PUTRAJAYA: The first time Nurul Azwa Rodzi met her boss-to-be at the start of her Perdana Fellows tenure in 2016, she was overawed.
Her boss was none other than Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
“When I was told I would be interning for Khairy, I was so happy! While going through my resume, he asked me to tell him about myself.
“I was so nervous because it was the first time I met him in person,” said the 26-year-old, quickly adding that she lost her nervousness after a while.
Nurul Azwa was one of the executive interns to Cabinet ministers under the Perdana Fellows programme, which is entering its sixth year in 2018.
A law graduate from the University of Adelaide, she said what attracted her to apply for the fellowship was a desire to serve the country.
“I knew this was a good programme for young Malaysians as we can serve directly under the ministers and be part of the planning and execution of government policies,” she said.
She said it allowed her to accompany Khairy to meetings involving the ministry.
“Those of us who were involved in producing the paperwork for National Transformation 2050 (TN50) are proud of the fact that we contributed to nation-building first-hand,” she said.
Nurul Azwa is now the president of the Perdana Fellows Alumni Association.
The Perdana Fellows was set up to give bright and talented young Malaysians a chance to experience how the Federal Government works.
Each Fellow will become an executive intern to a Cabinet minister and is expected to work with the minister and his or her team of senior officials in planning and executing government policies.
Cambridge University graduate Dylan Lim Jing Yang applied to be a Perdana Fellow out of a desire to learn more about the inner workings of the government.
A natural sciences graduate, Lim served as an intern to Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong in 2017.
“I studied science and didn’t know much about government policies,” said the 24-year-old.
He said that while he was a Fellow, he was able to provide suggestions on issues regarding palm oil.
“The programme is a good opportunity for young Malaysians to get their ideas across because we found out that the Government listens,” he said.
“I also managed to see international diplomacy and politics in action when it comes to palm oil.”
What he remembered most from his tenure as a Fellow were the private moments shared with Mah and his staff, he said.
“Whenever we had the opportunity to spend time with the minister behind closed doors, it was very refreshing to hear his personal thoughts on certain matters.
“When he is out there, he is a public person, but in private, it is nice to really know who he is as a person.
“I learned that when it comes to ministers, there is always a political persona and there is a real person,” he said, adding that it was a privilege to serve as a Fellow.
Sarawakian Marianne Miga decided to leave her lecturing job to become a Fellow after hearing about the programme from a friend who was an alumnus of the Perdana Fellows.
“I applied for it because it seemed interesting,” said Marianne, 28, who is still serving under Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot.
She said that life as a Fellow was entirely different from a lecturer as she learned that ministerial work involved a lot of teamwork and feedback from different stakeholders.
She experienced this first-hand when the ministry was working on introducing the Employment Insurance Scheme (EIS).
“You can really see in Parliament the teamwork between various agencies and government departments,” Marianne said.
“When the EIS was passed in Parliament, the minister came out and we all stood up and congratulated him.”
She said that being a Fellow also opened her eyes on the number of tasks to do within the ministry, adding that it also made her realise that it had introduced many programmes to help Malaysian workers and graduates.
She said her tenure as a Fellow also increased the love she felt for Malaysia.
“You stop asking what the country can give you and start asking instead what you can do to help the country develop,” Marianne said.
For Danial Fahmi Mohamed Zamberi, it was his desire to contribute to nation-building that led him to apply for the Perdana Fellows. The 27-year-old commerce graduate from the University of South Australia served under Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek during his tenure as a Fellow in 2017.
He said his stint strengthened his belief that agriculture was one of the ways to alleviate poverty in the country.
“This sector is still a huge opportunity that is left untapped by Malaysian youths,” he said.
“Many young people look at agriculture as boring, but there is a huge opportunity,” he said, adding that his work as a Fellow included thinking of ways to attract the younger generation to enter the agriculture industry.
He said he learned a lot from Ahmad Shabery.
“He was like a grandfather figure, a wise person who shares the knowledge he has gained through his years with us,” Danial Fahmi said.
Youth and Sports Ministry deputy director-general of Youth Department Division Dr Mohd Ghani Mohd Yusof said the programme is looking for Malaysian youths who are keen to participate in the nation-building process.
He said to be a Fellow, one must have good results at tertiary level and actively involved in extracurricular activities.
“A Fellow also needs to show engagement and enthusiasm in nation-building,” said Dr Mohd Ghani, adding that around 80 individuals were chosen to be Fellows each year.
He said that alumni of the Perdana Fellows can expect to learn critical skills such as decision-making and an understanding of the workings of a government.
The programme is also seen as a prestigious one and many alumni go on to have careers in prominent organisations in the country, he added.
“It also helps to bridge the gap between the Government and the youths,” he said.
“Before the introduction of this programme, we felt there was a gap between the Government and the youths, but now we feel it has narrowed,” Dr Mohd Ghani said.
“The younger generation of Malaysians also bring new ideas into the Government.”
The Perdana Fellows programme 2018 is currently accepting applications and the closing date is March 31.
Malaysians aged 30 and below can apply and the programme is also open to graduates and those currently pursuing a degree.
For more information, visit the Perdana Fellows website at www.feloperdana.gov.my.