By Lim Chia Ying The Star, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia / Asia News Network
Award-winning social entrepreneur, trainer and public speaker Melody Hossaini is adamant to never let the circumstances she was born into dictate the course of her life.
Having fled her birthplace of war-torn Iran where shelled bombs had shattered her neighbour's home, a young Melody made it to Europe with her family as war refugees and asylum seekers.
She landed first in Sweden, spent her growing up years there before intruders held her at gunpoint and threatened to kill her mother. They were forced to flee again, this time to the UK, where Melody eventually earned her law degree.
"I [learned] fairly early on that nothing is guaranteed in life; it is what you make of it. And do not let the world define one route of success for you. You have to be brave enough to find your own pathway," says 29-year-old founder and CEO of InspirEngage International, a social enterprise based in the UK with a presence in more than 100 countries.
The enterprise was established with the aim of improving the lives of children and young people through unique skills development boot camps.
Having being coerced, intimidated and put through life-threatening situations, Melody is unfazed about sharing her personal harrowing experiences with the public; her latest audience being attendees of the TEDxKLwomen 2013 conference held at The Gardens Theatre in Kuala Lumpur.
Yet her most compelling story would be her steely determination and gutsy perseverance to "rise above all odds" and "make a life she wants for herself".
These traits had earned her admiration from many globally, as with the conference participants who were enthralled by her confidence and eloquence.
She explains that her interest in social justice and the welfare of young people stemmed from her childhood experiences.
At 13, she volunteered with youth organisations, which honed her abilities to become a skills trainer in social enterpreneurship and a professional speaker internationally.
In 2011, Melody appeared on BBC's The Apprentice as the first ever social entrepreneur to contest in the reality series.
"Social enterprises are businesses with a good cause. Success in this age is no longer reflected by just your wealth, but the social values you uphold."
Melody wrapped up her talk by stressing on the importance of not living one's life on autopilot mode, which is living with your eyes closed and never questioning.
"I believe the greatest changes in the world are borne out of hardship. People should never allow reality to be defined for them; rather, everyone is in control of their perception which in turn define their reality."
This conference, the second by TEDxKLwomen, was held in collaboration with TEDwomen in San Franscisco. TEDxKLwomen was curated by non-profit organisation WOMEN:girls together with TEDxKLwomen licence holders.
The theme was "Money -- Invented Here" to convey ways on how passion and ideas can be turned into financial success by a host of guest speakers from different industries who shared their insights and inspirational stories.
Technopreneur Cheryl Yeoh thinks of passion as something short-lived and fleeting, and says it is upon the attainment of success that one's passion is unearthed.
"Following your passion sounds like the right thing to do, but in my opinion, that's probably not the best advice. I'll relate to you why.
"In 2010, I co-founded my tech start-up CityPockets Inc that helps people save money through daily deals. However, the business started stagnating not long after that and I felt the passion for my company waning simply because I wasn't successful.
"Hard as it was, I had to close down the entity to shift my strategy into grocery coupons business instead. It was extremely popular with people making redemptions and the success that followed made me passionate again.
"From my experience, success is the ultimate reward to maintain one's sustained passion," says Yeoh, a recipient of the L'Oreal Top 10 Women in Digital Award 2012. She was also named the Top 44 Female Founders Every Entrepreneur Should Know by Mashable in 2012 and one of 10 Global Ambassadors selected to climb Mt Kilimanjaro for charity in March this year.
Yeoh, who is now based in San Francisco, US, says success and sustained passion work hand-in-hand. People need to observe what works and build their success on that rather than just blindly following their passion.
"You need to explore your skills and treat your entrepreneurship decisions as your experiments. It's fine if you don't like the results, as someone once told me that you don't necessarily need to know what you want to do as long as you know what you don't want to do.
"My 'experimentation' has led me to become a technopreneur. Identify community needs within your own neighbourhood or interest groups, and then focus your effort by putting in the right amount of hard work," adds Yeoh. Her business venture Reclip.It was acquired by Walmart Labs in Silicon Valley this year.
Hostel co-owner Rachel Koay says it is possible for anyone to fulfil their dreams if they only take the first step to making it happen.
"You actually need [less] than you think to live your dream. We all have dreams, whether it is to travel the world or own a luxury car, but we need to wake up from the dream to start going for it, one step at a time," says the 27-year-old Koay, who together with her partner, has opened the first female-friendly hostel in Penang known as Queen's Hostel.
The budget-friendly lodging that is strictly meant for ladies is fitted with beauty essentials one would never find in accommodations elsewhere -- they include hair straighteners and OPI nail lacquers.
The female target market is a niche positioning in George Town, which is already teeming with backpacker stays. Just four months into Queen's opening, the hostel has been ranked second on travel-review website TripAdvisor with glowing reviews.
"It was important that we find a niche or why else would guests choose our place over other available accommodations?" says Koay, who also runs a public relations and advertising firm.
The hostel, she says, was financed through crowdfunding, and they managed to source and raise the funds they needed in just two-and-half days.
"We should not spend our life waiting for resources to come (to us); just go and create your own," says Koay.
Achieving financial freedom has allowed the avid traveller to what she loves most, like communicating with her clients over a laptop and holidaying. The "freedom" has also enabled her to take up bartending in Langkawi for a month.
"When we know how much we need, that's when we'll have financial freedom," she declares. Other speakers of the night include headband designers Sereni Linggi and Shen-Tel Lee who spoke about their whimsical and head-turning handmade creations, Tintoy and TakeHuat who are creators of Peperangan Bintang: Star Wars In Wayang Kulit fusion project, food artist extraordinaire Samantha Lee who shared her skills of making food that looks like art, as well as Red FM radio announcer and stand-up comedienne-cum-entertainer Joanne Kam.