A scientist by day and an activist by evening and weekends. Maisha Reza’s campaigns are pivoted on feminism- ensuring equitable opportunities and resources to bring out the best in everyone.
What’s your story?
Born in Bangladesh and raised in Singapore in a privileged family since childhood, gave me the exposure and understanding of inequality and unfairness from an early age. While building my life with academic excellence, a spark of curiosity always lingered in my mind on how I could engage in local leadership to make a positive impact. After submitting my PhD thesis in 2016, I began taking up leadership opportunities and became a women’s empowerment activist, advocate for education and a youth empowerment activist. I am a scientist (muscle biologist) by day and an activist by evening and weekends.
In both my career in science and the field of activism, no amount of work is ever enough. They are both continually evolving and challenging spaces which requires me to be continually thinking, using my creativity and my full energy and potential each day to give it my best. New knowledge is being generated everyday but ironically, the more we discover and learn, the more we learn that there is so much left to discover as we still do not know what we do not know. While it can be exhausting it is definitely, intriguing and fulfilling.
What’s your connection to Asia?
My culture, language and palate. My parents were raised in Bangladesh and most of my relatives still live there so I visit the capital, Dhaka very frequently. I speak several Asian languages fluently, English, of course along with Bengali, Hindi and Malay. I do understand my Chinese friends as well! Holding on to the Bengali culture, I am deeply immersed in the vibrancy of the Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures in Singapore and love celebrating every festival with friends and their families. It keeps my mind open, accepting and curious. Malay cuisine fused with Indian spices is my absolute favourite.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, without a doubt simply because of our efficiency and transparency. Our way of doing business is transparent and that enables clients and partners to develop trust which is critical for sustainable business relationships. Though I’m a Singaporean and have lived here for almost 25 years, it still amazes me how structured, meticulous and organized everything is; whether I step into a bank, a trading office, the public transportation or restaurants, I usually leave very impressed. Definitely recommend Singapore as a ‘visit at least once in your life’ destination.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have received advice from many amazing people so here is an amalgamation of them. “Life’s a beautiful journey and how meaningful it is, is completely dependent on you. You are 100% responsible for your life, your decisions and actions so love yourself first, live full and die empty. If you truly believe it and want it with all your heart, the universe will conspire to make it happen. You have a phoenix inside of you but you have to go through the challenging processes of evolving, discovering and unleashing. Never dim the shine of your star to accommodate anyone else”
Who inspires you?
I believe that everyone I meet in my life has a purpose and so I seek inspiration from all of them. I particularly find inspiration from personal stories. Every person is challenged with his or her journey and every person has a story. I always try to have a trustworthy relationship with people so it is easy to share our lives and stories with one another. It amazes me on how each person is like a movie or a live novel. So, I am grateful to everyone, family, friends, colleagues and strangers who became friends through common experience.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I recently completed a course in Singapore, Soul of Success by Suria Mohd which has been mind-blowing. I understood the sub-conscious mind better, feeling emotions as they are and releasing them, which can heal our souls. Despite all the planning and conscious thinking we do, more than 90% of our thoughts, feelings and actions are influenced by the subconscious mind; learned behavior accumulated by all the experience from the day we were born. And that makes a lot of sense because our conscious mind processes 40 bits per second while the subconscious mind processes 40, 000 000 bits per second.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Explore! I would have stressed myself a little less with academics and invest more time in exploring. Growing up in an Asian family and being from a minority community, the pressure for academic excellence was tremendous and it still is for those growing up now. So there was very little room for failure and not meeting up to expectations. I would have continued playing the piano and going for lessons though I was not musically inclined or continued going for painting classes though I was not the best at it simply because I enjoyed them anyway.
How do you unwind?
I unwind best by having conversations. I am really fortunate that I always have loving people around me and I make a conscious effort to surround myself with positive and encouraging people who can complement my energy and give honest yet constructive advice. Whenever stressed or overwhelmed with work or personal challenges, I speak out about it and discuss options with those I trust. That is my most effective way of releasing pressure and dealing with emotional/mental stresses. I make an effort to release every single day to prevent getting overwhelmed.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali! Bali has been my favourite Asian destination of all time, while it has amazing fusion food that I enjoy, it is a great place to unwind and relax away from the bustling Singapore city life. From vast green paddy fields, coffee tasting (that’s where I tried my first poo coffee) and the beaches. Beautiful clean beaches and good weather all year round. I am into adventure sports for thrill so I enjoyed white water rafting with the local guides. Lovina Beach, in the North of Bali was the best; watching large pods of dolphins against the sunrise.
Everyone in business should read this book:
I am not a person who reads books on success and money (I probably am stereotyping!). Most of the books I love reading are love stories because they allow me to explore the creative part of my mind and imagination like no other. It is also full of emotions so it is a treat for someone like me who does not get that emotional roller coaster reading scientific journals. While it does not ‘suit my image’ I loved the Twilight series by Stephanie Meye, love stories by Chetan Bhagat’s Half girlfriend and Two states, The fault in our stars by John Green.
Shameless plug for your business:
My campaigns are pivoted on feminism- ensuring equitable opportunities and resources to bring out the best in everyone. My first project Leading Ladies in their Queendom, addresses some unconventional methods women are using or promoting to deal with challenges such as sexual harassment, changing the mindset on respectful relationships, accessing leadership positions in government and the corporate space as well as breaking conventional beauty standards. I have also recently launched Heroes Breaking Barriers celebrating men and women breaking gender stereotypes and societal expectations to bravely pursue their passion. Keep a lookout on maishareza.com as I unveil my Heroes!
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.