Every changemaker has a story, and Dato' Shahira Ahmed Bazari's tale pinpoints the memories and experiences that have shaped her passion for empowering Malaysian lives

Many of us dream of a better, brighter future for Malaysians everywhere, but few have lived, breathed and pursued this ideal like Dato' Shahira Ahmed Bazari. A firm believer of the role of education in alleviating poverty, Yayasan Hasanah's managing director isn't afraid to keep her ear to the ground and do what's necessary to bring long-term impact to the nation's most underserved communities. 

Shahira was instrumental in setting up Yayasan Hasanah, a grant-making foundation that brings corporations, civil society organisations, charities and other changemakers together to execute initiatives that create positive change in the nation. Its commitment to deliver long-term and sustainable impact in Malaysia can be seen in its key efforts in education, community development, environment, arts and public spaces, as well as knowledge and research. Since 2020, the foundation has amplified its efforts to help people whose livelihoods and lives have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

"Working at a foundation where we are able to make a difference in people’s lives every day is indeed a privileged opportunity for me," says Shahira. "Since our inception, Hasanah has assisted more than a million lives in Malaysia, alongside humanitarian relief initiatives." 

Read on to learn what motivates this inspiring leader and mother of three today.                 

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Above Dato' Shahira at SMK Taman Johor Jaya 2 teaching English to Form 2 students during Teach for Malaysia Week (Photo: Yayasan Hasanah)

Tell us about the childhood moments that helped shape who you are today.

I grew up in a big family of seven siblings. My dad is an ardent reader of philosophy and sufism, and we have an extensive library at home. He loves to drink black coffee at night and as he did, he would sit us all down and tell us stories, sharing words of wisdom and advice.

Looking back, these are the most precious moments to me. Many values I hold dear today were from those night chats with dad. He taught us to always be kind and at the same time, to have a visionary mindset. Despite his strict demeanour, he was a very charitable person and a firm believer of the importance of education. Like him, I too believe that good education is a pivotal turning point and a foundation for every individual to reach their full potential.

What was your career like before Yayasan Hasanah? 

I began my corporate journey, working in a private think tank where I led socio-political research and advocacy work for three years before joining Procter & Gamble, leading their public affairs function in Malaysia and Singapore. In 2006, I joined Khazanah Nasional where I worked in the managing director’s office for nine years. Yayasan Hasanah, the Foundation of Khazanah Nasional, was set up in 2015, and I was honoured to be part of the team that developed the strategy towards its formation.

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Above Photo: Yayasan Hasanah

Tell us about the impact that Yayasan Hasanah has made in the nation since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Through all our efforts and initiatives, a total of RM123 million was allocated in 2020 with 262 projects being held to assist 322,137 individuals impacted by the pandemic.

Some of the successful initiatives that we were able to carry out include the GLIC/GLC Disaster Relief Network (GDRN) that saw 29 different government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies assisting the Ministry of Health and public hospitals, as well as non-medical assistance to the tune of RM95 million collectively. GDRN managed to supply medical supplies such as ventilators, PPE sets, BP monitors, stethoscopes, disposable face shields and more to 53 hospitals.

Are there any projects in particular that have moved or inspired you?

It is hard to choose which inspires me the most. In every pillar Hasanah supports, there emerge wonderful stories of transformation, whether it is a micro entrepreneur that sees more than 200 per cent in her income growth, or a student who was unable to even read at 12 years old doing extremely well in his PT3 exams, and so on. 

See also: Datuk Munirah Hamid Talks Caring For The Homeless During Covid-19


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Above The OA Organik project, a partnership with orang asli communities in Ulu Gumum, Pekan, Pahang (Photo: Yayasan Hasanah)

Are female leaders a minority in your industry? Or is the opposite true?

In Malaysia, it does seem that the social sector is largely driven by women, but globally these statistics may differ. The social sector needs leaders that have an astute ability to balance the “head and the heart” when leading a high performing social foundation. Coincidentally, in Yayasan Hasanah, we have more women leaders than men right now—but certainly not by design! 

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What would you say to future generations of young women who also aspire to make an impact in their own way?

I strongly believe that the emergence of female leaders is a force for good in the world. Women leaders bring different and diverse values to the table and are indeed pivotal for any organisation to thrive, whether in the social or for-profit sectors. Taking the environment and climate as an example, someone as experienced and respected as Jane Goodall is standing alongside teenage activists like Greta Thunberg, and both these women are ambitious and capable of running influential organisations that can activate physical change through technology and policy.

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Photo: Unsplash
Above Photo: Unsplash

Who do you look up to mostly in your life right now?

As a mother of three teenage children, I cannot help but observe the 'power of young people' as the future change agents of the world. I admire action-driven idealists, courageous activists, and relentless (but responsible) influencers. Like it or not, the world is changing rapidly and the way of being and working is also fast changing. We are seeing old and broken systems rearing their ugly heads, unable to cope with the demands of the times. The future belongs to young people and digital innovation will form many future solutions.

Any special thoughts or parting words to Malaysians this Merdeka? 

Hasanah means kindness, doing good and in Bahasa Malaysia, ‘Berbudi Bersama’. I’d like to wish all Malaysians, near and far, Selamat Hari Merdeka. Let’s join hands to spread positivity, kindness and continue to help those in need, in the true Malaysian spirit.  

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