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Yasmin Rasyid – An Eco Warrior

Yasmin Rasyid is a recognisable name here in Malaysia. A scientist by profession, an environmentalist by passion, Yasmin is a devoted advocate of sustainable living in harmony with nature. Her list of accomplishments rivals that of Jane Goodall with numerous conservation projects under her belt. You may know her as the founder of EcoKnights, a not-for-profit environmental organisation that encourages the adoption of sustainable living in Malaysia.

Yasmin was trained as a biologist and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Malaya’s Faculty of Sciences. However, it was only after serving as a Scientific Officer with WWF-Malaysia that she discovered her true calling as a champion for the environment. After several stints in the corporate world, Yasmin started EcoKnights in 2005 and has remained the organisation’s President ever since. In a recent interview with BRainSfeed, she shared with us the highlights of working for an environmental cause.

"If the organisation is doing a good job with the public in the areas of sustainable living, I hope it can continue to provide its needs to the public until it runs itself obsolete.”

“There wasn’t a specific moment that contributed to the founding of EcoKnights. I felt the need to do so because I was passionate about providing community development services to enhance awareness, action, participation and empowerment in sustainable living. As an individual, I have my limitations and a well-oiled and capable organisation can achieve so much more than I can individually. If the organisation is doing a good job with the public in the areas of sustainable living, I hope it can continue to provide its needs to the public until it runs itself obsolete,” recalls Yasmin.

As the society’s President, Yasmin fronts the organisation as its public face. The early days were no doubt challenging, but Yasmin is glad that her very capable team has managed to relieve her from personally supervising the day-to-day aspects of EcoKnights.

“I guess my role has ‘downgraded’ a bit,” she laughs. “But when I am needed, my team knows when and how to activate me to catalyst their work more efficiently. I actually spend more time on networking these days, presenting papers at conferences, and focusing my attention on advocacy and lobbying matters.”

When asked about what she loves most about helping nature, Yasmin insists that everything she has built, from the team at EcoKnights, to the successful implementation of environmental policies, has enriched her life and encouraged her to continue.

“Actually, to be honest, I don’t know where to begin here. For me it’s not just about working for an environmental cause that I enjoy the most; it’s the whole independent process I have created from the start till today; the people that I have brought together through my journey in growing this organisation; the amazing individuals that inspire and energise me throughout my journey; and the amazing innovative and creative opportunities I have dabbled in."

“I have enjoyed every bit of the process of moving people, government agencies, corporations, and youths towards a sustainable approach in livelihood. If you can pour out your positivity and your vision is clear, and the people who are truly on this journey with you give you their all, then it’s not work anymore; it’s full on empowerment to make that transformation in society,” she adds.

"Every year, I experience the dedication, the passion and the efforts of a kick-ass team that serves to make sure the platform achieves what it sets out to do."

In 2008, Yasmin founded the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival (KLEFF), an annual public programme that serves as a creative audio-visual platform to promote sustainable living while celebrating important environmental films that advocate for positive change. As an art-themed environmental event, KLEFF uses films, art-themed performances, workshops, forums, talks, exhibitions and enrichment programmes to reach out to the mass public and raise awareness of the importance of sustainability and green consumerism.

“It has been 11 years since the establishment of KLEFF, and we have learned so much about mobilising communities through this platform. Every year, I experience the dedication, the passion and the efforts of a kick-ass team that serves to make sure the platform achieves what it sets out to do,” explains Yasmin.

Yasmin has since taken a step back when it comes to on-the-grounds management of the festival. After serving as the Festival Director for most of its existence, she now helps out as an honourary advisor, contributing her knowledge where and when it is needed but letting a new generation of leaders take charge.

She is still kept busy though, as MENGO’s Vice Chairman for the term of 2017/2019. MENGO is a national coalition of 26 environmental and social NGOs. In her capacity as the Chairperson, she deals with environmental issues and matters related to governance, legislation and national policies. Yasmin is also actively involved in other ventures, for instance, serving as Chairperson for the Duke University Alumni Association in Malaysia and giving guest lectures in various local universities including the University Kuala Lumpur campus in Kampung Bharu, University of Malaya and Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UniTAR).

Despite her packed schedule, Yasmin still finds the time to visit the outdoors, especially the rainforests of Malaysia and Southeast Asia. She has explored rainforests in the Malaysian states of Pahang, Kedah, Perak, Sabah, Sarawak and Selangor; the jungles of Indonesia; and forests in the USA, Cambodia and Thailand.

One of her most memorable experiences took place in 1998, when she was still a research assistant in a WWF-Malaysia project to study medicinal plants. After a lengthy boat journey to Kenong Forest Park in Pahang, she was greeted by a scene she described as straight out of a documentary.

“I saw a mother and her two children walking towards the jetty, with the lorries carrying logs behind her and clouds of dust swirling around them. It was my first time seeing an indigenous woman! The entire four-day experience after that was also amazing and fascinating with huge monitor lizards in the bathroom and other adventures,” she recalls vividly.

"The hardest bit is to actually get started but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be on your way to a more sustainable journey.”

Certainly, few among us could claim to have encountered a monitor lizard – a reptile that can grow to up to a metre or more in length – while taking a shower! But to Yasmin, such encounters simply served to remind her that the natural world is very much worth saving.

“There are so many ways to get involved and one can easily start something today. Refuse a plastic straw, carry your own shopping bag, eat less meat, drive less, etc. All of us are more or less subconsciously aware of the impacts we create on the environment, but not many care or are bothered to take action. The hardest bit is to actually get started but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be on your way to a more sustainable journey.”

Having accomplished so much in her lifetime, Yasmin still looks forward to seeing some of her other dreams come true, including becoming a full-time artist!

“I know it’s absurd but I like to give this a try and start focusing on my inner creativity in terms of creating visual art. It’s so farfetched from what I am doing now but if not in this lifetime, then when?”

We can all take a leaf from Yasmin Rasyid’s book. Not all of us have the time, energy or opportunity to build an environmental NGO from scratch. But, we can make small changes to our lifestyle that will put us on a greener path.

“The day EcoKnights doesn’t need to exist in society, is the day I hope we have all attained sustainable living,” she concludes.

Join Yasmin Rasyid as a Belum Forest Friend today and help preserve the Belum-Temengor Rainforest Complex!

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