Alumnus breaks confines of expectation

10 Mar 2015

For someone who has been named Queensland Young Australian of the Year twice, Yassmin Abdel-Magied remains remarkably grounded and humble about her position as an outstanding and exceptional young Australian.

“I don’t know how I am in the same group as these people,” she said, when she was named the 2015 recipient of the award and read the biographies of winners from other states.

“The Australian of the Year awards are not something you can specifically work towards, so to have been nominated is amazing because its direct recognition for the work a person is doing in the community.”

While the UQ alumnus maintains a full time position as an offshore drilling engineer with a large oil and gas company, she’s also the founder, president and chairperson of Youth Without Borders, is a board member of two other not-for-profit organisations, is a member of the UQ Young Alumni Advisory Board, and – just for something a little different – is an accredited international FIA print reporter, writing from Formula 1 races around the world for Richard’s F1, an Australian motorsport magazine and website.

It’s an unexpected workload for a woman who was born in Khartoum, Sudan.

Her family migrated to Australia when she was two, and at age 16, while still in high school she founded Youth Without Borders, an organisation that empowers young people globally to implement positive change in their communities.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering (First Class Honours) from UQ in 2011, and was valedictorian of her class.

Rather than use her degree and exceptional experience to secure a job straight away, Ms Abdel-Magied returned to Sudan to spend six months with her grandmother, learning at what she calls ‘the school of life’.

“My grandmother taught me a lot, mostly cooking, because in her mind, how else was I going to find a good husband?” she said.

That Ms Abdel-Magied’s life is a significant departure from the expectations of Sudanese culture, particularly with respect to women, is something that both awes and surprises her family and friends from her home country.

“They definitely think it’s amazing, but it’s not necessarily something they expect or even want for themselves,” she said.

Breaking the mould, however, is one of the things Ms Abdel-Magied remains most proud of, and she hopes her achievements can inspire others from all walks of life.

“I was born in one of the poorest countries in the world, but what people with opportunity can do is open doors for others,” she said.

“I want to help people and inspire people to see beyond what’s expected of themselves. 

“I don’t want people to be limited by what they think they should or should not do.”

After graduating from ‘the school of life’, Ms Abdel-Magied returned to Australia, forging a career as an engineer, social advocate and media commentator.

She is currently a board member of the United Nations Youth Association and ChildFund Australia, and serves on the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council Australia’s Youth Advisory Group.

Youth Without Borders continues to go from strength to strength, now partnering with UNICEF on projects including the supply of schoolbooks to underprivileged children.

She has been a member of the Australian Multicultural Council, been on the boards of the Queensland Museum and the Design Council, contributed as a member of the Federal Anzac Centenary Commemoration Youth Working Group and was on the organising committee of the 2014 Youth G20 Summit.

Ms Abdel-Magied has received accolades for her humanitarian work, was named Young Australian Muslim of the Year in 2007, Queensland Young Australian of the Year in 2010, and Young Leader in the inaugural 100 Women of Influence awards in 2012. 

On the extraordinary trajectory of her life, Ms Abdel-Magied is equally humbled by and grateful for the opportunities and experiences that she has been able to take, acknowledging her life would likely have been quite different had her parents chosen to stay in Sudan.

She is determined to use her growing prominence in Australia and overseas to continue her contributions to society, both locally and internationally.

“I don’t have one particular goal at this stage, but I do know I want everything I do in life to impact others and provide opportunities for others, regardless of where they were born or what they wear, regardless of their gender, their age or their race.”