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Yayasan Peneraju Pendidikan Bumiputera aims to produce world-class talents

Raja Azura Raja Mahayuddin relishes her role in transforming underdogs into future high-income earning talents.

Veal
cutlet with
gorgonzola
pudding. Veal cutlet with gorgonzola pudding.

RAJA Azura Raja Mahayuddin is no James Bond but her starring role as the chief executive officer of Yayasan Peneraju Pendidikan Bumiputera (Bumiputera Education Leader Foundation; YPPB) is as demanding as the famed secret agent’s and just as tough.

Launched last November by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak as part of the bumiputera education transformation initiative under the Bumiputera Agenda Steering Unit (Teraju), Raja Azura was handpicked to head the foundation based on her stellar career track record with Arthur Andersen, Khazanah Nasional and Malaysia Airlines.

When met over a sumptuous lunch at Le Meridien’s refined Favola Italian restaurant, the former corporate high flyer reveals that the foundation became the new love of her life on Feb 14 this year.

In between servings of delicately briny smoked salmon terrine and soft, creamy burratina cheese with shaved truffle, Raja Azura explains that unlike other foundations that focus on aiding young, bright sparks, YPPB supports the underdogs.

“We want to give a second chance to bumiputera students from rural areas who may have slipped through the cracks. The foundation also helps skilled workers acquire professional re-skilling and misplaced talents looking to realign their careers through tertiary education and selected courses that will move them into the high-income bracket.”

According to Raja Azura, the foundation not only doles out scholarships but also nurtures and develops the underlying potential of average performers with the aim of changing their circumstances and transforming their future.

“Like a professional chef who tirelessly perfects his dishes, we provide guidance and holistic support to the candidates selected. We counsel those who have difficulty adjusting to their new surroundings and changes to their lifestyle, or help build up their confidence level and soft skills through training and workshops.”

Upon learning that Favola’s chef de cuisine Sazli Nazim Ismail and the Malaysian team recently bagged a silver medal at the 2012 Culinary Olympics in Germany, Raja Azura is quick to congratulate him on the achievement.

“That’s what our foundation aims to do – produce more bumiputera talents of his calibre in future,” she says. “We hope to increase the number of capable, world-class talents in different sectors and industries through our strategic institutional network and existing education programmes.”

While Raja Azura readily takes the challenges of her job in stride, the affable CEO sheepishly informs us that she can’t bear to eat vegetables.

Clams with lamb
sausage, fennel
and garlic in
olive oil. Clams with lamb sausage, fennel and garlic in olive oil.

Checking the dishes of clams with lamb sausage, fennel and garlic in olive oil, and seared jumbo scallops with sautéed white mushrooms and truffle for traces of greens, she admits that, “I absolutely detest vegetables. Ever since I was forced to eat them as a child, I avoid eating them like the plague now! I can stomach them in small quantity when they’re blended into sauces or remain invisible to the naked eye.”

No surprises then when she shows distinct preference for the wafer-thin pizza with assorted roasted mushroom, black truffle shavings and taleggio cheese rather than the potato gnocchi in olive oil, toasted walnuts, garlic flakes, smoked salmon and parmesan cheese which comes with arugula salad.

Her insistent avoidance of vegetables from our main courses – pearl barley risotto with tomato-flavoured vegetables and parmesan crackling, Piedmontese veal cutlet with gorgonzola pudding and panzanella salad of bread, tomato, onion and basil in olive oil, and fresh tagliatelle with smoked duck, chilli, garlic flakes, basil, portobello and spinach – is comparable to her steely determination in bringing the foundation’s noble goals to fruition.

“My current focus is to help skilled workers such as Giatmara welders move into the higher-income bracket through international skill certification. Simultaneously, we’re also working to increase the number of bumiputera professionals by encouraging degree holders to obtain global qualifications such as ACCA, and creating a bigger pool of future leaders at senior management level as well as more entrepreneurs with good business acumen and dynamic leadership skills.”

Still when faced with tempting dessert, her “steel magnolia” demeanour melts away. This Perak-born lass also transforms into a pussy cat when her craving for nasi vanggey hits.

“It’s the Ipoh version of nasi kandar available from Greentown restaurant in Ipoh,” she says, eyes glazing over at the mention of her favourite food.

“I’d even drive there just to satisfy my craving! It’s best enjoyed with the outlet’s signature daging masak kicap (beef braised in dark soya sauce), honey and spiced fried chicken, and sambal kelapa (a condiment of spicy ground chilli paste with coconut) – they’re out of this world.”

Favola Italian Restaurant,
Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur,
2, Jalan Stesen Sentral,
Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2263 7888