Let Social Enterprises Bloom

May 20, 2020

LETTERS: These past few months have shown us that anything and everything can change in a flash.

The Covid-19 storm has caught us unguarded and unprepared. The socio-economic gap has now become more evident than ever. Some have come out stronger while others continue to fight to stay afloat.

According to statistics, among 2.86 million self-employed Malaysians, 1.34 million workers have lost their jobs and almost 540,000 have experienced a 90 per cent decline in income.

Self-employed categories include fishermen, farmers and SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) owners.

Let's take a moment to reflect. What can we do to help? With the many traditional businesses and corporations in shambles, a ray of light shines on social enterprise business models.

Social enterprises originated in the United Kingdom around the late 1970s. They are self-sustaining organisations that keep the people, planet and profit in mind. They do not depend on charity.

This business model sells a product or service by incorporating people or organisations in need into its production plan. Interestingly, all this is done for a profit.Social enterprises strive to maximise benefits to the environment and society, and not to shareholders.

The beauty lies in the agility of its business model. Social entrepreneurs harness the innate creativity that lies in all of us. Their business model engages the community in many interesting ways.

In Malaysia, a few social enterprises have thrived during the Movement Control Order (MCO).

Biji-biji, for instance, started a non-profit project by collecting donations and providing face masks to frontliners.

For its next project, it engaged community tailors to produce scrub sets (gown, hoods and boot covers) for medical staff.

This initiative was termed Social Textiles. It was a win-win situation for both parties.Another social enterprise, PichaEats, which employs refugees as chefs, faced a major challenge when its catering orders dwindled significantly.

However, it managed to stay afloat by providing takeaway meals. It has also pledged to offer meals to frontliners.

These two examples show how a social enterprise business model could work and why it is important for more social enterprises to bloom. Simply put, it creates a win-win situation for all parties.

These enterprises have a strong social objective as their primary purpose. This is absent in traditional business models.

This current moment in history sees a perfect opportunity for the growth of social entrepreneurship.

However, social enterprises do come with their own limitations. They lack public exposure and recognition. Many people do not have a clue on what social enterprise is all about. Also, many social enterprises lack funding.

As such, more assistance should be given to budding social entrepreneurs.

MAGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre) has done an excellent job by creating many social enterprises. Creative ideas and models should be harnessed for the benefit of society. Hopefully, when another storm emerges, we will be better prepared and no one will be left out.

Dr Praveena Nair Rajendra

Founder of social enterprise GV Medhini Resources