The 11th Biennial Conference was held in Penang on 20-22 March 2015 and was a great success, with SI members from all over Malaysia congregating on the Pearl of the Orient for learning, sharing and sisterhood. SIPJ President Sharon Saw was a member of the organising committee for the event as the editor of the Souvenir Programme. Puan Sri Siew Yong Gnanalingam, IPP SISWP and member of SIPJ, was the guest of honour at the opening ceremony of the event and gave an inspiring speech on the conference theme of sustainability, which is available below.
There was a good panel of speakers, including YB Steven Sim, Jana Arumugam and Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud.
SIROM’s AGM was held at the 11th Biennial Conference which saw the changing of the guard, with the new SIROM President Anita Pater taking office. Sharon was nominated and accepted as a new addition to SIROM exco as the Programme Convenor and UN liaison.
Dato’ Anusha Santhirasthipam, as past Soroptimist International Assistant Programme Director, was on the VIP table at the gala dinner and also responded to the toast to Soroptimist International.
SIPJ congratulates the organising committee for a great conference and the new SIROM exco!
Keynote Speech by
Puan Sri Siew Yong Gnanalingam, Immediate Past President, SISWP
I am honoured to be invited to launch the 11th SIROM Biennial Conference. As a member of this Region, it is even more meaningful for me to be able to attend the conference, even though it is only for the friendship night yesterday and this morning’s opening session.
The last time we were in Penang for the SIROM Conference was in 2009 and I remembered what a great time we had, as you Penang ladies know how to rock. So I am sure that all delegates will enjoy everything that the SI Penang girls have laid out for you, in the spirit of friendship and sisterhood.
I must commend Soroptimist International Region of Malaysia for taking on this very challenging theme of “The Future We Want – Sustainable Development”, as I think it is timely and appropriate. We should give deeper thoughts to how we could contribute to a future with sustainable development, not only for women and girls, but our community and country.
As it is, our SI Programme Goal I for Quadrennium 2011-2015, which says “Soroptimist International will improve the lives and status of women and girls through education, empowerment or enabling opportunities” includes 3 out of 5 objectives which have relevance to the theme on sustainable development, namely:
- Improve access to economic empowerment and sustainable opportunities for the employment of women.
- Ensure women and girls have food security and access to the highest attainable standard of health care.
- Address the specific needs of women and girls by improving environmental sustainability and mitigating effects of climate change and disasters.
As a background, I would like to outline what the theme means and why it is important for us to focus on Sustainable Development as a future we want.
Sustainable Development has been defined as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
I can’t claim I know a lot about sustainable development but I have researched the subject and the coverage is very wide. The Outcome Document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development entitled “The Future We Want”, or known as the Rio+20 Conference held in Rio Di Janerio, Brazil in June 2012, has 280 points.
Rio+20 has brought about a renewal of commitment of all Heads of State and Government and High representatives to sustainable development and to ensuring the promotion of an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for future and present generations.
They acknowledge that poverty eradication is the greatest global challenge and indispensable requirement for sustainable development.
In summary, the conference recognises that poverty eradication, changing unsustainable and promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are the overarching objectives of and essential requirements for sustainable development.
It also reaffirms the need to achieve sustainable development by promoting sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living, fostering equitable social development and inclusion, and promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems that support economic, social and human development, while facilitating ecosystem conservation, regeneration and restoration.
It also important to note that Rio+20 recognises that gender equality and women’s empowerment are important for sustainable development and the global future.
My personal view on the subject is that so many things are happening to our planet that we have to be truly concerned, such as degradation of our forests and rivers, climate changes causing floods or droughts, and our ecosystems being unable to sustain our flora and fauna. These issues are causing poor production from our land and seas which could lead to poverty affecting our most vulnerable, the rural folks and those depending on our forests, like our indigenous communities.
Even our resources underground or under the oceans like mines for our tin, copper and oil fields for our fuel are depleting. As such, sustainable development is critical. We may think, as SI clubs we can’t do much, but we can create awareness, we can educate, we can empower and we can enable, in whatever way possible, using our knowledge, skills, experience to start the process of creating projects or campaigns which can lead to sustainable development in the long run.
Perhaps we think we can’t do much being in the big cities but we can try to reach out to areas where the opportunity to carry out projects is possible.
For example, our communities which are vulnerable are the indigenous people of Sarawak, Sabah and even in Peninsular Malaysia. I remember the SI Bangsar club carrying out a project in the orang asli community in Janda Baik. As part of the project, the club imparted knowledge on the environment such as cleanliness, recycling and making compost. They also provided the community with 33 goats as a startup for the Orang Asli to breed and sell the goats. I am sure clubs can also reach out to estates or the rural areas in our own state, if we really wanted to carry out a project or campaign which champions sustainable development. Even in Sarawak and Sabah it is possible, although I am not denying that it will be a difficult and challenging task, to carry out a project at the fringes of the city. If you think the impact is worth doing, then it’s worth the effort, even if it means going into the interiors of the country. Perhaps we can explore partnerships with organisations like WWF, frim and other eco-friendly organisation.
In the urban areas we can think of aspects of campaigns to stop wastage which is one sure way of contributing to loss of resources. If we can stem the wastage then we can contribute to conserving our resources, be it water, electricity, fuel, wood and more importantly, food.
At this juncture, I must mention the Soroptimists Educate Empower Enable Dream Jobs For Life (SEEED JobsforLife) programme which is being carried out by SIPJ over 12 weeks. This programme was initiated by SIPJ member, Dato’ Anusha Santhirasthipam, who was formerly our Soroptimist International Assistant International Programme Director. During session 4 training saw 6 teams compete before expert judges to “pitch” their projects. Each team was required to create and present an innovative community project within the theme of “Waste Not, Want Not”.
The first group to present their proposal named “The Pioneers”, spoke on water conservation and an innovative campaign to curb wastage.
The second team, Team Dice was ready to be risk takers and pursue a environment-friendly venture to engage consumers to convert used cooking oil into biodiesel.
Group 3 Blue Sparks created a brand of bio cleaning agent named “Sparkzymes” – using fruit enzymes and was ready to sell the idea as a business venture.
Group 4 team Jendac-C also advocated producing cleaning enzymes out of fruit skins and vegetable waste.
Group 5, Vision Quest, spoke about their community project to curb water wastage and encourage water conservation.
Group 6, Jaguar Paw gave a presentation to tackle food wastage through a much needed advocacy campaign.
I am suggesting that these gems of ideas by our youths could very well be used by our SI Clubs to turn into projects or campaigns to create awareness on the importance of prevention of wastage and the need for conservation of our natural resources.
There is also the possibility of helping women carry out businesses involving creating products out of waste materials. SI clubs could be the mentor, venture capitalist or facilitator. However we have to ensure the projects or businesses are sustainable so that the beneficiaries can carry on a sustainable business after we leave. (let us not create a “fly by night” project ie here today, gone tomorrow, just for the sake of a project. Think of sustaining it until it can be carried forward by the people participating in the project, for good.) As such we have to plan the project carefully on the principles of sustainability with impact.
Having visited Fiji, I would also like to share the projects done by the SI clubs there on providing 5,000-litre water tanks providing clean drinking water to schools in highly inaccessible areas and to villages which do not have access to clean life saving water during natural disasters, like droughts.
I should also mention the importance of maintaining our forests now more than ever, and there are 2 examples I would like to quote on how SI clubs could work on.
The SI Bangsar had a plant a tree project in Janda Baik and SIPJ is also thinking of embarking on more tree planting in Bentong, Pahang which would help to educate the young on the importance of sustaining our forests, whilst actually doing so.
At this juncture, I think it is appropriate for me to read a short statement of SI President, Ann Garvie on the December 10th appeal project “See Solar, Cook Solar” – “The International President’s appeal will bring sunshine into the lives of everyone in a community, in order that they can thrive, be educated and be well fed; using sustainable solar power.”
SI SWP is one of the 2 federations that have been chosen to host the project. Fiji is the location for the 3 sites which will benefit from the Appeal. The project would fund solar cookers for women in remote and island locations, providing safer, more economical and environmentally sustainable alternative to traditional kerosene stoves. The project will also consider providing solar panels for up to 10 computers at one of the 3 sites. All the 3 projects are expected to impact an estimated 250 beneficiaries. As such at the Federation and International level, as SI members you can contribute indirectly to sustainable development by donating to “See Solar, Cook Solar”.
We are fortunate that in Malaysia most parts of our country have electricity, so that we do not have to rely on collecting wood or charcoal to burn for fire or children studying with lamps or candles for light . Besides the health hazards of open fire smoke, there is danger for women and children having to collect firewood. However if you know of a community in Malaysia that could use solar energy, the concept should be explored.
I have but touched lightly on the theme as triggering points, but look forward to hearing more about what we could do, as you discuss and share at the panel session with your esteemed speakers.
Before I conclude, I would like to thank the organising committee under the chair of Anita Pater for organising a wonderful conference infused with the special brand of Penang hospitality. I would also like to thank SIROM President Nora and Exco for holding the fort during the last 2 years and congratulate and welcome the incoming SIROM Exco under the incoming president, Anita Pater.
I personally look forward to engaging with you in furthering our Soroptimist mission to educate, empower and enable our women and girls in Malaysia.
Have a wonderful conference and a great gala dinner in “Shanghai – the Paris of the Orient”.