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Meet The 3 Remarkable Malaysians Who Were Just Named 'Women Of The Future'

Let's meet the three remarkable women.

Cover image via ResearchGate , Jeff Cable Photography (Provided to SAYS) , FEMALE Magazine

Last Thursday, 25 June, three Malaysian women were named 'Women of the Future' in their respective categories at the Women of the Future Awards Southeast Asia

Out of 48 finalists, photographer Annice Teo Ann Lyn, research scientist Dr Bee Lynn Chew, and non-governmental organisation (NGO) co-founder Heidy Quah were awarded for their work in the Arts, Sciences, and within local refugee communities.

Founded in 2006 by Pinky Lilani, the Women of the Future Awards was established to provide a platform for female talent in the UK

In 2018, the platform expanded to include a Southeast Asian division as part of the Awards' wider goal of building a global, collaborative network of women.

Nominations for the awards are open to all women under the age of 35. The nominees are then reviewed by a committee, and later, interviewed by their category judges. 

This year's judges include DP Architects chief executive officer Angelene Chan, Facebook director Sarita Singh, and former British High Commissioner to Malaysia Vicki Treadell, among others. 

A total of 11 Malaysian women were shortlisted for the awards across various categories

The other Malaysian nominees were:

- Arts and Culture: Nicole Lai, Lisa Surihani, and Ernie Zakri

- Business: Jess Yap

- Media and Communications: Cynthia Ng

- Mentor: Dr Nellie Tan Sweet Lian

- Science, Technology, and Digital: Wan Yong Ho and Dr Siu Yee New 

1. Dr Bee Lynn Chew - Winner of the Science, Technology, and Digital category

Dr Chew is a research scientist who predominantly studies Plant Biology at Universiti Sains Malaysia. 

The research scientist's interest in food crops was first sparked while doing her PhD at the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied genes linked to flavour in tomatoes. 

Dr Bee Lynn Chew.

Image via ResearchGate

Since then, she has personally worked with farmers and food growers in Malaysia.

Learning just how rewarding yet tedious farming can be, Dr Chew has decided to use her research to improve cultivation methods in Malaysia in order to raise crop yields and improve the livelihoods of those working in agriculture.

Amid the pandemic, Dr Chew looks to science for the answers to rising food insecurity and unemployment in the country

She informed SAYS that her research currently deals with the micropropagation of figs that will eventually lead to the production of high quality plant stocks ready for commercialisation nationwide. 

The research scientist is also looking at lemons and olives which she aims to introduce to local farmers soon.

Micropropagation is a process by which plants are multiplied via plant tissue culture methods - a key component of Dr Chew's research.

Image via ResearchGate

Dr Chew is actively working to incorporate Internet of Things (IoT) technology, a system built for monitoring crop fields using sensors, in agricultural practices to make them more efficient. 

She hopes that by doing so, young people will be encouraged to join the agriculture sector, especially when unemployment rates are on the rise.

An example of how IoT technology is being used to monitor crop growth in Israel.

Image via The Times of Israel

She further described the impact these methods could have on building a more self-sufficient country.

"This is important to ensure that the country has enough [food products] without the need to import. It will also enable us to move forward after this pandemic."

Dr Chew was over the moon when she was announced the winner of her category, and dedicated the award to her students and loved ones

She told SAYS that she was happily surprised by the nomination, recognising that previous winners of the Women of the Future Award had truly left a mark within their respective societies and nations. 

Dr Chew attributed the award to her students and relatives who have supported her scientific endeavours.

"They are the ones who have always motivated me and made me believe I [could] win this," she noted. 

A still from Dr Chew's acceptance speech at the Women of the Future Awards ceremony which was livestreamed on YouTube.

Image via Women of the Future/YouTube

The research scientist says, "Believe in your dreams. Find what you are passionate about in life and work for it."

She continues, "Be kind and compassionate as they will be the keys to your success."

2. Annice Teo Ann Lyn - Winner of the Arts and Culture category

Teo is a visual artist, as well as a documentary and sports photographer, who founded her platform 'Anntopia' in 2015. 

As described on her website, Anntopia is a place for Teo to share her creative pursuits, whether that'd be in wedding, portrait, or sports photography. 

Teo at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

Image via Jeff Cable Photography (Provided to SAYS)

One of Teo's favourite shots featuring two fencers at the 30th Southeast Asian Games in 2019.

Image via Annice Teo Ann Lyn (Provided to SAYS)

Teo's journey into photography began while pursuing a degree in architecture.

Talking to SAYS, she described how vital her studies had been in igniting and shaping her artistic practice today.

As an architecture student, Teo said, "We literally had to be the Chief of Everything, from pitching ideas, to sketching and building conceptual models, software build-ups, and photographing our work."

Drawing on her background in figure skating, the accomplished sports photographer developed a passion for capturing moments that would otherwise go unnoticed

A former national competitive figure skater herself, Teo was the first and only female photographer based in Malaysia to be accredited for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang. 

According to New Straits Times, the KL-based photographer hung up her skates at the age of 19, after accumulating a series of injuries that hindered her progress in the field.

However, her experience as a sportswoman did not go to waste. After all, it was through the sport that Teo says she found an appreciation for visually documenting what happens behind the scenes.

One of Teo's favourite shots featuring Malaysian short track speed skater Anja Chong.

Image via Annice Teo Ann Lyn (Provided to SAYS)

Another of Teo's favourite shots featuring Wang Shiyue and Liu Xinyu, a Chinese figure skating duo.

Image via Annice Teo Ann Lyn (Provided to SAYS)

Through her craft, Teo overcomes numerous socio-cultural barriers in order to better understand and connect with those around her

In an interview with SAYS, Teo explained that her creative process primarily rests on understanding and learning from others regardless of social status, culture, and race. 

The Women of the Future Awards judges were particularly taken by Teo's ability to celebrate unsung heroes with her photos during the Movement Control Order (MCO). 

Adding onto that, she quoted her favourite photographer Platon Antoniou. 

"I never think about a shoot before I do it. Because there's no formula for people… If I do that, I might miss a gem or a jewel that the person is offering me."

Teo further noted how fulfilling it was be able to immortalise an individual's story and become a part of someone else's life through photography.

"We [photographers] are present to visually document the most significant events of others' lives, for better or worse, by articulating and transposing fragments of moments into timeless imagery."

The well-established photographer continues to support other women and non-binary creatives through Women Photographers Malaysia (WPM), a collective she co-founded during MCO

Speaking to SAYS, Teo described her feelings after winning the award. 

"While I'm incredibly grateful for the recognition, this award will only make me work even harder as I have been recognised and have to live up to the faith put in me to further promote photography, for youth and women, not only in Malaysia, but also in Asia."

By using WPM's platform to host workshops, organise monthly meet-ups, and provide a safe space for women and non-binary visual storytellers, Teo hopes to empower budding photographers. 

Knowing how tough it is to pursue a career in the arts, Teo wants to remind Malaysians that doing something you love will always be worth your while.

"Being a creative in Malaysia takes courage and self-conviction to challenge the norm," she told SAYS.

Teo ended by saying, "At the end of it all, know that there's no perfect life, but you still put up with it because you're doing it for something you love."

3. Heidy Quah - Winner of the Community Spirit and Public Service category

Quah co-founded the non-profit organisation Refuge for the Refugees (RFTR) at just 18 years old, after the refugee school she volunteered at faced the threat of closure.

When Chin Children's Education Centre (CCEC), a local refugee school, was told their United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) funding was about to end, Quah and a few other teen volunteer teachers decided to take action.

That is how, in 2012, she found herself at the helm of an NGO.

Speaking to SAYS, the now 26-year-old co-founder explained that, "The heart [of the organisation] is really to raise awareness regarding the plight of refugees in Malaysia."

After eight years, the group helped construct 35 schools, two halfway homes, and a social business school dedicated to supporting the education and livelihoods of refugees in Malaysia.

Apart from the organisation, Quah is also a prominent activist and caseworker focusing on human rights issues within the nation

Recently, she has advocated against combat baby-selling, helped individuals who have been put in detention centres, and worked alongside other organisations to distribute food to refugee communities.

During the MCO period, RFTR reached out to over 8,800 refugee households in 931 locations across KL and Selangor.

Image via Instagram @heidyquah

Additionally, she is a firm proponent for greater refugee representation at roundtables and policy discussions.

In fact, Quah will be attending a meeting this Thursday, 2 July, with a refugee student turned caseworker to discuss the right of refugee children to basic education. She feels that it is only by consulting refugees and amplifying their voices, that effective change will come.

Quah says that this is how a community can be uplifted so that they might understand the weight and power of their own voices.

Over the years, Quah has seen a big shift in conversations regarding refugees, but says there is still much left to be done

Looking back, the 26-year-old was reminded of how little awareness there was about refugees in Malaysia, with many people believing that they only existed beyond our waters. 

While Quah recognises how far we've come, she also highlighted, "The tone of the conversation [regarding refugees] right now is really concerning."

In order to shift the narrative, Quah brought up the importance of educating ourselves and humanising refugees and migrants.  

She added, "You don't need to start an organisation, you just have to be human… If we all started talking in a kinder way, we would see a huge change."

Despite the reputation they have grown, Quah did not expect to win at the Women of the Future Awards

"It is an incredible honour. I really wasn't quite expecting it. The other nominees in my category were extremely outstanding," she told SAYS.

The activist recounted the times when people, particularly those older than her, would undermine the work she and RFTR were doing simply because of her age.

"We had to fight extra hard to get a space at the table, both as a female and a young person," she said. 

In an age of instant gratification, the impressive advocate emphasised the importance of consistency and persistence, noting that real change does not happen overnight.

One thing Quah has realised after years of doing social work is that, "Your convictions have to be stronger than your emotions. Know your why."

In 2017, when she was just 23 years old, Heidy Quah received a Young Leaders Award from Queen Elizabeth II:

Malaysia is not short on talented and dedicated individuals. A number of them have recently been recognised by international bodies: