Passion – key to surviving in business
Published on: Sunday, July 07, 2019
By: Lorena Binisol

Mary Jim, who is noted for championing the wellbeing of rural women, says passion has been one of the factors behind her success.

It usually takes desperate times for families or communities to turn a new leaf.

“When the needs to make changes arise, nothing else matters,” Mary said when met after her return from a conference in Siberia, Russia, recently.

She was among the local entrepreneurs nominated to join other industry players spearheaded by women at the international conference. Mary expressed her gratitude to be nominated by Malaysia Global Innovation Creativity Centre (Magic) under the Ministry of Entrepreneurs Development (MED).

Among the activities held at the conference were brainstorming session, networking, business expansion and tackling issues from the international perspective.


Bead-making training programme at Kg Rugading, Upper Moyog.

Recalling her earlier days, she had to do more than five jobs a day just to get by. In her school days, she and her siblings had to endure empty stomach and on their way home, “eating” grass was the only option.

“Yes, we were that poor. We chewed grass to ‘fill’ our stomach. My father passed away when we were young. I was made the ‘sole bread-winner’ of the family despite my age. My mother went into depression, which added to my vulnerability.

“Juggling with school and working in the factory only made me more determined to come out of the poverty cycle. It was an unimaginable struggle,” she said.

Hence, today, Mary proved that nothing is impossible when one is in desperation to change their family’s economic status.  She is a living example.

Her outlet in Donggongon town which she started early this year became a platform for other communities to display their products including fashion apparels with indigenous motif. 

It was encouraging to see locally-made items on the shelf.  She hoped local women would showcase their handmade products and at the same time change their f0amily economic status for the better.

Communities from Kudat, Kota Marudu, Kota Belud, Pagalungan, Buayan, Nabawan, Sonsogon and other rural districts in Sabah had come to her for guidance on how to go about with their products. 

With collaboration from government agencies, to-date 3,000 men and women from the rural areas had been trained in various skills in the past 15 years.

“We are creating job opportunities for these women, where they can do the work from home and help uplift their economic status.

“I make it a point to visit the communities wherever I am needed to see them doing what they usually do in their respective Kampungs.  Our people are indeed very talented and skilful.  

“We only need to harness the right method on how to ‘fine-tune’ their products, instil entrepreneurial skills and so on. We could go far promoting these products,” said Mary.

In regards to her recent Apec trip in Russia, she regarded it as an accolade for her dedication, saying it was one of the most meaningful and exciting conferences she’d been to.


Beads made by women from the rural area.

She said her take-home message from the conference were the following three:

“Firstly, it is important to know the economic cycle overall, as the economic pattern– booms and bust – would determine whether the business is going to succeed or not.

“Secondly, explore. Go to places where there are opportunities. Business is not only the products you sell, rather it is about creating networks. When you are more knowledgeable and understand enough how the business works, you become more aware and confident of the overall business. You will be able to know how to ‘survive’ in the business cycle.

“Thirdly, foster the differences by collaborating and refining your business concept by considering creativity, innovation and technology, as these are more competitive in the market place.

“Both resourcefulness and networking are equally important,” she added. 

Her interest in indigenous fashion design from a young age led her to her very own brand – MJ By MUS. “MJ” stands for her name Mary Jim, whereas “MUS” are abbreviations for “me”, “you” and “us”. 

“There is no shortcut to success, unfortunately. If you want to realise something in life, you’ve got to sweat it out. I got to where I am the hard way, but I tell you, that was the best ‘teacher’ I had in life. No book can teach you about overcoming life’s struggle, only experience can,” she said.

She cited a group of women, mostly young housewives at Kg Rugading in Moyog area, under her SWEPP academy in collaboration with JPSM (a government agency as the funder), who are given training programmes.

“I took the challenge from YB Jenifer Lasimbang to see transformation among our local women. This vision is close to my heart. Slowly but surely, it will happen.

“The objective of the programme is to elevate the B40 group to an active community that would also leave an impact on the socio-economy, especially in tourism, like bead-making in Penampang,” she said.

She added the initiative also gave opportunity to the community in the Upper Moyog to learn social entrepreneurship.

Born in Keningau to Dusun parents, she is proud to highlight rural community’s artwork that she personally championed.  

Having lived in Penampang for more than 30 years, Mary, however, confided that it was not easy to maintain the community’s confidence as it takes great determination, passion and patience to be able to persevere in the industry.

“I understand the struggle the rural community faces. Once they see their products are not moving, they will stop making because they are thinking, ‘why should we continue producing when no one is buying?’” said Mary.

Recalling her younger days when she helped her mother sell vegetables from house to house, she understood what it feels like to be rejected when people refused to buy their products.

“That is a normal scenario in the business world. I went through it when I was little. Therefore, I understand the community’s struggles when their products are not saleable,” she said.


One of Mary’shopes is to see more womenfrom the interiorto step up and showcase their skills.

Quality control and quality assurance are a must for any product to stay long in business.

“This is one thing the rural community is lacking, the quality of their end product. It has to have a standard and not just making the for the sake of having an output.  It is beyond that.  A product has a story to tell, it has a journey of its own and finally it must be done with quality, so that there is value in it,” she stressed.

She constantly reminded them about producing quality products instead of just doing it for the money.

“I keep telling them that we need to present our products well, presentable and with quality if we want sustainability, or else we will lose out,” she said.

Mary, who has been in the fashion business for almost two decades, is proud that her outlet is giving opportunity to many rural women to display their products.

She said her outlet could doubles as information centre as well as a place for people, especially tourists, to shop for souvenirs with local motif.

With her vast experience and involvement Woman Advisory Council on training industry, she realised that there were so many opportunities for the rural women to grasp.

She emphasised that talents and resources are two important criteria that go hand in hand.

“We don’t even have to worry about people duplicating our business. That’s the point having my outlet – to encourage other people to have their own outlets sooner or later.  

“Penampang district will then be filled with tourists coming to hunt for locally-made products and so on.

“You don’t need to wait to have a lot of money to start a business. The important thing is that you must be creative enough to collaborate with people who are already in the business.

“Even jack Ma said we must be on board with successful people if we want to be successful in this line.

“Today, the economic landscape has changed tremendously. We need to be among the successful people in order to move forward.  We have all the digital tools to help us with,” she said.


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