Mastura Rashid from The Nasi Lemak Project talks about how this national dish is enriching the lives of so many.
Ask what dish unites all Malaysians across the board and you’re very likely to hear that it’s nasi lemak. Mastura Rashid has found a way to make it even more special: turning it not only into a plate that will feed growling stomachs come lunch or dinner, but a source of opportunities for struggling families.
A STROKE OF INSPIRATION
No stranger to helping out the unfortunate, she’s been involved in poverty elevation work since 2012. Over time, she realised that giving free classes to children and building libraries in PPR (low-cost housing) areas did very little to address the problem head-on. What she did notice, though, was how delicious the packets of nasi lemak the mothers of the children she schooled whipped up. “When I asked why they didn’t sell them, the answers were always the same: there was no market or capital to do so,” she tells me. Couple this with the fact that she and her co-founder, Zul Imran Ishak, discovered that more than 70 per cent of families living in PPRs, many of them with plenty of children, were earning less than RM1,500. And so, they decided that helping the families raise their standard of living by selling nasi lemak was an idea worth exploring, especially since “Malaysians love to eat!”
THE INS AND OUTS
Although the inspiration came to them in 2014, it was really only in 2015 that the project got off the ground, when they joined the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre’s (MaGIC) Accelerator Programme – receiving much-needed guidance on business modelling during that time. During their recruiting phase, posters were pasted all over their target areas, with the families themselves reaching out to them. “You’d be surprised by how many of them are single-parent households,” Mastura shares. How it then works it that The Nasi Lemak Project will make their rounds, checking to see that each household’s income is indeed below RM1,500, before candidates are asked to cook three things: nasi lemak, their specialty dish, and any sort of dessert or something innovative.
Once their cooking has gotten the green light, they will then be given a year-long supply contract, with The Nasi Lemak Project bringing in enough orders a month to double their income – done through cold-calling offices, delivering the food door to door, and also selling them at petrol stations. On their part, participants are required to attend a month’s long course that will teach them, among other things, the basics of bookkeeping, cash flow, and SOPs 9 (standard operating procedures) to ensure that the quality of food is consistent. It they miss more than 20 per cent of the course, they will, unfortunately, be out of the programme. “If they can’t even commit to training, how can they commit to supplying?” reasons Mastura. To ensure that the income earned isn’t squandered away, participants must commit to 20 per cent of their earnings going into savings – a habitual system that will encourage families to sustain themselves once the year is up. To this end, Mastura shares that most graduates of the programme will end up with their own stall at a pasar malam.
Read more about Mastura and The Nasi Lemak Project in our September issue of Her World magazine.