In our latest interview, we had the pleasure of speaking to Celeste, a gender equality activist. She is apart of the International Women's Network Team and has founded her own organization. Celeste talked about the most valuable lessons she's learned and more!
Question one: Hi Celeste! You are a young Malaysian activist, entrepreneur and Girl Up President who is part of the International Women Network Team. Your passion for gender equality and education for all led you to join these initiatives. When did you first become aware of the issues tied to those subjects?
My parents were big on volunteering and giving back to the community. So, since at a young age, we were always visiting places and helping out where we can. Once, we went to an orphanage and I was utterly moved. There were countless numbers of children without resources nor access to education. This certainly opened my eyes to a new perspective and ever since then, I was inspired to advocate, mobilise youths with resources, empower young girls and provide every kid with equal opportunities.
Question two: Let’s discuss your self-made organization, Youths For The Future. What is the mission and type of content being showcased through it?
Great question! When I was 13, I was doing my internship scholarship. One of the male colleagues had asked what I wanted to do in the future and the immediate response was that “I wanted to change the world”. After a solid one minute, he gave me this look, I still vividly remember it to today as it had certainly lit a fire in me. What he said next took me by surprise. He told me that I was too soft and that I was “just a kid” who couldn’t do much. As a young girl who wanted to go into politics, I was sadly in a country which favoured male and religion over talent and ability. And so, with my legs crossed, sitting on my living room floor, I grabbed markers and crayons and began drawing up a plan. I wanted to show the world what women were truly capable of and eventually I came to realize that I needed to balance the gender gap in education. And so, that's the birth of my organisation! The name Youth For The Future came from the fact that although 25% of our population are youth, 100% of our future will be us. Our organization believes in long term impacts that engages and involves the community as a whole rather than short term donations. And so, we host various regional workshops in different schools, clubs, organizations, etc. From that, we are now able to sponsor 200+ kids to school!
Question three: Who do you look up to? What other non-profits are you inspired by?
The person who inspires me the most without a doubt is my grandmother. She has a fierce fiery attitude and when she wants something, she will work extremely hard and do everything in her power to get it. She really is just an inspiration to me and a constant reminder of how powerful women really can be. She has taught me to believe in myself alongside highlighting that if something is wrong, you should always defend your right.
Question four: “[I am working with] local NGOs, politicians, volunteers and [fellow] motivated youths to bring a change to Sabah, [Malaysia]... During [my free] time, [I] speak in webinars, host workshops to mobilize youths with resources, empower women from all spectrums of the world, and attend conferences with world leaders.” Through these incredible opportunities, what are the most important things you have learned? Additionally, how do you focus on empowering women?
This is such an interesting question, one that no one has asked me before! The key main takeaways for me would have to be the fact that it is a learning process. I started my organisation and activism journey with my mind set on perfection. Sooner or later, I did learn that there was no such thing. We have had many setbacks before we actually started receiving recognition and results. This definitely taught me to not give up alongside emphasising on how teamwork is the key to making it work.
Question five: Do you have any advice for young people who are looking into becoming an entrepreneur/advocate?
Just go for it! Never be afraid of the outcome but instead, trust the process. You wouldn’t want to look back and end up regretting it. One very important thing is to find your why, know why you are fighting for these issues. I can’t stress enough on how important your why is. When you’re burnt out or tired, or when your body and brain can’t longer keep up, your ‘why’ will serve as a reminder to keep you striving. Find something you’re really passionate about and pour in all ounce of energy, blood, sweat and tears. Oh yes, - having good role models and mentors are essential! More specifically, just someone you can talk to or ask for help when you’re struggling.
Question six: How do you plan on studying medicine with a minor in politics? In the future, will you keep dedicating your work to helping other people?
A big interest of mine is neuroscience and cancer cells. I’m a big hardcore fan for research on cancer cells! I could spend hours watching surgical videos, reading research papers and having biological debates. The fact that science is always evolving and changing captivates my interest. However, I do also plan on working with local politicians and NGOs to pass the sexual harassment bill and hopefully more laws.
Question seven: What’s the most rewarding aspect of being an advocate?
By far, the most rewarding thing would be the fact that you’ve inspired other people to rise up, speak up and fight for what they believe in. I’m always getting messages about how people were empowered from my talks and had decided to create their own non-profit organization or start an advocating club. That certainly has to be the most rewarding thing. The fact that I was able to inspire, aspire and encourage others to take action. Nothing beats that.
Question eight: What’s the most challenging aspect?
One thing I had struggled with was that lots of people around me were constantly telling me that I was being ‘crazy’ and that I should stop being so ambitious. It was certainly very difficult to deal with all these negative comments. However, I always just needed to remind myself that I’m stronger than this and that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. Another challenge would be the small little arguments that would stir up between our organisation’s members. Though they were small arguments, they would last for quite a period of time, and since then, I would always start questioning whether I was a good enough leader. However, sometimes a setback is needed to move forward.