Beauty pagents have around for a long time and it’s not easy to dislodge the well established ones. But that’s not stopping one man from trying.

HIS aim is to make his Miss Grand Malaysia pageant more than just about physical beauty — although that’s certainly a big part of what a beauty pageant is all about. Jude Benjamin Lisa emphasises advocacy work among the contestants and offers talent development for life beyond the beauty contest.

Originally from Miri, Jude, who’s from the Lun Bawang tribe in Sarawak, moved to Kuala Lumpur during his high school years and subsequently studied mass communications. Upon graduation, he

worked for various corporations where he was exposed to corporate social responsibility work.

“I was lucky to have had the chance to work with many major brands and with each of them part of my job was to oversee CSR projects,” he begins, adding: “For example with Mercedes we did children’s education about road safety; for the Pantai group, we focused on breast cancer; for Carlsberg we supported Tamil schools; and for Watson we supported a hospice during Hari Raya

and so on. When I decided to take on Miss Grand Malaysia as the national director, I really wanted advocacy work to be a big part of it.”

Miss Grand Malaysia is responsible for selecting the Malaysian representative for Miss Grand International, a relatively new international pageant that sprung out of Bangkok in 2013 with a campaign message of “Stop the War and Violence”. Today, Miss Grand International is the

world’s leading international beauty pageant and one of the five Gland Slam Beauty Pageants along with Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss International and Miss Supranational.


(Clockwise from left) Santhawan, Sanjeda, Ranmeet and Jude.

Jude’s initial involvement in Miss Grand Malaysia came when a long-time friend, Santhawan Boonratana, was invited by the Miss Grand International pageant in 2015 to become the representative from Malaysia for that year. Jude volunteered to help his friend.

Back then, there was no Miss Grand Malaysia contest, and Santhawan was hand-picked by the international organisers who had spotted her when she took part in the Miss World Malaysia contest that year. “She, being a Malaysian with a Thai background, seemed like an exotic but natural pick for the organisers,” recalls Jude, who helped her find fashion designers, groomers and sponsors.

The following year, the international organisers ask Santhawan and Jude to help them find a new Malaysian delegate for the 2016 Miss Grand International. They selected Ranmeet Jassal, the first runner up in 2016 Miss World Malaysia, who did well enough to make it to the Top 20 in the Miss Grand International event held in Las Vegas.

“Ranmeet’s good showing in Las Vegas was a big breakthrough for us,” shares Jude, adding: “It gave me the confidence to leave corporate life behind to give Miss Grand Malaysia a go.”


A visit to the Mangtha Refugee Centre.

GROWING THE PAGEANT

Miss Grand Malaysia held its first local contest in 2017 with participants from three states: Sabah, Sarawak and Kuala Lumpur. The winner was Sanjeda John from Sabah. “Unlike other national beauty pageants in this country, we have state level and even district level contests,” explains Jude. “For

example, there’s a Miss Grand Sarawak but before that, there’s Miss Grand Miri and Miss Brand Sibu. Other pageants don’t have that. They just have a national event.”

Why Sabah, Sarawak and KL? I couldn’t help asking. Smiling, Jude elaborates: “We looked at states where there were a lot of beauty pageants. Penang, Perak, Melaka and Johor are also quite active

when it comes to beauty pageants but for our first one, we went with the low-hanging fruit. Since I was based in KL, it made sense to include KL. What’s more, I also had many contacts in East Malaysia.”

For this year’s edition, Melaka has been added into the fold. “Actually, I wanted all four additional states to be in but we didn’t have enough time so we only added Melaka. Maybe next year we’ll includethe rest,” adds Jude.

POST-PAGEANT DEVELOPMENTS

Although The Miss Grand International theme is “Stop the War and Violence”, the advocacy work that the local contestants undertake doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to opposing violence. For example, contestants have carried out charity work for Myanmar refugees and there’s also an ongoing collaboration with Persatuan Kesejahteraan Rakyat Satu Malaysia to distribute wheelchairs to hospitals.


Wheelchair presentation at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Besides the emphasis on advocacy work, another differentiating factor for Miss Grand Malaysia is what happens after the contest is over. Jude has established a talent management agency called “Introducing” which helps contestants further their ambitions in the world of entertainment.

There are two types of people who join beauty pageants, says Jude. One type has no aspirations whatsoever to be in the entertainment line. They have other career plans and take part in beauty contests for personal fulfilment. For example, Ranmeet is a medical doctor while Sanjeda is a biomedical student who aspires to become a scientist.

The first Miss Grand Malaysia representative, Santhawan, however, is what you’d call a “social media influencer” who makes commercial appearances and has done acting, hosting and modelling

gigs. “We set up a talent agency to help those like Santhanwan who want to further their careers in the entertainment line,” says Jude.

Not all contestants get picked by the talent agency but many do, especially those who manage to make it to the national level. However, even those who fail to do so have a chance too. “There was one girl who didn’t make it past the state level who approached us,” recalls Jude, adding: “We looked at her social media presence and felt she had good potential so we signed her up.”

A new Miss Grand Malaysia will be crowned on May 12. The sudden announcement of the General Elections, to be held on May 9, nearly derailed plans but Jude decided to push ahead with the event. “We had slated May 9 for our press conference to reveal the 24 finalists but that has obviously been put off. We’ll still continue with rehearsals, photo shoots and so on though.”

However, time off will be given to participants who are registered to vote. With a smile, Jude concludes: “Voting isn’t just an opportunity but a duty.” He’ll be catching a late-night flight on May 8 to return to Sarawak to exercise his vote the next morning.

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