THERE is a saying that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for the rest of his life.
This is what non-profit, non-governmental organisation Women of Will (WoW) is setting out to do with its first batch of 150 disadvantaged women in the Klang Valley.
WoW, which was known as TECH Outreach Malaysia until its rebranding recently, was officially established in 2009 and started out by helping some 300 refugees under the United Nations Development Programme.
The programme lasted for three years before it changed its focus at the end of 2014 to helping local women, with new seed funder Yayasan Khazanah.
Its president-elect, Datin Goh Suet Lan, said the programme was aimed at helping the women start and run successful and sustainable enterprises so that they could achieve financial independence.
“When we set out in search of our pioneering batch of women, we enlisted the help of local and community leaders, religious organisations and even local politicians for recommendations.
“We interviewed the women and had a list of criteria to select them. This included having a combined household income of less than RM2,500, being a single mother or being disadvantaged in some way such as being widowed,” she said.
Another important criterion is that the women must not be in debt as, Goh explained, they would then be more likely to use the loan to settle the debt rather than to further or start their business.
Goh said the women were taught the skills required to run a business, including marketing, book-keeping and even grooming.
“At one point, we also sit down with them and help them develop a business plan to leverage on the skills they already have,” she said, adding that the programme was designed to be completed within a year and a half.
The programme itself adopts the Grameen Micro-Credit Financing model by Professor Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Laureate of Bangladesh, for whom WoW founder Dr Selvamalar Ayadurai was an understudy.
Towards the end of the programme, some of the women are clearly in a better place.
One of them is Endon Mohamed Salleh, 50, who treasures most the opportunity to have met others in similar situations.
“I have been divorced for 18 years. With two children, earning a living was not easy. I used to live in a squatter house and ran a food stall in the Pantai Dalam area up until 10 years ago when it burnt down,” she said, adding that her youngest child was 16 years old then.
Endon later relocated to the nearby People’s Housing Projects (PPR), and after a short stint working in the kitchen of an Arabian restaurant, she found the means to start another food stall.
Endon had not realised that she was doing alright until she met the other women through WoW.
“There were others who had it much tougher than I did. I listened to all these women and in turn was inspired. Working through our problems together and sharing ideas as well as opinions had been fun, too,” she said.
Currently, she is part of a group of 13 women in her batch that have come together to start their first collaborative business of making Raya hampers.
Another woman in this collaboration is 44-year-old Zubaidah Abdul Rashid, who runs a sundry shop at PPR Sri Pantai.
“Before this sundry shop, I tried many other businesses including a boutique. I was never able to make it work but after the classes through WoW, I learnt how to manage a business and now things are looking up.
“Right now, my shop is also the base where we prepare the hampers,” she said.
Zubaidah has six children and has been divorced for the last 13 years.
Goh said this was the first collaboration within the group and it was a hopeful progress.
“We see the women inspiring each other to succeed and they are able to speak freely with one another by virtue of empathising and understanding each other’s difficulties.
“Their challenge as part of the urban poor is much more intense than their counterparts in rural areas. One of the reasons is the high cost of living,” she said.
WoW works with a consultant group to track the progress of the women.
“Their measurement of success is in the form of an impact assessment on their lives, such as their ability to afford healthcare, children’s education and income stability which will enable them to sustain a decent life.
Goh said the loan collection rate from the women was about 89%, and this would be disbursed again as loans for the next group, creating a sustainable cycle with lasting and positive ripple effects.
The women in the programme now are from Pantai Dalam, Batu Muda, Setapak, Hulu Selangor and Kuala Selangor.
WoW continues to seek partnerships with corporate funders as part of their corporate social responsibility in developing the communities most in need of attention.
They welcome volunteers in the capacities of business coaching and life skills training, fundraising and communications.
For details, visit www.womenofwill.org.my or call 03-7722 1518.