Glenfiddich, the World’s Most Awarded Single Malt Scotch Whisky, has launched its Where Next campaign in Southeast Asia seeking to bring to life its brand ethos of constantly embracing challenges to innovate, pushing itself to be better.
As part of the campaign, Glenfiddich has partnered with leading figures from various industries in Malaysia who personify the changemaker spirit to host the Where Next Club, a place to come together, connect and inspire one another. Through authentic storytelling, wisdom and experience, it aims to create a movement to inspire the next future changemakers in SEA.
One such changemaker of this club is no other than the inspirational Deborah Henry. The former model and Miss Malaysia Universe 2011 has ventured into social entrepreneurship in recent years, advocating for the refugee community as a co-founder of Fugee School, a non-profit charity organisation that provides basic education to Somalian refugee children.
She is also the creative and driving force behind Fugeelah, a mission-driven social enterprise created for children and youth seeking refuge in Malaysia. Fugeelah is a women-led conscious jewellery brand that educates, employs and empowers refugee children and youth.
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We recently caught up with Deborah Henry on her involvement with Glenfiddich’s Where Next campaign and her journey as a social entrepreneur.
She told Prestige Malaysia, “My values align with Glenfiddich’s Where Next campaign and their belief in constantly embracing challenges to innovate and pushing oneself to get better. Having clear values and principles will help guide one in challenging situations and in decision making. It’s crucial to think without boundaries, identify the problem you want to solve, speak to people who are directly affected, and be inclusive and open to collaboration. Realise that change doesn’t happen overnight, you often have to swim against the tide but a strong conviction and good conscience are wonderful guiding lights along the way.”
Read on for more about Deborah Henry and how she is overcoming the challenges of being a social entrepreneur:
It was back in 2008 when I met a few refugee families living in Malaysia. I was hosting a documentary for UNHCR and sat in one family’s home listening to their story. It was a human connection with the grandmother and 4 siblings. I left that day committed to making sure these kids would have access to education and their future made brighter.
In Malaysia, over 180,000 refugees cannot work legally, access public education services and have limited access to healthcare. Our non-profit Fugee.org aims to cultivate an environment where refugees can build more dignified and meaningful lives despite the limitations and struggles.
Fugee.org believes in a shared humanity, where social inclusion is about dignity and choice, not charity and dependence. We champion equitable outcomes by and with refugees, and our three pillars are education, enterprise and empowerment. Over the past 10 years, we have educated over 500 children and youth as well as worked with thousands of families and community individuals.
Our social enterprise, Fugeelah intends to use its business and brand to create awareness around the plight of refugee children and youth in transit in Malaysia, to inspire individuals to take action in whatever way they can and ultimately to implement change.
Fundraising for refugee causes in Malaysia is quite challenging. I knew that the odds were stacked against me, and that I would need to push the boundaries and find a more creative solution if I wanted to create real change. So in 2014, I started thinking about venturing into a sustainable business for Fugee School. I wanted to be able to secure the school’s finances so we could focus our time on improving our education programmes and developing more innovative approaches.
I have a fashion background so it seemed like the natural move to start a social enterprise selling accessories. We wanted the refugee youth to be involved and felt that jewellery was a good place to start.
Over the years Fugeelah has evolved into a women-led conscious jewellery brand that is deeply devoted to quality, both in the jewellery we make and the lives we aim to encourage. We dedicate ourselves to thoughtful sourcing, fair wages and give-back initiatives that truly have an impact. In doing so, we educate, employ and empower refugee children and youth so they can approach life with dignity, purpose and pride.
At Fugeelah we’re always challenging ourselves to break new ground, whether it’s by celebrating imperfections, banishing stigma or striving to be real and relatable. We always ask ourselves “Where Next”, looking for new paths to forge and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. The past few years have become one for diversification and so in addition to creating the everyday precious pieces we’re also collaborating with Malaysian creatives to bring you products with purpose - we wear the change we want to see in the world, you should too.
A combination of reFugee and “lah”, a term Malaysians love. Our conversation starters raise compliments & awareness for refugee rights. Your purchase has a big impact! We allocate profits to sustain income & upskilling opportunities for refugee youth, and to provide access to education for over 200 refugee children at our NGO, Fugee School.
With any business, building a solid and sustainable enterprise that is profitable while placing equal importance on protecting people, planet and sticking true to our purpose. Many people think social enterprises (SE) are charities and therefore make pity purchases.
However, I think SEs are one small part of a growing change in consumer habits, and we’re helping to drive this by reminding consumers that have the power to make meaningful choices with their purchases. That their little pleasures/purchases can have a big impact on the lives of others. I think listening to the stories of those supported really helps consumers know that they are making a difference and this in turn makes them more loyal and change their spending habits.
As a business, we need to be able to be profitable. However, we don’t only focus on making money. Impact along the way is critical. So a main challenge is to ensure we are holding ourselves accountable to the values and impact areas we espouse. We can overcome this by making sure our actions are aligned with what we say. We can’t look for the cheapest available options as this can affect the impact we aim to make, and we have to stay committed to looking for communities we want to support, conscious of all decision making and showing customers where the impact money goes.
Learning how to overcome these challenges hasn’t been easy, but it’s allowed us and our business to grow stronger. We’re always on the lookout to improve, both personally and professionally, with the goal of creating change and driving impact.
We also have Fugeelah X collaborations which are any special projects we do with Malaysian artisans, independent volunteers or private entities. Projects draw inspiration from our students and their creativity.
The past few Covid years have been particularly challenging for us, as we are a small business and fashion was badly hit. We had to think of ways to stay alive. Collaboration was the answer. We partnered with Khoon Hooi, using his leftover fabrics to make easy everyday bags and it was a super successful collection, selling out. We have continued the partnership until 2022. We also used the time to improve our production processes and operations.
I think people like our story, they like wearing a bag or pair of earrings knowing that part of the profits is keeping children in school and making real change.
Children are often the most vulnerable and they suffer in silence. They witness things no child should have to, and because their family situations can be so difficult and tense their trauma doesn’t get dealt with. So many children in Fugee School arrive with a myriad of emotional and psychological struggles. During war and displacement children don’t have access to schools and many have huge gaps in their education.
We find it best to get the children back into a routine of going to school where they can socialise, regain some form of normalcy and become kids again. It is during this period we are able to assess whether they need psycho-social support, academic support and after school care. Our school focuses on 4 pillars, grit, education, emotional development and aftercare- all programmes must cater to these key needs of the children.
In Malaysia, schools like Fugee School are the only education option for refugees, and we work hard to create more access and opportunity for youth to get into colleges and universities. Another struggle faced by the youth is after they finish school and most cannot further their studies and as it’s illegal to work many are left sitting idle at home. We advocate for refugees to be able to seek legal employment and internships so they can be productive individuals and contribute to themselves, their families and the country.
In the words of the great Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world.” The impact of education is generational- it changes not just the child’s life but families, communities and nations.
Well, what more can be done so refugees are then able to take care of themselves. It is not sustainable for people to live off charity and handouts. We advocate for refugees to be allowed to work legally so that they can take care of themselves, and their families and it will contribute positively to the local economy.
Malaysia is dependent on foreign labour so why not use the available resources that are already here. Generally speaking, Malaysians need to shift their mindsets from the ‘us and them’ thinking and realise we are all interconnected. We should be able to take care of others without feeling something will be taken away from us. I do think this toxic mentality comes from our leadership which has exploited the ‘divide and conquer strategy in politics and sadly this has affected the social fabric of society.
Right now we are focusing on global growth, increasing our social media presence and distribution in key regions around the world.
We are currently selling at the Malaysia Pavilion at the Dubai Expo and have received a lot of positive feedback about the brand.
Inspired by our belief in humanity, inclusivity and the need for more human connectedness, we hope our creations are a beautiful reminder that all people, refugee or otherwise, deserve the chance to determine their own life paths with dignity and purpose.
Fugeelah jewellery is for curious minds and conscious hearts. We want people to wear the change they want to see in the world.