Bulletin journalist, entrepreneur tell of ‘life-changing’ IVLP experience

|     Izah Azahari     |

THE Embassy of the United States of America to Brunei Darussalam yesterday invited the Bulletin to interview two recent alumni of its International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) at The Collective Makerspace in Batu Bersurat.

The two IVLP alumni are Hakimul Hayat bin Shamsul Hayat, a journalist at Borneo Bulletin, who went for the IVLP on ‘Investigative Journalism’, and Shinny @ Chia Jia Shin, founder of The Collective Makerspace, who chose to do the IVLP on ‘Change Makers: The Impact of Social Entrepreneurship’.

Also present during the interview was Catherine Muller, a Public Affairs Officer at the embassy.

The IVLP is a three-week thematic professional exchange programme programme that brings participants from around the world to the United States annually to meet and confer with their professional counterparts and experience the US firsthand. Recent IVLP alumni were exposed to topic areas such as Tourism and Economic Development, Law of the Sea and Maritime Security, the Impact of Social Entrepreneurship in the US, and Film.

Both Hakimul Hayat and Shinny, travelling in groups of not more than 24 people, had the chance to visit five different US cities, meeting local government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and educators. They also got to experience homestays with American families.

During the interview, Shinny explained that there were participants from 22 other countries for her programme, adding that she found the IVLP surprisingly life-changing, with the many misconceptions and fears she previously felt about going to America quickly dissipating the moment she arrived in the country.

Hakimul Hayat bin Shamsul Hayat (L), a journalist at Borneo Bulletin, and Shinny @ Chia Jia Shin (R), founder of The Collective Makerspace pose for a photo with Catherine Muller, Public Affairs Officer at the Embassy of the United States of America to Brunei Darussalam. – PHOTOS: IZAH AZAHARI
Participants of the International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) in a group photo
Hakimul Hayat during his visit to The Washington Post

“People were so warm and welcoming, and I felt such a great sense of community and giving back among people in the US,” said The Collective Makerspace founder.

She also told the Bulletin that it was really valuable to have access to people within the same industry, professionals who embody the industry’s best practices which can be modelled by professionals in other parts of the world.

“(It was great to see) their willingness to keep in touch and create bilateral opportunities, which has since resulted in a 23-country global alliance called ‘Global Changemakers Alliance’ that seeks to create positive social change, in alignment with the (United Nations’) global Sustainable Development Goals,” she said. “The whole experience has enriched my life not only professionally but also personally, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have been nominated (for the trip).”

Meanwhile, Hakimul Hayat told the Bulletin that all aspects of the programme offered him a firsthand experience and unbiased perspective of the United States. Joining a group of 18 other journalists from around the globe, the programme gave him a better understanding of the role investigative journalists play in the US society to raise awareness on issues of social concern and report on illegal, irregular or abusive actions by the government, politicians, criminals and corporations.

“Meeting people from different news organisations, from the mainstream to smaller and community-based or specialised ones in different cities and states, has given me the opportunity to deepen my journalistic skills, particularly through the diverse range of journalism practices in the US, by learning their editorial, business and operation models,” said Hakimul Hayat.

He added that one of the major takeaways from his experience in the US was that even with a constitution that protects the right of the people to free media and freedom of speech, journalists still face challenges to fight for their rights and ensure that their work is not obstructed or influenced by anyone, and that the issue of false news is not just a problem in Brunei, but also in the US and many other countries.

“The programme has made a big impact in my professional career, as I have gained vast and deep knowledge and experience that I can use and apply,” he said. “Coming from a traditional newspaper that is also trying to adapt with the advent of technology and changing reader appetites, I learnt a lot on how traditional media in the US are transitioning their models to better adapt to modern technologies in order to capture a larger audience and maintain relevance.”

When asked which cities made the greatest impression on them, Shinny answered, “Greensboro, for its high level of social entrepreneurship and advancements in the academic studies of social entre-preneurship”, while Hakimul Hayat said his choice was Washington DC, as “it has always been a dream of mine to see the White House and Capitol Hill, and to have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of US politics and visit The Washington Post”.