In a world proliferated by screens, social media and an excess of information, knowing how to use your voice is just as critical as having one. It’s something that Hazlina Abdul Halim can attest to. Having once lived a life in the newsroom, Halim’s grasp on the power of media literacy is a trained one—and what she wields to her advantage in her current field of work. Not only is she now the CEO of Make-A-Wish Singapore, a non-profit charity that works to grant wishes of children with critical illnesses, Halim is also recognised as the president of the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association (PPIS), which focuses on women empowerment and helping less-privileged families and children.
Whilst the career transition might seem unusual to some, it only felt like a natural one to Halim. “It’s where I understood why news matters. I fell in love with the community and Singapore through reporting and telling all those stories. It was also what drove the desire to make things better and give back to these communities,” she proclaims.
After building a career in journalism, Halim has since borrowed the principles she’s developed in the newsroom to build conversations around the communities she feels deeply for. Across the non-profit organisations she currently serves, they include women, young children and families who may have fallen through the cracks. To her, these are the stories that need to be told and the individuals who need to be heard. To her, these are the communities whomst she can provide a voice for—more so when she is a model minority herself.
Rather than a career switch, it’s clear that Halim’s 15-year experience in journalism has only led her to this path. Working in an admirable space of advocacy for women and children, her voice is an unwavering one as she opens up to Vogue Singapore about the future she dreams for women, the strength of our current youth and what power and leadership means in her career.
What did you love most about being a journalist?
For me, what’s inspiring about the work in the newsroom is how people are all determined to share knowledge and be the voice for somebody whose stories may otherwise be untold. Journalists are always excited about what’s new, what’s never been said and what’s never been done, so that we can tell others about it. Those are the fundamentals of journalism. At the end of the day, journalism is really all about distilling complex issues and making people understand why these issues matter.
How did your experience in the newsroom end up leading you to a career in social work?
It’s where I truly understood why news matters. It’s how the community keeps up to date, how they know what they need and where they can get that help. I always say that I fell in love with the community and Singapore through reporting and telling these stories. And that also drives the desire to make things better and give back to these communities. So when the opportunity came to go into public affairs, it really came down to my understanding of how communication is key to building these relationships of understanding and trust. It was about being able to be the bridge to understanding these local communities.
“When it comes to feminine leadership, we are our toughest critics, right? We’re tough on ourselves and with each other. But we really shouldn’t use power to make other people feel little.”
When you’re helming such important organisations such as PPIS and Make-A-Wish—what are your principles?
The concept of excellence, for one. Working in charity and social services, I ask myself: “What is the highest standard you can deliver?” When you’re in such a profession, the professionalism, the level of functionality and the commitment is something that you want to give your best towards. Compassion or kindness is really important in life but especially so in service—so that we better understand the communities you are working for.
Another key concept to me is integrity. I have to be a person that upholds the highest values of integrity. It’s a defining factor of who we are, how we work and how we serve. And as a leader, I’m in a position of service to fly the flag of the community and the people I represent.
You’ve been at PPIS for many years now. At the core of PPIS is the empowerment of women—what has changed since you began and how has it evolved?
I think roles are evolving, not just roles of women. I think the role of a citizen is evolving as it has learned to catch up with the pace of development. What has been a highlight of my journey is learning about the aspiration of women, and how faith and family are important to women. Women do aspire to be better versions of themselves, you know, to take on leadership roles in the corporate world, but not at the sacrifice of family. The world is evolving; now, caregiving roles are also better supported. It’s been a long time coming. And I’m glad that younger couples and younger families are redefining relationships that work for them. By realising that as a unit, there’s a shared aspiration. You’re working towards the same goals.
What does power and leadership mean to you?
So power is all about being able to be empowered to share it, and to transfer it to people who do not have the power. There was a campaign that I worked on a few years back, which was about inspiring girls. I talked about the concept of voice: its benefits and the ability to use it. I worded it as such: “To all little girls, you will find your voice and be big girls one day. And when that day comes, remember not to make other girls feel little.”
I find that very important when it comes to feminine leadership. We are our toughest critics, right? We’re tough on ourselves and with each other. But we really shouldn’t use power to make other people feel little. Leadership is not about making people feel little. It’s about making little people grow.
“It is my hope that leaders are committed to making sure that there is a diversity of thought, through a diversity of inclusion, so that we are not just operating in a network that we’re just comfortable with.”
As you advocate for women and children on a daily basis, what are your hopes for these minority communities?
My wish is that women are truly supported in attaining their aspirations. That they have options that they can choose from and they can be made aware of in order for them to make informed decisions. There are a lot of times that you hear stories of women sacrificing their aspirations. Again, that’s a choice to make, and if that’s their choice to make, then so be it but otherwise, I would really like to see more value be placed on women’s aspirations. Inclusivity has to be intentional. It’s not just about women looking out for women, it should also be men looking out for women too. It is my hope that leaders are committed to making sure that there is a diversity of thought, through a diversity of inclusion, so that we are not just operating in a network that we’re just comfortable with.
With regards to children, or sick children specifically, oftentimes we forget that it can be a very isolating experience for both the child and the family. Because of that, I really think it’s important for us to make children feel like they’re worth it. That they as sick children are worth the time and effort—and that their life is worth living. And for children to thrive, families play an exceptionally important role. I do understand that not everybody has a family that they identify with or that is supportive. But to build a stronger future, we really need to invest in our families and support systems, because it’s your first line of everything.
A big part of the work that you do is also involved in inspiring the younger generation. How would you describe the youth of today and how have you had to adapt to working with newer generations?
I’ve always believed in the energy and compassion of the young. I hope that people realise we have a team of very compassionate and very kind individuals with us. The youth are often misunderstood as the ‘strawberry generation’ and lacking resilience but what are their strengths? Their strength lies in their compassion and their bravado in using their voice. I hope the people who were once former youth realise that when we were younger, it took an adult to give them the time of the day. That was the only way we could grow. So I hope leaders of today pay it forward and make time to be available to the youth. It’s about making youths feel like they matter.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in this line of work so far?
I don’t think any of my challenges can compare to the many that I’ve seen with others. If we really want to talk about challenges that we face along the way, it’s often building that network around us. Finding sponsors, or sponsors who would open the door for us when it’s locked. Or people who would signpost you to the door when you don’t know where it is. I do think that as women and as minority communities, that’s one thing we should invest more of our time into: connecting and really forming meaningful relationships.
In terms of other challenges, I aim to debunk stereotypes or misconceptions that come with being part of a model minority. I do think it feels quite satisfying when it’s not a person’s ethnicity or cultural background or gender that drives them. People are more than just their identities. I think embracing identities is important but I don’t think that identities are merely prescribed, you know? There are some identities and values you develop with the experiences you go through along the way.
What are some of the current or future projects you’re looking forward to?
There are a few things I’m excited about as we round up the year. Since PPIS launched PPIS Red, our Research & Engagement Department in 2016, we’ve been looking forward to our own space. PPIS Red will soon have its own home and we’ll be opening a space that is designed for women to be able to be better versions of themselves.
Make-A-Wish Singapore also recently celebrated Children’s Day with our friends at National University Hospital (NUH) and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH)—our important partners on this wish granting journey. We also recently announced that registration is opened for our annual Santa Race; an end-of-year effort to rally support in our journey towards transforming lives, one wish at a time.