Sughra Ahmad took a one-year no-pay leave as a government employee about two years ago.
He did that to undertake a personal pilot project — to be an entrepreneur.
Adenan Mat Salleh was already an entrepreneur, but was looking for ways to expand his business and take it to another level.
He was making good money as a kampung businessman. But he harboured a dream to be bigger and better.
These two kampung folks are now full-blooded entrepreneurs who have stepped up their enterprises.
They are getting ready to stake their claim as genuine and committed businessmen.
For this, they have to thank Datuk Zainal Abd Ghani, co-founder of the Boden farm in Serting Ilir in the district of Jempol, Negri Sembilan.
I’ve been tracking these two entrepreneurs and charting their progress. When I first met Sughra two years ago, he was shy, full of hesitation and lacking in self-confidence.
Recently, his self-confidence was so obvious and I had to caution him against talking too much and too fast!
Sughra specialises in making chilli paste — one of the basic ingredients in preparing Negri Sembilan’s renowned dish — masak lemak cili api.
Other ingredients are coconut milk, cili api and kunyit (turmeric). The dish can include beef, fish, chicken or prawns.
Any anak Negri Sembilan worth his salt can cook this dish with eyes closed.
What Sughra has done is to prepare the chilli paste so that even a novice can cook this dish with the minimum of coaching.
He helps make cooking the dish easier and faster with no loss in the taste whatsoever.
Sughra’s enterprise has encouraged the other kampung folks to start planting cili api or cili padi as a direct spin-off from his initiative. That’s not bad, isn’t it?
Let me recall how all this happened. Several years ago, Zainal was telling me about his approach to his Boden farm.
He said: “My wife and I wanted to make Boden a catalyst for the kampung folks. We wanted to show everyone that we can grow together, and hopefully prosper together.
“There are many opportunities for the kampung folks to grow. I started talking to many of them, encouraging them to explore opportunities. There was considerable hesitation among them. There was also an apparent lack of confidence and a fair amount of a laidback mindset.
“They seemed to be telling me that they’ve got almost everything. So why bother to do something else?”
Actually, this kind of mindset is not uncommon among many kampung folks elsewhere. Which explains why there are acres and acres of land left idle but growing lalang and untended.
Go around the village coffee shop, and you can see some kampung folks busy with local chats and juicy rumours.
Zainal said it took him many months to finally get a few kampung folks interested. But in the end, only Sughra and Adenan stayed on to get involved.
It was a bit easier for Adenan because he was already involved in a small cake-making business.
Adenan was just waiting for someone like Zainal to come around giving encouragement, sharing knowledge and offering guidance. Adenan and his wife were making love letters and curry puffs, selling them to neighbours and small shops.
With Zainal’s help, Adenan is now able to increase his income multi-fold and ready to expand further.
Adenan said: “If I had listened to Zainal’s advice earlier, I could have done more. But I’m more than happy and grateful thus far. Alhamdulillah.”
With new equipment provided by Zainal who managed to get sponsors to donate them, Adenan has taken his operations to the next level. He used to make palm-sized love letters and priced them between RM20 and RM25 per canister.
Now he makes love letters the size of a 50-sen shilling, and retails them at about RM3.50 per packet. Adenan has made his love letters affordable. He still sells the big canisters but customers now have more options to choose from.
As for Sughra, Zainal has managed to get a sponsor to get him a heavy duty blender to help the paste maker increase his output.
The increase in business has boosted Sughra’s self-belief, to the point that he resigned from his job as a government employee to focus on his business.
Zainal’s work is not done. Recently, he managed to encourage one more kampung folk to go into poultry breeding.
Five months ago Mohd Nazri Bador started rearing ayam kampung. Zainal got a sponsor to contribute a commercial incubator where he can sell chicks.
These chicks fetch a very good price and the demand for them is on the rise.
There are many lessons from this whole episode. If we want to change individuals from being a watcher to a doer, an approach similar to what Zainal is doing may be considered.
Simple formula: a local motivator is needed, with a few willing participants.
Once a clear example is found and proven to be successful, others will follow. Sughra, Adenan and Nazri are Zainal’s showcase of shared prosperity, a winning formula indeed. Good luck, guys.
Selamat Hari Raya Aidiladha, everyone! May all of us be blessed always! Be safe!
The writer is a former NST group editor. His first column appeared on Aug 27, 1995 as ‘Kurang Manis’