Adapting business models to rebuild in tough times


Sharifah (standing) sharing health and beauty advice with students at her wellness centre.

AS the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the globe, its social and economic impact rippled across Malaysia.

Many small businesses were forced to close as they struggled to adapt to the challenges.

Amid the hardship and uncertainties, non-governmental organisation Vision to Transform (V2T) stepped up to empower underprivileged communities with income-generating skills through entrepreneurship and digital exposure.

Supported by a RM50,000 grant from Star Foundation’s Star Social Impact Grant (SSIG), V2T successfully conducted its “Economic Recovery Programme for Vulnerable Communities to Increase Income and Improve Livelihood” project to equip 62 beneficiaries with knowledge and tools to run successful micro-businesses.

The programme’s beneficiaries were primarily from the B40 community, including the urban poor and other economically-impacted individuals in the Klang Valley.

Over the six-month-long project, they learnt to identify their abilities and strengths, underwent a series of online entrepreneurship courses and received continuous guidance and mentoring to put into practice what they had learnt in their own micro-enterprises.

Vision 2 Transform trainer Nurfarahi Nabilah Mohd Azmi (top, left) guiding participants through the customer analysis module.Vision 2 Transform trainer Nurfarahi Nabilah Mohd Azmi (top, left) guiding participants through the customer analysis module.

From digital doubters to successful entrepreneurs

Beneficiary Sharifah Othman, 57, was faced with a dead end when she attempted to reopen her wellness centre that was forced to shut down during the pandemic.

That was when she stumbled upon the programme, which provided her with the much-needed knowledge and tools to rebuild and grow her business.

“Not only did I have to stop my business for two years, I also had to let go of my staff and eventually lost my confidence to continue.

“My therapy spa business was losing its competitive advantage as I was dependent on traditional marketing methods and did not use any digital platforms.

“As a result, many existing customers didn’t know that I had reopened my spa.

“This programme was really what I needed at that point in time,” she said.

Upon completing the training, Sharifah’s income skyrocketed by 380% after she diversified her business and employed online marketing strategies.

“With the increased income, I am able to expand my team by hiring new talents,” she said, adding that her business now offers a variety of services including face, hair, massage and slimming treatments to meet customers’ needs.

Amid the turmoil brought on by the pandemic, entrepreneur Ismaliza Ismail, 61, too, found herself struggling to promote her frozen food products, which was her sole source of income.

“Thanks to the programme, I am now more confident in approaching the community around me to promote my products through WhatsApp, word-of-mouth recommendation, product testing and other methods.

“With a better sales strategy leveraging on various marketing methods, I managed to get new customers.

“There is a huge increase in demand from customers as they can now place orders more conveniently,” said Ismaliza.

From covering household expenses to buying a secondhand car and supporting her nephew’s education, she can now do it all as her monthly income has more than doubled.

For entrepreneur Martini Gimin, 65, the programme not only boosted her income but also forced her to move out of her comfort zone.

“Because of my shyness, I have resorted to making and selling pickled fruits the old-fashioned way for the past 40 years.

“I did not have fancy websites or use social media and was selling on a make-to-order basis.

“With the programme, I learned how to better manage my business and even started promoting my products on ecommerce platforms.”

Martini’s pickled fruits now go as far as Paris, Dubai and Geneva.

Her average monthly sales recorded an increase of 300%, allowing her to save up for her daughter’s education.

She advises those in similar situations to conquer their fears and join upskilling programmes.

“While many of us may be hesitant to change, perhaps due to self-doubt or wanting to stay in our comfort zone, it is very important that we continue to learn and keep up with the latest business trends.”

Having seen better demand, Martini plans to purchase machinery that can increase her pickle production capacity and scale up her business.

The impact of the programme goes beyond providing a means of income for the beneficiaries.

With their newfound knowledge and skills, they are now self-sufficient and able to meaningfully provide for their families.

Martini with her pickled fruits product ‘Acar Buah I Love U’ which is available for sale online.Martini with her pickled fruits product ‘Acar Buah I Love U’ which is available for sale online.

Continuous learning

V2T president Raymond Dinesh Gabriel expressed satisfaction with the programme’s success and affirmed their commitment to continue empowering people.

“The programme proved successful as beneficiaries reported an average knowledge increase of 125% during the training.

“The average income among all participants also saw a huge increase of 127% after two months of mentoring.

“Beneficiaries are then onboarded to the FinRISE app where they have continued access to entrepreneurship modules, coaching sessions and business support,” he added.

Despite its successful outcomes, the programme had its fair share of challenges.

Gabriel said the biggest challenge was in restoring the beneficiaries’ courage to restart their business after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic had a significant impact on them.

“To rebuild their confidence, we implemented a structured learning module that helped them reframe their thinking methods and business approach to see opportunities in the long run,” he elaborated.

The programme’s success demonstrates the power of community-driven initiatives and the impact of private-civil society partnerships.

“We are very grateful to Star Foundation for their unwavering support.

“Thank you for supporting our mission and giving us the opportunity to serve the community,” added Gabriel.

SSIG is an initiative by Star Foundation aimed at supporting impact-driven and sustainable projects by NGOs and social enterprises to improve the lives of local communities and the environment.

Applications for the third cycle of the annual SSIG is now open.

Changemakers with project ideas that are aligned with the grant’s five focus areas are encouraged to submit their proposals and relevant supporting documents at bit.ly/starsig by April 2.

Star Foundation is the charitable arm of Star Media Group, which aims to deliver meaningful initiatives with lasting outcomes to diverse groups of beneficiaries.

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