Written by: 20B0017, Mohammad Wazien Najmuddin bin Abdullah (Public Relations Officer, Executive of Media and Public Relation Officer)
Leadership Inspirasee Balqis Hailen has faced many challenges and accomplished many feats with her role as a leader. The twenty-three year old is a final year Sociology and Anthropology major, studying under the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Balqis went into detail on the struggles of her leadership journey, citing it as one that’s challenging yet beautiful. A journey that was embraced by fear, stress, frustration yet with many memorable moments - Balqis has been through it all. She started her leadership journey as early as twelve years old, becoming a regular participant in cultural activities for her school during the school holidays under the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports. This interest was initially sparked by boredom during the school holidays; however, she fell in love with being involved and working within the community. She gradually became active in trying new things, such as workshops on capacity building and volunteering. Eventually, she set on conducting her own projects and learnt about Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). Unfortunately, she could not join until she turned eighteen years old. However when she was nineteen years of age, she was selected to become the representative of Brunei in the Philippines and now remains an official and active member of YSEALI.
If she had to list out her main strength as a good leader, it is her ability to create a connection and bond with her participants. According to her, this is a crucial aspect as creating these connections allows her to understand and reach out to her participants to ensure that all she teaches them or the goals of the project have a lasting impact on the participants. However, Balqis has admitted she feared failure and rejection at first, especially in terms of project pitching, as she had consistently failed at project pitching in the past. Over time, she has grown to overcome this fear and has adopted the mindset of ‘what will be, will be’. She also shared some of her hobbies, namely her main stress-relieving activity: art therapy. Balqis is an avid painter and quotes that painting sometimes helps her escape the stresses of leadership and can ease the difficulty of expressing her words through art. She also enjoys spending time alone with her thoughts and relaxing walks along the beach. She also noted the importance of time management and emphasised not delaying her school work, especially as a final year university student.
Balqis has had multiple motivators and inspirations throughout her life, namely Cikgu Ali Yusri and YB Iswandy, both of whom played an essential role in her life in middle school in terms of their support for her. As she had been involved with YSEALI since she was eighteen years old, she looked up to her mentors and would always go to them for advice and input if she was struggling. She also noted that most of them were former Universiti Brunei Darussalam students!
Balqis has also faced a few obstacles as a leader, namely the amount of paperwork she has had to do. She noted that the difference between Youth Movement and YSEALI, due to the organisation not being registered under the Registrar of Society, meant that any legal paperwork, permission, and sponsorships were much more complicated and involved a lot of waiting. At times, her early start in this field of work became a disadvantage for her as due to her lack of recognition, people would tend to doubt her, and she would face questions such as “Who are you?”, “Why should we work with you?” and “Why should we trust you?”, problems that she gradually was able to overcome.
Balqis also talked about when working with a group of people became somewhat difficult. She reminisced about a time in 2020 when the culture shock with the workload and the amount of energy it took to organise the events took a toll on her and her team, resulting in them having doubts about what or why exactly they were doing what they did. She notes that she handled it by implementing post mortems at the end of her events. She talked about her experience working for ABLE Brunei; she had a post mortem with all her committees and volunteers to voice out any dissatisfaction, what they learnt from the event, how to improve and what they liked about the event. She also emphasised that all this was done without interruption and explained that the reason behind this was that sometimes when people are letting out their dissatisfaction or talking in general, they tend to get cut off. These interruptions tend to make people want to keep their comments to themselves. Balqis also said that if her members were uncomfortable voicing their views during the post mortem, she allowed a private conversation with just her and the person.
A funny experience Balqis talked about was when she volunteered as a first aider under the Executive of Safety, Health and Environment (ESHE) during the Kejohanan Bola Sepak Institusi-Institusi Pengajian Tinggi Universiti Brunei Darussalam (KBIPT UBD). One of her friends had an asthma attack and called for Balqis to be next to her. She then grabbed her friend’s hand, and the next thing she knew, the friend kicked her and Balqis tumbled on the ground. Funnily enough, her friend acted as if nothing had happened the following day. Also, a surprising fact about Balqis is that she is allergic to the sun. She says she used to look different before she knew her skin condition and that her skin used to be quite burnt, and her face tended to be swollen with hives. After a few check-ups with professionals, she finally realised that she had photosensitivity.
Balqis also said that her project with Persatuan Sindrom Down Brunei (ABLE) was one of the most memorable experiences she had. She is a strong advocate for the environment and special needs community. However, in late 2019 she tried to incorporate both as an inclusive, interactive learning activity for both youth and children without any exceptions. She was exposed to the special needs community before doing her other projects under her other youth movements with YSEALI, such as the Youth Centre Community. She was filled with uncertainties, such as how would the kids react to her activities? Would they enjoy it? Would they be participative or just mind their own business? But on the day of the event itself, the kids turned out to be lovely, interactive, and enjoyed the activities, with Balqis saying that what they can do may surprise you. She was not very informed about Down's syndrome prior to the event, because the community tended to focus more on autism, rather than the syndrome. She was also touched by her volunteers as they were very patient and connected well with the participants and said that that was when she felt the notion of loving and being loved.
When asked about what keeps her going, she said that, although cliché, it is the thought of why she started in the first place. It had not been an easy journey for her as she started when she was about twelve and always used to be the youngest amongst the participants in the events she participated in. She shared that she had had a mental breakdown in early 2019 because she felt that she was not good enough and that everything she did so far was pointless as she could not create enough of a sustainable impact with her work as some people had managed to set their names and be known, which is vital for partnership purposes. In contrast, she still could not achieve that at the time. She was too afraid to ‘spread her wings’ as she feared rejection, failure, and criticism back then. Hence, she took a break from community work until late 2019, as her enjoyment turned to displeasure due to the mental breakdown she had faced earlier in the year. After a while, somehow, she found her purpose again and said to always remember why you started in the first place. She also states that it was important for her to find her own voice in her search for self-development. After she had her mental breakdown, she got into a routine where she would walk around Kampung Ayer every Friday and Sunday from early afternoon to sundown, just exploring around, taking in the scenery, and talking to the local people. It surprised her how their stories enlightened her and broadened her horizons, making her realise that if you want to know something, you go to a place and you look around - to see and feel, to listen and comprehend - and in the end to reflect.
The greatest achievement Balqis had achieved among all her experiences was taking her work to the ASEAN level as she had recently just ended her project with the ASEAN Foundation as the representative of Brunei in Empowering Youth Across ASEAN, Cohort 2 which lasted until 11th January 2022. The fact that she managed to get to the ASEAN level was astounding for her. It was good to learn from other ASEAN youth leaders to exchange knowledge beneficial in self-development and towards society.
Balqis also shared the failures she had experienced in the leadership journey that had taken a toll on her. She stated that she always failed in project pitching under YSEALI and constantly failed in front of her mentors. She went on to say that it was very disappointing and embarrassing as she went to the Philippines due to a recommendation from her mentors; however, she could not win any of the arguments in the end. When she returned to Brunei, she felt terrible and thought she should have done better as there were people who trusted her and she could not return the favour. She admitted that she thought this happened because she wanted something new, big, and perfect and that she cared about what people would think of her. Due to this, she thought about the 'what ifs' too much and only planned out her ideas without taking action. She reiterated that she should have just done it, as you cannot please everyone.
An important thing she had learnt in her leadership journey was through her internship experience with a corporation under BIBD, where she was there for a year, including her semester break. The job she had fit into her advocacy and love for community work, and the bosses offered her to create projects, although it was an internship. The corporation gave classes to three programs: ‘Satu Kampung, Satu Produk’; Providing Life Support & Capacity Building For Underprivileged Students; and Single Mothers & Underprivileged Women Businesses. She was trusted to handle and facilitate projects for these three different programs. However, she said she struggled a bit as these programs were outside her field of knowledge, except for the ones related to youth. Some of these programs also required intensive media knowledge, which she did not actually have, only knowing video editing. In contrast, she was told to teach the participants how to do photography, videography, graphic designing, and set up social media. The difficulty of this was also because most of the participants were in their thirties to their sixties; she was slightly afraid as her advocacy was limited to the environment, team building capacity, and special needs. However, her boss at the time always reassured her and gave her support and guidance. Balqis says that this is what you need in the process of self-development as a leader also learns from a leader, with her stating that the only limit we have is ourselves; we fear the uncertainties of tomorrow so much that we miss the fantastic opportunities in the present.
Balqis said that she was recommended to join the Executive of Safety, Health and Environment (ESHE) by a friend, but she did not know what joining ESHE would entail. When she found out that it was related to first aid, she revealed that she was intimidated by the thought of seeing blood and injuries. However, the Head of ESHE at that time reassured her that it was going to be fine and for Balqis to just assist her. Balqis became the vice president of ESHE for two semesters and then she became the secretary before finally going to the backlines, becoming a normal member and letting newcomers take centre stage. She also shared that dealing with injuries scared her at first, because she feared the repercussions if a mistake were to happen. After adapting to her responsibilities, she said that it was manageable and that it was the normal thought process for new recruits and volunteers. Therefore, she advises all readers to not be scared to join ESHE, because the seniors will guide you so you will not make any mistakes.
When talking about the greatest opportunity she had ever received, she shared that there were a lot of opportunities she had to decline due to academic commitments. Still, so far, she is most proud of working with the ASEAN Foundation. The job scope was unfamiliar to her, so she needed to adapt to the social enterprise way of working. They were from Indonesia and worked very differently from how we work here in Brunei. She also commented that the physical projects she conducted were much easier to handle than her work with ASEAN.
During her difficult times, Balqis identified two support systems in her life; her parents and her team members. Surprisingly, at first, her parents were against her environmental work as it cost her a lot of money and made her busy. Their views towards environmental work were quite negative at first until a couple of years ago when they realised it was a good thing that she was doing. Also, at first, she asked her closest friends from UBD to be her team members, but they, unfortunately, could not help. Eventually, she found her team members when she was at her lowest, and she was not close with them at first. Some were from ESHE, as Balqis explained that they bonded during their Freshers’ Week duties and ended up asking them for help. She also brought two of her close cousins, a childhood friend, and a former National Day coach. Most of her team members were UBD students, while the other facilitators had jobs such as stewards, teachers, and offshore workers. Despite not knowing each other well and coming from different backgrounds, they connected as they all shared the same heart and language, with conflicts not being an issue due to transparency within the team. Balqis said that with her team, work does not feel like work.
When some people conduct their projects, they tend to lord over other people and build a hierarchy for the event, which creates distance between people. For this reason, Balqis encourages her members to connect and interact more whenever she does her projects. She shares that her projects are not just open to family and friends, but to everyone and that we should use our time to the fullest as we do not know if we will ever meet again.
A goal Balqis has for the future is to leave her ‘stardust’ wherever she goes so that the participants of the events she organised never forget what she taught them even though they may eventually forget her. She also strives to keep learning, improving, exploring, and sharing her knowledge and experiences with those who do not have access to this knowledge - especially those in the disabled community and children.
Lastly, an advice and lesson Balqis has to share as Leadership Inspirasee of March 2022 was a quote by her mentor, Inah Salazar, co-founder of Love Education:
“You cannot love something you don’t understand,
you cannot understand something you don’t care about,
and you cannot care for something you don’t know.”