Young Muslim dynamo Yassmin Abdel-Mageid, 25, has done more in the last year than most of us have done in a lifetime. The engineer, author and social activist is a tireless campaigner for diversity and acceptance. Her unique way of communicating controversial issues has received a huge amount of attention, with her TED talk, which addresses unconscious bias, been viewed almost 1.5 million time.
DO THE UNEXPECTED
As a Sudanese-Muslim mechanical engineer on remote oil and gas rigs, an outspoken advocate, and petrol head (who moonlights as a motor journalist), Yassmin has always followed her own path.
“So many choices I’ve made along the way have been in defiance of what has been expected of me,” says Yassmin, who believes every decision has been a chance for learning, or at the very least, a great story.
In her memoir Yassmin’s Story: Who do you think I am? she shares a different perspective about growing up migrant and Muslim in Australia in a post 9/11 world. “Writing the book has been the biggest way I’ve taken all the different acts that I’ve done in defiance of what is expected of me, and then displayed it and said ‘this is okay, this is normal, this is something that is happening in your world that you may not be aware of’,” she says. “Hopefully then that story enables other young people to come through and do similar things.”
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF BANTER
Next time you’re networking, forget trying to impress your contacts with your slick business lingo – the most important thing is about building authentic connection. According to Yassmin it’s about “realising with every single person, no matter how much of an outsider you are, there is something you can relate to. There’s nothing like being interested in someone’s story to make them willing to connect with you.”
So stop talking about your own experience and put the focus on them. “I find at a very basic level asking people about what their story is, what they care about, how they see the world,” reveals Yassmin. “I often use banter to talk about sensitive issues and to introduce myself [in a way] that doesn’t put people off and then from there you can create another kind of connection.”
KNOW IT WILL BE HARD, BUT DO IT ANYWAY
At an international youth summit in high school, Yassmin was surprised by the lack of collaboration between the multiple groups working in the sector. When she complained to her mother, she was asked, “If you think there’s an issue then why don’t you go ahead and do something?”
Like many entrepreneurs, she had her detractors who told her she was “crazy” and “too young”. But charging ahead at 16, she created Youth Without Borders, an umbrella organisation that works towards positive change for young people of all backgrounds and diversities. “People always ask me: ‘How do I get involved? How do I do this?’” says Yassmin. “My response to them is just ‘It’s not always going to work out, and you’re going to make lots of mistakes along the way, it’s going to be a bit tricky but just start, put one foot in front of the next and you’ll look back in a few years’ time and be like ‘Oh my God I created that’”.
THERE’S NO FINAL DESTINATION
For her efforts, Yassmin has picked up a swag of awards from Queensland Young Australian of the Year and Australian Financial Review Young Leader of the Year to being one of Westpac’s inaugural 100 Women of Influence. Those are all awfully impressive accomplishments — but for Yassmin it’s just a means to an end. “They’re less about my achievements and more about providing the platform for being able to connect with more people,” she explains. “I think each of these amazing opportunities is a chance to spread the message about the power of young people to create change, the diversity that is all around us, that is so untapped, the importance of supporting each other”.