led initiatives. We help young people who have their own ideas to run their own projects, but we also have projects that we run continuously that focus on empowering young people and broadening their horizons. We are completely youth run and youth led, so not only are you empowering the people you are working with, but the people involved in setting up and running the project learn a whole bunch of skills themselves.
You also work as an engineer on an oilrig, tell us about your role and why you got into mechanical engineering!
I’m a drilling engineer. At the moment I am still training, but my role involves planning and supervising drilling operations. Offshore, you can find me either writing reports, or standing next to the person who does all the hands on part of the drilling, looking at all these gauges and working out with the driller what we should do or change to optimize the process. I also help plan operations that are coming up and am actively involved in ensuring people are working safely. Every day is really different.
Why mechanical engineering and not something else?
I was considering law but asked myself, “How could I add value to the community in a way that would make a tangible difference?” I thought through engineering I could have a real impact on the communities I work with – whether it was drilling a water well, designing water treatment systems or even just with maintenance of equipment. With mechanical engineering I felt like I could actually be part of making change. I also really like cars and working on cars and so it fit really well! I actually ran the Racing Car team at my university… ah, the need for speed!
“Changing even one person’s mind has an impact; starting small still means you have started.”
Tell us about how you became involved in the issue of implicit bias.
I served on the Federal Australian Multicultural Council and part of the work we did touched on the concept of unconscious bias. I hadn’t thought about it much to be honest, until the TEDx opportunity came up and I looked for a concept to talk about. TEDx is different to most speaking forums in the sense that the idea has to be very specific and so I had to narrow down what I wanted to talk about to a single idea. I had so many things that I cared about but then I thought about the underlying cause of why I cared about all those things – and realized often the basis was somehow linked to implicit bias. Implicit bias has been the root of why someone who looks like me or comes from a background like mine, can have a harder time in life than others with different types of privilege. I guess part of why I care about it so much and have begun speaking about it more is because it’s something I’ve been living with on a day-to-day basis.
Working in a heavily male dominated industry could be tricky at times. Do you have any negative experiences to share with us?
Definitely, but I am a realistic optimist. I prefer not to look at them as negative experiences and more to look at them as opportunities, to learn, to grow or to change someone’s perspective. It comes down to your attitude. Allah gives you a whole lot of different environments, and a whole lot of different things to deal with. It’s up to you how to deal with it. I work in a world that is undeniably male dominated. I can count on my hand how many senior female drilling engineers I have know and have heard of. In my previous role, I was the first female that my department hired in the country – in 2012. Most days, I won’t be in a meeting with another female. I won’t see females at all when I’m at work. It is a male’s world, but it is also a lot better than it used to be so I’m really grateful for all the women who came before me because now people know that they have to respect women, people know that there are boundaries, people know that there are consequences.
Has your environment shaped you as a person and how do you handle obstacles?
No doubt. I’m used to making do, I’m used to living with uncertainty, and I’m used to living in one place for about three weeks at a time. The constant moving around has taught my how to deal with change, to deal with a whole kind of different types of people and to understand people who have different perspectives. It’s also made me appreciate smaller things. Being on the road all the time you don’t see your family, you don’t see your friends, you miss out on the little moments. So it’s made me appreciate the small things in life like a good cup of coffee or being able to wake up after the sun has come up.
What inspires you to do more? What gives you that extra kick to keep going? And when you do feel defeated, how do you surpass it?
There is so much more to be done. I have been given skills and the capacity to exercise them Alhamdulilah… I don’t want to feel like I didn’t make the most of it all. I feel like the ability and the opportunity to make a difference is present and it feels selfish to do anything else. I was also incredibly fortunate to have migrated to a nation where there are incredible opportunities – It is my responsibility to pay it forward.
What is the next step for you?
I am publishing a book that, hopefully, will be out March 1 2016. I’ve got a couple of trips to the US and UK so I’m looking at whether or not Youth Without Borders can branch out there, Inshallah. I’ll see where it all takes me.
Describe to us your personal work style, any essential items in your wardrobe?
My professional style is very eclectic, I wear big jackets, and lots of color. My staple pair of pants are low-riders with big pockets, they’re hijab friendly, but definitely very cool at the same time, I wear them with my Timberland boots or my Nike airs at the moment. I also sport a necklace with a ball containing gold flakes in it, very simple, professional yet very eye-catching. I’ve also got this Daniel Wellington watch that I love – it’s just so classy!
Do you find yourself to shift between styles several times a day?
If it’s a particularly busy day, then yes. But the most interesting thing is that I can completely change the tone of my outfit just by changing my hijab. It can be down and all serious or put up with bits flying everywhere. There are just so many twists to wearing the hijab and I find that by changing the tone of it I can change my outfit completely without actually having to change too much.
What is your impression of the Jemmila Prologue - Collection and which piece is your absolute favorite?
It’s so classy! Very to the point. My favorite piece is the Black Tuxedo, for sure! Even though I don’t usually just wear all black, the tuxedo is just so classy. I’m also big on silhouettes, so from looking at the tuxedo, it just looks amazing even when it’s not closed. That item demands presence.
Info Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Education: Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering
Favorite leisure activity: Netflix and trying new things like sailing and surfing.
Most recent read book: Amy Poehler’s Memoir, Yes Please.'
Motto: Allah does not give anyone more burden than they can handle.
Yassmin's top tips
- Find your cheerleaders. Find someone who is going to be honest with you, someone who will be critical with you but also someone who is a really big support. Whatever you’re trying to do, it’s important to find those one or two people who are going to be there for you when times get tough.
- Make every day enjoyable. Find little ways to work toward your goal to make it less overwhelming and get the most of what you are doing by being present. Be focused on what you want to achieve, but also make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Everyone needs a Friday night off.
- Embrace the haters. Don’t let the haters get you down because haters are gonna hate. If you don’t have haters then you’re probably not doing something worth talking about. Embrace the challenges and embrace the criticisms. Your best learning happens when you are uncomfortable. Make every challenge an opportunity for you to learn something. Don’t let the haters control your future.
Interview contributed by Anika Hussain