Rina Harun knew a Northwood education would help her build a career in finance, but she had no idea that someday it would help her to build her country.
After two years in Midland that culminated with a bachelor’s degree in 1997, Rina returned to her native Malaysia and began working for a bank. After two decades in the private sector, Rina’s career took a dramatic turn this spring when she won a seat in parliament during an election that saw her party earn enough seats to form a new government. To the surprise of many people – including Rina herself – she was named Minister of Rural Development.
“Actually, I was quite surprised when I first heard my name being suggested as a minister,” Rina told Northwood Assistant Vice President and Dean of International Programs Mamiko Reeves during a recent meeting in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lampur. “When they announced that it was the Ministry of Rural Development, I was shocked. I thought that it was fake news.”
As a Member of Parliament (MP) representing an urban area, Rina didn’t seem like a natural fit for the post. But her 20-year career in business prepared her well for the task, as did her Northwood degree.
“We have people hoping that we will be a government that will make some positive changes ... because the previous government, they would announce a new policy, but the implementation, the execution, that was lacking,” Rina said. “That is where we receive a lot of compliments from the people on the ground, the implementation, the education, the integrating. This is what I learned from Northwood: the business tactics. In this new government, this is what we are practicing now.”
Rina still has strong memories from her time at Northwood, recalling many people who made it easier for her to be so far from home.
“Even though I was from Malaysia, I didn’t feel homesick, because I felt like they were welcoming me. The staff, the students,” she said. “I still remember, during the Aidil Fitri festival, when I went to Meijer, they had a greeting card in Bahasa Melayu (Malaysia’s primary language), celebrating Aidil Fitri ... so I felt like, oh OK, I also can send a greeting card from Northwood, from Midland. That’s very good.”
Rina said the principles she learned at Northwood help guide her approach to serving in the Malaysian government.
“The people are like our customers. So we have to serve them well, so they choose us. They choose us with their votes. They choose us because they believe we can give better service to them,” Rina said. “This is a huge responsibility. In my ministry, we have a lot of work to do. We have to work hard, to serve the people. At the same time, we have to maintain our integrity.”
The Ministry of Rural Development provides basic services to roughly 17,000 villages across Malaysia. In her first few months in the role, Rina quickly established goals for expanding what is offered to those areas.
“We have to provide them all the basic infrastructure, so that they can live happily in the rural areas, they can have a fine job in the rural area, so that they don’t need to migrate to the city,” Rina said. “So that if they stay in the rural area, they feel that they are OK, they still can get a job, they still can do some business. We want to develop not only the infrastructure, but also the human capital.”