Bridging Youths with NGOs: Tapping into Potentials

Supriya Sivabalan
April 30, 2021

Take a step back and ponder: Has the thought of being too young to do legitimate social work ever crossed your mind? Like, work that actually leaves an impact on the community. Perhaps you want to do more than protest the use of plastic straws and circulate informative articles on Twitter and Instagram (which, don’t get me wrong, are still great initiatives!). But, how? 

This is precisely what the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) set out to do - provide a platform for youths to materialize their ideas in response to real-life social challenges. With the plethora of learning and development courses available out there, leadership projects set themselves apart and bring real impact to participants by making it inclusive for everyone involved. In YSEALI 2019, several  Non-Governmental Organisations  (NGOs) in each state presented their most pressing challenges to YSEALI participants. These participants were coached in the Design Thinking approach by Positive X, a leading expert organization in design thinking, as a partner of YSEALI. Two selected  winning teams in each state were sent off with their respective NGOs with a cash grant to implement their ideas. The project was  fully appreciated by the NGOs participating from various social causes – from helping fellow NGOs to protecting wildlife and the environment and even aiding the underprivileged. The participating NGOs include Turtle Conservation Society (TCS), NGO Hub, Tanoti and Etania Schools. Curious to learn more about the perspective of this interesting exchange between these Malaysian NGOs and students? Let’s see what they think!

These Are Inexperienced Youths, Can We Trust Them?

Presenting problems to a group of young people in hopes of finding solutions as an established organisation may seem unorthodox. Age, gender or other social constructs should not be a restriction when it comes to tapping into fresh, creative resources to ideate  solutions for the community. Hence, many NGOs were eager to take part in YSEALI 2019 at the prospect of working with passionate university youths. Day in, day out working through similar issues - sometimes our view of the world might be obstructed by the mundane aspects of life. As gracefully put by Tanoti director Jacqueline  Fong, “I believe that students have lots of ideas and their perspectives are still rather pure - or untainted.” She was keen to support YSEALI to provide a platform for youths to promote any intriguing ideas they may have. On their personal experience, NGOhub shares: “[It was] amazing! It is always fun and eye-opening to see new creative ideas come from the perspective of youth. All ideas during the project are amazing but unfortunately, we can only choose one winner…the energy was amazing and very positive.” 

Did Malaysian Youth Deliver Solutions? 

Overall, YSEALI 2019 definitely got the youths and respective NGO representatives thinking and talking.

“The whole experience was a learning curve for me as Design Thinking wasn’t something I knew [of] before,” says  Dr. Chen Pelf Nyok of Turtle Conservation Society (TCS) in Terengganu. 

Although each NGO could only choose one winner, TCS implemented two other pitches apart from the winning idea because the other ideas were just that potentially impactful, genuinely believing that it can add value to the organisation. Highly motivated by the winning team’s idea to incorporate e-wallets for fundraising instead of crowdfunding, NGOhub enjoyed collaborating with brilliant youths who shared similar visions in the challenges faced in collecting donations. 

“We have always wanted to try this [e-wallet] approach but were [shorthanded],” admitted the organisation.  

The 21st-century approach can streamline internal processes and appeal to the younger, socially-conscious generation who can easily participate in fundraisers through the platform. Additionally, the winning team under Etania School has also been implemented. Etania Schools has 10 schools that serve over 1000 students and they find it a challenge to ensure all students are equipped with the right skills to find suitable jobs upon graduation. The winning team designed The Anony Apparel, a brand that integrates the work of the Etania School children with the general public. Under this initiative, intensive workshops are conducted to equip children with skills to create sustainable fashion products like t-shirts and accessories. These sustainable creations are then sold to the public via online platforms like their Facebook page - Truly an innovative solution that motivates children to pick up on practical skills in school.

Many NGOs wish to grow without committing too much toward development costs, which echoes Tanoti’s vision. “The winning team’s solution would be one of the ways to make it happen,” says Jacqueline. “The YSEALI participants crafted a handy solution that caters directly to the needs of Tanoti as an NGO. The proposed solution will allow us to tap external resources as a step towards the growth of our business.” 

Despite time constraints and the pressure of competition, all participants presented remarkable, inspiring proposals that were eventually implemented into innovative solutions. Overall, 16 projects were initiated to address social and environmental challenges as a result of YSEALI 2019. 240 volunteers were recruited by the awarded teams all of whom contributed close to 1,000 hours of service. The total number of people engaged, through various online mediums, was at 481,163 pax. Apart from this, 6 websites were successfully built and RM22,147 was raised for impact partners to assist with initiatives. Besides, 2 long-term fundraising plans were also developed to ensure that the NGOs are able to achieve financial independence. 

What Can You (The Community) Do?

The YSEALI initiative  has built a strong network between youths and participating NGOs where a multitude of NGOs nationwide came together in different states. However, how can individuals such as you and I be able to play a part?

“We recommend volunteering as frequently as you can, with as many NGOs as you can. From there you can decide what you want to do or don’t want to do,” says  Dr. Chen of TCS. “You are not just coming to do groundwork. We are also in need of policy advisers, lawyers, volunteer vets, scientists, and teachers.”

Consistency, commitment and sustainability - simple words written on paper, but hold power when adhered to. Kathryn Rivai of Etania School in Sabah mentions that long-term projects which foster solid relationships among relevant parties are preferred. Hence, if you decide to venture into social work and leave an impact, it is ideal to stay consistent. 

“Always do research on your beneficiaries and the needs of the community before implementing any projects with them”, advised NGOHub on adopting social causes.

NGOs are always delighted to welcome more people into the community and perform social work. After all, the aim is always to serve more beneficiaries with good quality projects to make the Malaysia we know, a better Malaysia. 

At the End of the Day...

The 2019 YSEALI Project proved to be fruitful; the NGOs managed to receive impactful feedback and solutions to address  issues and  provided a realistic take behind the nitty-gritty scenes of working through many challenges as an NGO. 

Supriya Sivabalan


Supriya is an actuarial science student and a budding content writer at heart, sowing the seeds of copious alluring and magnetic narratives to tell memorable stories.