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First man to helm Muslim women's group PPIS

As the first man to lead PPIS, Mr Mohd Ali expected some opposition though he had been with the organisation for 16 years. Instead, he has received widespread support, having demonstrated his commitment to its mission to inspire Muslim women, strengt
As the first man to lead PPIS, Mr Mohd Ali expected some opposition though he had been with the organisation for 16 years. Instead, he has received widespread support, having demonstrated his commitment to its mission to inspire Muslim women, strengthen families and connect communities.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

First man to head PPIS says he sees himself as a steward for the organisation

Mr Mohd Ali Mahmood expected a backlash when he was appointed chief executive officer (CEO) for the Singapore Muslim Women's Association (PPIS) last month.

"I expected a negative reaction from our members," he said, adding that, after taking over, he wrote letters to them to explain how he would engage with them as CEO.

He said: "Nobody came back to ask why a man was now leading the organisation."

Instead, what he got was support, from the association's staff and members, the Ministry of Social and Family Development and other Malay/Muslim organisations.

He is the first man to lead the association in its 64-year history.

PPIS executive Sulastre Hamzah, 39, said that having a man helm the organisation was a "refreshing" change, and noted that Mr Mohd Ali was receptive to staff suggestions .

"He is definitely a people-centric person," said Ms Sulastre, who has been with PPIS for two years.

Mr Mohd Ali, 49, credits this acceptance to his 16-year history with PPIS, and says his promotion is a testament to the organisation's commitment to expanding the potential of its existing staff.

He had served as acting chief since January, when his predecessor, Madam Maznah Masop, 44, stepped down.

He believes having a male leader does not dilute the organisation's aim of championing the cause of Muslim women in Singapore.

He said: "Our board is still made up of strong and committed women with ideas about how to make a difference in the community.

"What I am is just a steward, bringing the ideas into action."

He is married to 48-year-old Noraini Nain Sardi, a housewife. They have two children, a son aged 20 and a daughter, 19.

When he was 17, Mr Mohd Ali fell victim to the Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the body's nervous system. It left him unable to walk without a cane for six months.

He said the experience was a humbling one, which taught him how to deal with stress and challenges.

"Sometimes I fell when I was going down the stairs. So I had to learn to pick myself up again."

The youngest of five children, he said he initially planned to become a teacher.

However, while doing national service, he often found himself lending a sympathetic ear to friends. It was then that he decided to go into social work. He graduated in 1991 with a degree in the field.

He began his career in 1991 as a medical social worker at Singapore General Hospital, where he worked for nine years before being selected to set up the social service department at the National Heart Centre.

It was then that a friend urged him to join PPIS and use his skills to give back to the Malay/Muslim community.

He left the National Heart Centre and joined PPIS as head of a family service centre (FSC). Over the years, he rose through the ranks to the position of senior director.

He said working with families was more challenging than his work in the medical line, citing a case he handled while at the FSC that took seven years to resolve.

"There are no quick-fix solutions in this line," he said.

He said PPIS would continue its work in supporting different types of family arrangements as part of its commitment towards strengthening Muslim families.

He added the organisation might expand its services to include adoption and foster care services.

"We believe in the institution of families," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'A man in a women's group who's for families'. Print Edition | Subscribe