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Uplifting the lives of those all around us 

Homelessness is an ever-growing problem that affects over 1.6 billion individuals all over the world. When it comes to the homeless population of KL, many of us are blind to their existence because so many of us have been sheltered from ever seeing them. However, homelessness is a big problem in our country with there being over 2,000 homeless individuals in just the city centre alone. One organisation working to empower the urban poor and homeless community is Yellow House KL, we took some time to talk to them about what they do and on how to create sustainable impact:

What is Yellow House KL?
Yellow House is a non-profit community organisation that focuses on uplifting the lives of the underprivileged in Malaysia.

How did Yellow House KL start?
Yellow House KL started as the brainchild of our founder, Shyam Priah with the support of some friends with whom she had worked on community projects prior to the NGO’s formation. Shyam has always had a passion for community projects even before the formation of YH. 

How long have you guys been around for?
Yellow House KL was formed in 2012, we are currently in our ninth year of operations.

What was the initial goal when starting Yellow House KL and how has that evolved?
The initial goal when setting up Yellow House was to uplift the lives of the underprivileged around us. While the goal in itself has not changed, we have evolved into placing greater focus and emphasis on looking for sustainable solutions for our beneficiaries. We have moved beyond providing direct aid to a more sustainable model of providing capacity building skills to increase the employability of our beneficiaries. In the same vein, we are also moving towards sustaining our own operations with a social enterprise and social business model.

Can you elaborate on some of the initiatives at Yellow House?
Our biggest success story is The Unseen Tours, where we get street friends to provide a tour of “unseen” parts of Kuala Lumpur to visitors and locals alike. We have also worked extensively to help individuals within the homeless community get off the streets by finding them employment and housing through our network of partners. We are currently developing an urban garden in the heart of KL and aim to use this space to empower community members to learn self-sufficient gardening.

What are the Unseen Tours?
Unseen Tours are where our street friends; who are our beneficiaries, provide walking tours for locals and tourists to see parts of Kuala Lumpur that are not usually captured in tourist-centric tours.

What has the response been from the people who have taken the tours?
The response has been really positive so far, and we find ourselves fully booked at times. It’s fair to say the demand at times exceeds the supply as we have a limited number of street friends who conduct the tours.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced being a non-profit?
The biggest challenges are on two fronts – sustaining our operations, and also in working with our beneficiaries. Building relationships with our beneficiaries, and subsequently maintaining them takes a very long time, and sometimes there are those who drop out of our programmes.

How do you fund your operations?
We fund our operations mainly through our volunteering residence in Ampang where volunteers from all over the world come to stay and later become our human capital, helping us conduct programmes and lead engagements with our beneficiaries depending on their own expertise. However, as the pandemic limits volunteer movement, we’ve also received grants from various organisations to carry out aid work.

How do you measure your impact?
We measure our impact by the amount of people whose lives we have managed to sustainably uplift. To date, we have managed to uplift over 100 beneficiaries.

Why did you choose this cause to champion?
We chose sustainable livelihood as our primary cause because we believe it is our civic duty to put our knowledge to good use in order to create more sustainable solutions when we set out to help the underprivileged people.

What are some notable milestones in the journey of Yellow House KL?
One of our recent milestones was being able to fundraise almost RM 100,000 to deliver essential goods to thousands of people from the B40, migrant and refugee community during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.

Are there any moments that stand out to you as particularly meaningful throughout your journey?
The fundraising we did during the MCO would really stand out because during that time we all collectively faced a sense of uncertainty. The amount of donations that came in truly demonstrated compassion even during such trying times, and showed how much Malaysians are willing to contribute to society.

As an organisation that often works with marginalised communities, what are some of the misconceptions Malaysias have about the urban poor/refugees and what has been the experience of educating the community?
This is an ongoing challenge, as many Malaysians do not always understand the situations which force certain refugees or migrants to end up in Malaysia. However, we believe that these are in the minority and the majority of Malaysians are always warm and welcoming and are able to show empathy to these marginalised communities. As we attempt to uplift their lives, their own transformation should be a testament that not all migrants and refugees are here to do menial jobs or participate in illegal activities.

How do you see the company evolving and growing over the next couple of years?
Being a community organisation, we aim to scale to a point where we can run several sustainable programmes on our own. As mentioned previously, we are working towards the goal of having a social enterprise model and that is the direction we are actively pursuing, to ensure our own sustainability so we can serve more of the community. 

Check out Yellow House KL: http://yellowhousekl.com/ngo/

 

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Creating Empowerment Through Food

A soon to be household name, Picha Eats is a social enterprise that aims to create a sustainable and equitable ecosystem for refugees in Malaysia through the one thing we can all relate to – food! Founded in 2016 by Lim Yuet Kim, Lee Swee Lin and Suzanne Ling, they provide boxed meals, catering, open house experiences and shelf products all produced by refugees. As a company, Picha Eats embodies what it means to be a responsible business. They work for profit, but do so in a way that is thoughtful to their community. 

After working as teachers at a refugee learning centre, the three women noticed that many children had to drop out due to financial troubles. They sought a solution to empower the families of these children. Realising the value of empowerment as a crucial part in creating a sustainable business model; they wanted to create something that wasn’t about giving handouts, rather, about training individuals to be able to provide for themselves. On the most basic level, near or far, we are all connected by food. Especially in a country like Malaysia where food is a vital part of our culture and is seen as something so meaningful to many of us. Picha Eats goes further to make this connection even more meaningful by giving customers the opportunity to eat good food while also supporting a pervasive cause. 

Social enterprises have a unique position in the economic market, they disrupt the traditional notions of business by tying in the community-serving nature of NGOs and non-profits with the traditional for-profit model. With Picha, by creating an empowerment-based system which is equitable, they are able to sustain both the refugees who work for them and the business itself. They are a business which is for the community and by the community. Their financial model works in a 50/50 way; if they make 1 million in a year, 500,000 goes right back to the refugee chefs who work and sell their products. So when it comes to bottom lines, they are focused on the finances and the numbers above all else because that’s how they measure their impact. If they are able to make enough to provide a liveable income for all their employees, then they’re hitting their goals. 

Although they are a financially-minded business, their mission is rooted deep in changing the mindset and perception of refugees in Malaysia. To those of us who have access to the internet, higher education and reading materials,  we are able to learn and understand more about the refugee crisis. But there are a lot of people in our country who do not have such access, and because of this there are many people who believe in notions like “all refugees live in camps” or “refugees want to be in Malaysia”. These can’t be further from the truth. What Picha tries to do to combat these perceptions is educate their community through stories of empowerment. They never frame their content around pity, it’s about showing that upliftment is possible and that it is important to focus on a narrative that exemplifies resilience. At the end of the day, being a company that works so closely with a hugely marginalised community, bringing awareness and rewriting the narrative is at the heart of what they do.

The Zaza Movement

The Zaza Movement is a project under Picha Eats where individuals can purchase meals to give to someone in need. This movement started in 2017 when one of the chefs – A Syrian man named Zaza –  had gotten cancer. Two weeks before he passed, he spoke about how he wanted to cook chicken mandi and give it out to the people at the Mosque. Moved by this, the team started the Zaza Movement to do exactly this – bring good food to the communities who need it. During the MCO, many families struggled to put food on the table. Seeing this need, Picha worked to sponsor food for the B40 community and the front-liners. They managed to distribute 25,000 meals, had 293 meal sponsors and delivered to 31 locations. It is a truly beautiful message, to have refugees working hard to give back to a community that doesn’t always view them in a positive light. It is perception-changing, it is doing the right thing and it is putting the community first. 

Picha Eats is a force to be reckoned with, throughout their four years of existence their growth has been extraordinary to watch. To date, they have managed to give back 2 million to their chefs. They started with just one chef making meals in her home, but have gone on to have been part of Urbanscapes, have a pop-up store at Ben’s Independent Grocer and even catered over 600 corporate functions. For a community that often struggles with making ends meet, this type of success and this type of recognition is extremely meaningful. Picha makes it possible for them to enter the economic market in Malaysia and earn a sustainable income, changing the pre-established rhetoric surrounding refugees. They’re not here to play, their hard work has made them on par with other Malaysian cafes, exemplifying that a business rooted in sustainable responsibility can exist in the same playing field as the more traditionally run businesses.

Picha stands out as one of the most successful social enterprises in Malaysia. They set an example as to how to make a business equitable, proving that working for a cause can be profitable. In this increasingly mindful society, we believe that businesses like this will come out on top. We look forward to seeing how Picha Eats will grow from this point forward, if it looks anything like the past 4 years – we’re in for a delicious treat!

Check out Picha Eats: https://pichaeats.com/

 

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When was the last time you thought about water? 

When we think about water, we think of long baths, ice-cold drinks and big bodies of water we can jump into. As people who live in developed cities and towns, we don’t often think about water apart from the times we’re looking to enjoy it. We don’t worry about whether we’ll be able to have a glass of water with our meals, if we’ll have enough water for a shower or if we’ll be able to clean our homes. We don’t think about water and how important it is to our lives because we have it all the time.

But for 4.2 billion people around the world, clean water, proper sanitation and hygiene are out of reach. Over 6,000 children die every day from lack of clean water, 485,000 die from diseases due to contaminated water and over 200 million hours are spent daily by women and girls collecting water. Even in our own country of Malaysia, where it seems like water is abundant for all, 73% of the rural community don’t have access to clean water. Water poverty is a global problem and has been for a long time. It is a tough issue to overcome and may take years to truly be solved but with companies like H2GO – there is hope.

H2GO is a water technology company which aims to eradicate water poverty globally. They believe that clean drinking water is a right for everyone living on earth and that it should be easily accessible to all those who need it. At the heart of the company is Dr.Rajiv. The founder of H2GO, he is soft spoken and humble, but his work speaks volumes. Over the course of 10 years, H2GO has brought clean water to over 2.5 million people all over the world – with an active presence in Columbia, Ghana, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. Through remarkable technology: a water filter that is able to produce safe to drink water from unclean sources.

The technology is seemingly simple, you fill the bottle or tank with dirty water and when you dispense it, the water is clean and safe for consumption. It works almost like a magic trick, within seconds water that is brown in colour and full of sediment is completely filtered and crystal clear. This technology has been integrated into systems that work for communities, families and individuals. They are easy to use, don’t need to be plugged in and require maintenance only once every few years. A communal tank can filter 2 million litres of water, which approximately lasts around 3 years. After this, all that needs to be done is to have the cartridge replaced and then it’s good to go again for another 3 years.

When watching a demonstration of how the water bottles worked, I was amazed.  How could governments all over the world not already supply these to remote communities or even those affected by disaster? This technology seems like a clear solution to this worldwide problem. 

However, it’s not always that simple. Global water poverty can be eradicated with approximately 6 billion USD; although it is a lot of money, billionaires all over the world have more than enough to solve the water crisis and go on living wealthy lifestyles. The question of why they don’t remains unanswered and is incomprehensible to most, unfortunately that is just the current state of the situation.

Water poverty is an issue that discriminates. It only affects the poor. It is rarely spoken about because it affects invisible people whom society deems as less important. It doesn’t affect the urbanites, the politicians or anyone living a comfortable life. That’s why it’s not a hot and trendy issue, because we just don’t see ourselves in the people who are affected.

Why Water?

Despite the immense impact that H2GO has made on water poverty, it is but a drop in the bucket of the global water crisis. Choosing water as a cause to champion comes with taking on an incredibly daunting challenge. Water poverty is a pervasive, historical cause – it isn’t new and trendy, but a traditionally difficult issue to tackle. 

When asked; “Why water?” Dr.Rajiv gives a clean and simple answer – I was in the right place at the right time. He came across the technology at a military expo and after doing more research on the global state of water, he decided to take on this cause. He explained that living on the blue planet where technology has become so advanced, it is unbelievable that there are so many people living surrounded by water but yet without any they can consume. The passion at H2GO is palpable, they understand that clean water is a pathway to a better life for many. In bringing about proper hydration and sanitation, clean water allows for individuals to pursue a better life – one where the simple act of drinking water is no longer a barrier.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

In some places of the world, 1 in 2 girls drop out of school at puberty purely because there is no access to sanitation. Clean water gives young girls the opportunity to elevate themselves. As women, their sole purpose is often to get up in the morning, walk 7-8 hours to collect water which is likely contaminated. With these systems, they will no longer have to do this and will be able to get second jobs, start their own business, or do whatever it takes to empower themselves, their families and their communities. In the developing world, trillions of dollars are lost through women and girls being held back. Clean water is a gateway for empowerment, upliftment and growth within these parts of the world. It is barrier breaking. 

Doing Business With a Mission

At the end of the day, H2GO is a for-profit business with a community-driven mission. Their business has 2 sides to it, the main side is profit driven, selling their products at all levels (individuals, corporations, governments). The other side is non-profit, where they fundraise and conduct donation drives in order to place these systems where they are needed. Their business runs on a sustainable model and all fundraising is purely for the beneficiaries and not for the business. They have zero debt and have never had to raise money for their business expenses. H2GO can stand tall next to other tech companies, they are able to be competitive in their market and do so with heart. 

In the next decade, they’re looking to scale up. In the first 10 years they were able to reach 2.5 million people, in the next ten they’re looking to reach 200 million people. With such a massive cause, it is hard to feel satisfied with the work that has been done because it will never feel like enough until water poverty is eradicated all over the world. 

“Nobody is too small to make a difference – small acts of kindness is what amounts to real change.”

The Power of Hope

 Dr.Rajiv speaks in a way that will leave you feeling inspired. He acknowledges that having a goal of eradicating water poverty can be seen as naive but believes that as long as we continue to dream and believe we will continue to achieve. The day we start limiting ourselves in what we are able to do is the day that things will start to stagnate. Our greatest power is our ability to hope.

After speaking to the team at H2GO, I was left with a sense of immense hope for the future. Regardless of what your goal is, looking to companies like H2GO who do the tireless work that they do serves as an inspiration for all of us. And if there’s anything we can takeaway, it is that all of us need to strive to embrace that every life we touch is meaningful and important. For H2GO they were able to touch millions of lives, but they got there by starting with just one.

Check out H2GO

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