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Just Start: How Tharma Pillai Through  UNDI18 Empowered A Generation to Vote

History was made in November 2022 when 18-20 year olds turned from bystanders to nation builders in Malaysia’s 15th General Election.

This was the culmination of hard work, sweat and even tears of Acumen Fellow, Tharma Pillai and Qyira Yusri, co-founders of UNDI18. The inspiration for UNDI18 was seeded when Tharma, an undergraduate in the US witnessed the power and passion of voting youth.

It was inspiring to see how our American friends and peers responded to their responsibility as a voter. The youth cared and chose to be engaged, exercising their duty as a voter during the presidential elections.

Fueled by a desire for change, they built a national movement to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, essentially amending the Federal Constitution. With no network, no funding, and no experience to speak of, Tharma knew he had to overcome his fears and start.

We just had to start the work and see where this journey would take us – regardless of success or failure.

Challenges were stacked against the mission including the indefinite postponement of the UNDI18 Bill by the government in March 2021. UNDI18 acted swiftly by launching the “Mana Undi Kami” campaign, a collective effort that brought Malaysian youth together for a common cause.

I faced failure and disappointment and made many mistakes. All that matters is that I stayed in the game, I learned and I kept pushing until we succeeded.

The result – full implementation of UNDI18 in December 2021, adding 5.8 million young voters to the electoral system. For Tharma, UNDI18 is just the beginning of a quest to holistically reform the nation’s electoral and parliamentary system.

A desire for change transformed the trajectory of a nation. If you have a yearning to create change, consider the words of Jacqueline Novogratz, Acumen founder, Just start. Don’t wait for perfection. Just start and let the work teach you.”

This post is a collaboration with Malaysia Acumen Academy. The Acumen Fellowship brings together exceptional leaders from Malaysia, who ultimately become members of a global community that rebuilds lives and restores dignity. For more information, visit their website .

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