5 Malaysian Gen.T Honourees Balancing Profit And Purpose
Five Gen.T honourees from Malaysia leading social enterprises on how they overcome the challenges they face, and stay true to their why
There are an estimated 20,000 social enterprises in Malaysia, according to a report by Focus Malaysia.
A separate report, conducted by the British Council in 2018, found that the majority of social enterprise leaders are young, with 36 percent of founders aged between 31 and 40. While they are focused on diverse areas, such education or sustainability, they share common goals: creating employment opportunities while supporting vulnerable and marginalised communities.
Many Malaysian social enterprises are viable, with 37 percent of them turning a profit. But 31 percent report they are not profitable.
Given the challenges facing social enterprises in the country, we speak with five Gen.T honourees in the space to learn more about how they run their startups, overcome their challenges and make an impact in their communities.
Co-founder and director, Arus Academy
Alina Amir and her co-founders are former teachers who saw how some students, especially those from marginalised communities, had difficulty getting ahead in school. Arus Academy, she says, was borne of her team’s motivation to ensure that every child has a quality education.
Though 2020 was one of its toughest years, Arus Academy emerged stronger despite the challenges the team faced while switching to remote learning. "We created content around digital literacy, financial literacy, media and information literacy and many more. In one year, more than 35,000 students and teachers are going through courses that we developed,” says Amir.
“We look at education as something that is beyond the curriculum. It is the ability of our students to use what they learn to create and do something that could make the world a better place."
Co-founder, Masala Wheels
It was witnessing the unequal opportunities afforded at-risk youths that inspired Kuhan Pathy to launch Masala Wheels, which now has a number of Indian and Sri Lankan food initiatives, including trucks, a cafe, a catering service and even its own range of products, all aimed at giving disadvantaged and troubled young people a chance to get ahead.
Pathy says that balancing the social and business aspects of a social enterprise is a constant challenge. Profit is just a way for them to continue their operations, he says, and there is a constant need to prioritise what they feel is right from their hearts rather than analysing the numbers.
He and his co-founders do not derive an income from the social enterprise; most of the revenue generated at Masala Wheels is directed towards scaling up the social enterprise and paying their beneficiaries.
To date, Masala Wheels has contributed more than RM4 million (over US$950,000) in revenue to over 450 individuals, most of whom are at-risk youths. “With a purposeful passion, our journey has been fulfilling. If you’re passionate about change, then you should act on it today,” he says.
Co-founder and chief commercial officer, Incitement
Having worked on numerous social impact projects for corporates, Zikry Kholil thought something was lacking. “We faced the same challenges in ensuring accountability and ensuring projects met their impact goals. There was also the matter of making sure donations were properly spent towards benefiting beneficiaries,” he says.
The realisation served as a catalyst for Incitement, a platform to help non-profits in areas such as fundraising, impact reporting and community building. Leveraging technology, Zikry believes the transparency the platform shows donors on how their funds are spent encourages them to give more, because they can see how their contribution has a tangible impact.
Over the last year, Incitement says it has raised more than RM3 million (over US$716,000) and funded at least 70 projects that impacted over 120,000 beneficiaries. “If you love what you do, the work you put into it doesn't feel like work,” he says.
Co-founder and director, Havan Clothing
After spending years helping children in shelter homes, Ivan Eng saw that many lacked self-esteem and confidence because of a lack of a mentor figure in their lives. He set up Havan Clothing together with his wife Hany Cheng, a child counsellor, with a mission to inspire, empower and educate underprivileged children.
The clothing brand shares its profits with its social programmes, allowing customers to have a direct impact in helping transform the more-than 30 children under their emotional intelligence (EQ) learning programme. “We see that empowering children goes beyond a three-day workshop; we are in it for the long haul as it takes between three to 10 years to build a child’s EQ.
Eng’s advice to other social entrepreneurs is to give yourself a timeline before giving up on an idea. They committed to three years to build up Havan Clothing, he says, the rest of it is just hard work and many late nights spent learning.
Co-founder and CEO, Pod
“My co-founder and I believe all businesses should have positive social contributions and should be self-sustainable,” she says. With the objective to improve financial inclusion, Pod is helping gig workers save an average of RM402 (about US$96) a month.
Pod has also partnered with Bank Islam Malaysia to enable “good borrowers” on the platform to access more banking products based on their past repayment, helping them to build a credit trail.
Though Pod was initially conceived as a tool to help users save money, Nadia says that understanding the data and listening to customer feedback allowed them to pivot and serve a growing segment. “Our vision for the future may not change, but the way it is delivered through the product/solution may change,” she says.