Cover Photo: Courtesy of Yayasan Tunku Abdul Rahman (YTAR)

To build a nation, you start by empowering the youth—and that’s what Yayasan Tunku Abdul Rahman, a foundation named after Malaysia’s first prime minister, was created to do

Prior to the pandemic itself, the struggles of high-need communities weren’t unheard of: classism, financial straits, the lack of access to basic amenities and the yawning digital divide—all of which are factors that threaten to stunt the development of a community, especially its youths.

For them, the prospect of higher education is often a daunting one and often more than not, most turn their ambitions aside to either take care of their families or join the workforce immediately after graduating from secondary school.

Though many scholarships are present in Malaysia to help these individuals, Ida Thien, deputy CEO of Yayasan Tunku Abdul Rahman (YTAR) and co-founder of Closing The Gap, observes that there was a shortage of scholarship providers that helped “diamonds in the rough”, wherein high potential students that possess strong leadership capabilities as well as instances of outstanding conviction are often overlooked due to certain scholarship restrictions or requirements.

Read also: BTAR Scholarship—Grooming Scholars Into Future Leaders

"Let's take, for instance, needs-based scholarships which are offered to students who are classified as B40 (RM 4,850 and below): these scholarships may be restrictive at times as students may be limited to certain pathways and courses compared to the more established merits-based scholarships.

On the other hand, merit-based scholarships typically prioritise academic excellence, extracurricular achievements and exposure to development opportunities or general knowledge.  These criteria tend to place B40 students at a significant disadvantage as they are less likely to have the academic training, exposure or upbringing to compete fairly with their more privileged peers. Additionally, B40 students encounter many challenges in their lives due to their difficult circumstances—all of which have only been made worse due to the extended lockdown.”

See also: Outstanding Malaysians Who Are Making A Difference In Education

Wanting to introduce a more holistic, development-focused scholarship model, Closing The Gap went from being an independent initiative to becoming one of YTAR’s development programmes in 2019, which aimed to empower their Biasiswa Tunku Abdul Rahman (BTAR) applicants—who are known as the ‘Tunku Scholars’—in their pursuit for higher education via a two-year leadership programme that includes workshops, mentorships, conferences and even hands-on opportunities which allow the scholars to lead their own community projects.

“While the programme is still a work in progress since we’ve only just started it two years ago, we’ve
been working on expanding YTAR’s resources so that we aren’t just providing them financial aid, but giving them the tools to either help secondary school students to transition to their tertiary studies or university graduates who are just entering the workforce,” explains Thien. “And because we want to extend the relevancy of this programme, we’re hoping to collaborate with various partners, such as industry leaders to provide our scholars the opportunity to gain exposure while building a network. This is especially important if they come from lower income backgrounds as they require the social and cultural capital we often take for granted to rise up.”

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“Those instances of grit and conviction to see things through can reflect upon one’s ability to succeed, both in life as well as their academic journeys”
Raenuga Indran, YTAR Marketing & Partnerships Executive

With an emphasis on inclusivity, the foundation makes it a point to take into account the backgrounds of their applicants, recognising the positive impact that diversity could bring for industries and communities alike.

“One of the biggest success stories we’ve had recently is Razman Durhan, who’s an economics and mathematics major in University Malaysia Sabah,” recounts Raenuga Indran, YTAR’s marketing and partnerships executive. “When we first took him in, his CGPA was 2.8, which was below the supposed academic requirement set by many scholarships. He was initially doing assignments all on his own, with no real access to tools like laptops or internet. But, after undergoing our programme he was able to raise his CGPA to a 3.4 in just one semester—and that just cements our point where quality doesn’t equate to elitism. The crux of what we do at YTAR is to empower these young talents, that just because they’re not what society considers as ‘conventional elites’,that doesn’t necessarily equate to a lack of quality.

“In fact, by giving them the right resources and the right opportunities, we believe that these youths, especially those who’ve had to go through the hardships of being in the underprivileged community, have proven that those instances of grit and conviction to see things through can reflect upon one’s ability to succeed, both in life as well as their academic journeys.”

This story was originally published in our August 2021 issue with some inaccuracies, but rectifications have been made in this digital version to properly convey YTAR’s mission in empowering students from underrepresented communities to pursue their dreams. Tatler Malaysia deeply regrets the oversight.

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