Mentors dared to be different

A young woman has challenged people to change the world by doing one simple thing – find someone different to mentor. This is to open opportunities, especially to youth who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

 yassmin_abdel_magied_article It was Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s mother who dared her to “do something about it” which led to her founding an organisation at the age of 16 years. (Image: TEDx)


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Melissa Javan

A Sudanese-born woman is challenging everyone to stop judging people just because they are different. Instead, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who grew up in Australia, offers a solution that could bring a positive change to the world. She suggests that every person should find someone unfamiliar and who has different life experiences, to mentor.

“As I’ve said before, we live in a world where we’re looking for an ideal. And if we want to create a world where the circumstances of your birth don’t matter, we all have to be part of the solution,” the 24-year-old said on TEDx.

The TEDx programme is designed to help communities, organisations and individuals to spark conversation and connection through local TED-like experiences. At TEDx events a combination of live presenters and TED Talks videos sparks deep conversation and connections at the local level.

“I challenge each and every one of you to mentor someone different,” says Abdel-Magied. “Think about it…

“You walk into a room and there’s someone who went to the same school, you play the same sports, there’s a high chance that you’re going to want to help that person out. But for the person in the room who has no shared experiences with you it becomes extremely difficult to find that connection.”

She says it might be a difficult process, but it is needed. “Find someone to mentor who’s at the opposite end of your spectrum because structural change takes time, and I don’t have that level of patience. So if we’re going to create a change, if we’re going to create a world where we all have those kinds of opportunities, then choose to open doors for people.

“Because you might think that diversity has nothing to do with you, but we are all part of this system and we can all be part of that solution.”

Are you what you wear?

Abdel-Magied is Muslim; she often gets judged for the headscarf and clothes she wears. Most people are surprised to hear that she is a racing car engineer and a professional boxer.

In a video on YouTube, she asks what people think of women who wear clothes similar to hers. “Do you think they’re a mother, a refugee or a victim of oppression? Or do you think they’re a cardiologist, a barrister or maybe your local politician? Do you look me up and down, wondering how hot I must get or if my husband has forced me to wear this outfit?

“Lord knows, Muslim women are so much more than the piece of cloth they choose, or not, to wrap their head in. This is about looking beyond your bias.”

Family life

Abdel-Magied was born in Khartoum in Sudan. She migrated with her family when she was two years old, and grew up with her parents and brother in Queensland.

“We were one of the first Sudanese families in Brisbane. There was no internet, no Skype, and the only contact my parents had with home was a two-minute conversation once a week,” she says to news portal, ABC Perth.

Although her parents were qualified as an architect and an engineer in Sudan, Abdel-Magied’s parents both ended up working in the public sector in Australia.

“The dinner table discussion at my house was probably not a typical one,” she laughs. “Every day we would talk about current affairs and politics.”

Her family became involved in the community, and her parents set up the Sudanese Community Organisation in Brisbane. They were on their children’s school board and Abdel-Magied’s mother spent a period as the president of the Islamic Women’s Association of Queensland.

Do something about it

It was her mother who dared Abdel-Magied to do something about something she felt strongly about.

When she was in her final year at high school, Abdel-Magied attended the Asia-Pacific City Summit. Young people from around the region met to discuss the issues facing them, and the organisations with which they worked.

“What struck me as an outsider was the fact that none of the groups worked together,” she says. When she went home and voiced her concerns, her mother said: “If you’ve got a problem with something, why don’t you do something about it?”

It was then, at the age of 16, that she became the founder of Youth Without Borders. This is an umbrella organisation that works to bring positive change for young people of all backgrounds and diversities. “At the end of the day I care about being useful to society, I care about improving access to opportunity for other young people, I care about making sure that young people — wherever they’re from — don’t feel like their opportunities and future are dictated by the circumstances of their birth.”

In her workplace

It does not stop there: Abdel-Magied also speaks out on inequality in the workplace. As an engineer, she has been on the receiving end of negative comments from her male counterparts. Some have said she was given a job because of the quota system.

She has been told: “‘Well, you get opportunities because you’re female and that’s unfair,'” she says to Daily Life, a news portal in Australia. “Part of me is just like: ‘Well, mate, you’ve had thousands of years of being the boss.'”

“It’s always been a patriarchal society. If we were starting on a level playing field, sure. But we’re not starting on a level playing field. And if we want to level it out, there’s got to be opportunities like a handicapped race. You’ve got to give opportunities to the people who are starting with a disadvantage,” she explains.

Despite the challenges, Abdel-Magied continues to implement social-activism wherever she goes. She recently moved to Perth, where she works as an engineer on oil and gas rigs. She told her colleagues on the rigs to feel free to ask her anything – and they do.

They ask her questions like: what does halaal mean? Do you have to pray all the time? or I hear you can be beheaded for this or that. “It’s all great because I have the opportunity to explain,” says Abdel-Magied. “By being open and being genuine you can create a connection — I learn from them and I hope they learn from me.”

Watch Yassmin Abdel-Magied inform youth who helps them fight for their rights: