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FEATURE STORY December 18, 2017

Overcoming Setbacks by Getting Spiritual: A Meeting with Chris Gardner in Malaysia


Gardner speaking at Sasana Kijang, Kuala Lumpur. The talk was organized by the World Bank Group Global Knowledge and Research Hub in partnership with Bank Negara Malaysia. Photo: World Bank


  • Chris Gardner, renowned entrepreneur and international speaker whose inspiring story became the basis for the 2008 movie ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ visited the World Bank Malaysia office.
  • Speaking to underprivileged students from the Dignity for Children Foundation, his powerful messages of spiritual determination, hard work and personal empowerment resonated deeply with them.
  • In an effort to provide opportunities for personal development, in line with the World Bank’s goal to end poverty, Chris Gardner’s message of transcending cycles of hardship and poverty in New York in the early 80s were a great inspiration to the young students who come from urban poor families living in Kuala Lumpur.

Recently, the World Bank Group Global Knowledge and Research Hub in Malaysia had a very special visitor. He was Chris Gardner, a friend of the Hub and a strong advocate of personal empowerment. His life story – played by Will Smith in the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” – rose to critical acclaim in 2006, captivating the minds of millions. Set in the 1980s, the movie was based off Gardner’s book of memoirs as he navigated the hardships of homelessness and urban poverty in the city with his child. 


Gardner shaking hands with the students of the Dignity for Children Foundation. Photo: World Bank

Now a renowned entrepreneur and international speaker, Chris spoke in a special talk hosted by the Hub and Bank Negara Malaysia. The themes of his life story – perseverance, hard work and determination among others – are timeless and inspiring – and they were even more so for the young students of the Dignity for Children Foundation, a school established in 1998 to provide education to underprivileged children. These were young adults from urban poor families living on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Some of them were locals and some were refugees.

Before the talk, the students had sat down in school to watch the movie in anticipation of meeting Gardner. They were only 14-17 year olds and had never heard of the movie before. But once the screening was over, they were moved.

“When we first heard about the movie and the title of the talk – Spiritual Genetics and the Universal Dream –  my friends and I had absolutely no clue,” 14-year-old Shalini recapped. “But when we watched the movie and heard Chris speak, we knew there was a special message for us”.

Chris Gardner’s childhood was marked by poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, sexual abuse and family illiteracy. Gardner published his autobiography out of a desire to shed light on these universal issues and show that they do not have to define a person. Gardner never knew his father, and lived with his beloved mother when not in foster homes.

Talom, 16, could confide with this history. “Sometimes when I look back at my own life, I cannot help but to think of the ‘what ifs’ but hearing from Chris was inspiring. His words encouraged me to build towards the same amount of resilience and intelligence in the future.”

Gardner recounted his stories from being a child of a single mother to growing up and surviving the struggles of fatherhood and joblessness, peppering within them important lessons of life and adversity. Ultimately, his key message was a resounding “You can do it too.”

“I am very grateful for this experience to be able to watch someone of such esteem talk to us about his life. He was very funny and engaging!” said Delilah, 16. “I like what he said about spiritual genetics – that we have the power to change our spirit. We can break out of cycles of hardship through the power of choice.”

Messages and encounters like this can go a long way.

16-year-old Justin from the foundation was inspired to learn from Gardner’s lessons.  “Mr. Chris Gardner is a very inspiring man with a touching story. I like how he was so truthful and genuine with us – as if he really wants to help people with his story. I relate to his story on many levels. Maybe in the future my own stories can help people too.”

Gardner with students from the Dignity for Children Foundation and representatives from local NGOs. Photo: World Bank

This was not the first time that the Dignity for Children Foundation visited the World Bank in Malaysia. Just a few months ago, the students had attended a get-to-know session with World Bank employees, where they got to learn about the Malaysia Hub and its impacts on the community and goal to end extreme poverty. The students also received a class on CV-drafting to prepare them for future job opportunities.

And only recently, internship opportunities at the Hub were offered to two deserving students from the foundation to gain work exposure for the next three months of their school holidays. The Hub in Malaysia has begun reaching out to the Dignity for Children Foundation this year by providing them opportunities to network, learn and grow. The talk by Chris Gardner was one such event aimed at providing new and exciting experiences to the students, with the hope that they will be inspired to aim for a good future – beyond what they can ever imagine.