During a recent webinar for our alumni, Datuk Munirah Abdul Hamid, founder of PERTIWI Soup Kitchen in Malaysia, shared her motivational leadership story and what she’s learnt along the way; from the value of looking out for others, to the importance of nurturing team spirit. Munirah also shared advice for leaders who are striving to stay connected to their purpose during times of immense disruption and change.

Right now, a question that so many leaders around the world are grappling with is, ‘How can I continue to deliver on my purpose during unprecedented times?’

We asked Datuk Munirah Abdul Hamid to join us as we connected with our alumni online and explored what it takes to lead with purpose, despite the many leadership challenges we may face.

Introducing herself to the group as an ‘unconventional grandmother’, Munirah is renowned for her charity work and founding the PERTIWI Soup Kitchen project under the NGO called PERTIWI. This project was created as a community outreach effort to provide regular humanitarian food aid service for the homeless and urban poor at various locations around Kuala Lumpur.

When she was setting up the soup kitchen, Munirah said that she never had any ‘lofty’ dreams. It was just about following her heart. She reflected on when she discovered her passion for providing meals for others and explained, “My mum was the one who taught me about the joy of feeding people. I was born up North in Peninsular Malaysia. It was a small community so we would all look after each other. My mother used to cook a lot and we would have extra food, so that we could help our neighbours. I used to help her when she made rice pudding, not knowing that we were actually helping others. She made it a natural thing to help others, that it was just a way of life.”

“I grew up knowing that whenever you’re happy, whenever you’re sad, you always feed other people; sharing food is what unites people. I still believe in that.”

Naturally, feeding others was the first thing Munirah thought about when the COVID-19 lockdown in Malaysia began. When she went out on the first night of the lockdown to deliver meals, she could see that there was panic in the air – people were unsure of where they could go or what they could do.

As more restrictions occurred, different NGOs teamed together in order to carry out their mission of providing aid to the underprivileged and continued to adapt to a new order. Munirah said it was crucial to keep adjusting to what the authorities would allow, balancing their duty to society so as not to spread the virus, and their duties to their beneficiaries not to let them starve.

Munirah shared, “It’s hard for everyone to grasp, but we have to. We must adapt, listen and communicate. We kept persevering because [our beneficiaries] were panicking more than us. It is about adapting to a new order and trying to coordinate in small ways, wherever you can help.”

At a time where there is a lot of uncertainty and disruption in the world, not everyone shares the same level of resilience. Munirah spoke to our alumni about the importance of being open to different approaches, and maintaining not only her own motivation, but the motivation of her team in order to continue to create social value.

She said, “It doesn’t matter if [a team member’s contribution] is reduced to doing something small – it’s about team work. You must respect each party’s desire to be a part of it, to whatever extent. It’s about nurturing team spirit and it’s important to recognize that each person will have their own strengths and weaknesses and respecting them. You must know that in order to deliver, it’s the team effort that is important. Otherwise the team will break, and you won’t be able to do what you’re trying to achieve.”

Munirah added, “We are healing each other by helping each other.”

Over the coming months, we will be hosting more alumni webinars with the opportunity to hear from inspirational leaders like Munirah. You can register for our alumni webinars here.