When she was just 19, New Su Shern was so deeply moved watching an online video about slavery, she decided she had to take action. With just 200 Malaysian Ringgit – about $50 – from her father, the then teenager launched Project Liber8, an anti-human trafficking organization that has brought attention to the issue to the highest levels of government in both her home country and the United States.
“I actually came across a video online about slavery and it intrigued me to do something about it. It really didn't take much, it's as though this was destined to happen,” Su Shern says. “I think I just had that vivid imagination that if the situation is switched around and one of my family members were the one trafficked, I wouldn't know what to do. And I didn't want to ever be in that position nor do I want anyone else to be in that kind of situation.”
And so began her life’s dedication to activism, which has only been strengthened by her U.S. exchange program experiences, beginning with a Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) exchange on New Media in Journalism in 2013 at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She credits her exchange experiences with building her confidence and opening her eyes to the possibility that she could, indeed, make a difference.
Now 25, Su Shern has traveled the world, met with former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry; organized a hackathon that closed with the Malaysian government unveiling a trafficking victims’ hotline; met the Dalai Lama; and discussed her goals with U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir over plates of ayam masak merah (chicken in red chili sauce) in Kuala Lumpur.
Her boundless drive and optimism have kept her navigating the NGO world, applying for grants, seeking sponsors, and attracting attention to a confounding problem.
Participation in the SUSI exchange gave her the skills and savvy to promote Project Liber8. She immediately began mobilizing her university peers, the exchange alumni network, and civil society to organize a large awareness campaign against trafficking in persons. She garnered the support of sponsors and worked with U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur to involve WNBA and NBA Sports Envoys. These efforts captured media attention and markedly expanded her campaign’s reach.
She championed the power of fame again with “Celebrity Photo Shoot,” which convinced local celebrities to support “Liber8 S.O.S. Exhibition,” an awareness campaign. She organized a workshop to educate local YouTubers and social media influencers on human trafficking that led to an Advoc8 YouTube series. Her list of accomplishments is long.
Su Shern has also played a significant role in the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) since the beginning and quickly became one of Malaysia’s pioneering and most active YSEALI members. In Brunei in October 2013, as one of 24 Young Southeast Asian Leaders at the ASEAN Young Leaders Round Table and Pre-Summit gathering with then Secretary of State John Kerry, Su Shern helped outline YSEALI’s four key themes. She also actively participated later that year in the LEAD ASEAN Summit in Manila where YSEALI was official launched. To round out her YSEALI experience, she participated in YSEALI Generation: Ideas into Action - the first YSEALI Regional Workshop, and President Obama’s first YSEALI Town Hall meeting.
Recently, Su Shern has focused her public service endeavors on creating a platform to mobilize young people to combat human trafficking in the region. In July, with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Su Shern led Project Liber8’s first-ever national hackathon, called Advoc8Hack, aimed at creating innovative technology ideas to help raise awareness of human trafficking issues in Malaysia. The hackathon created a platform for developers and IT experts to partner with nonprofit organizations and the Ministry of Home Affairs to develop innovative solutions to fight human trafficking. The government’s anti-trafficking arm launched a special hotline for the public to provide information on human trafficking. The winning app is in the process of being developed and companies are exploring ways to launch other ideas developing during the hackathon,
Malaysian government officials were so impressed that they have asked her to create an awareness campaign for universities across Malaysia. Su Shern is in the process of garnering support for a program to take place at 80 college campuses.
Her exchange experiences though both SUSI and YSEALI have strengthened her conviction that one is #nevertooyoungtolead. Since 2011, Su Shern has played a vital role in the Malaysian alumni community, in combatting human trafficking, and in being a voice for the voiceless. Congratulations again to New Su Shern for being selected the December 2017 Exchange Alumni Member of the Month. We cannot wait to see where you go next!