Raising up the downtrodden

PETALING JAYA: For almost a decade in his heyday as a tech jetsetter, Suthan Mookaiah used to don formal wear and travel around the world.

But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and left many Malaysians out of work last year, he rolled up his sleeves and started a business to help the jobless.

Through the cooking gas delivery start-up BeliGas Malaysia that he set up in June last year, the social entrepreneur has provided marginalised groups such as ex-prisoners and the B40 with jobs.

Suthan had actually begun with a food donation programme, but the number of those needing aid kept increasing by the day.

“A lot of people lost their jobs and had not much savings to sustain themselves. All they wanted was a job with stable wages.

“I knew the pandemic would go on for some time, so I decided to start a small business to provide employment, with a special focus on the B40 and the marginalised, as well as to make things cheaper for consumers.

“In July last year, we opened our first outlet in Mahkota Cheras,” he said in an interview.

Amid the global pandemic and lockdown, BeliGas grew and now has two warehouses and 13 outlets, collecting used cooking oil and delivering cheap liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to over 300 areas.

“Our dealers and workers are paid wages with full benefits. We have nearly 80 people,” he said.

BeliGas offers LPG for cooking at a very low price, even lower than the government’s gazetted price, starting at RM25.60 for a 14kg cylinder if pre-ordered at least a day before delivery.

Forward-thinker: Suthan started BeliGas to provide employment to jobless B40 workers and ex-convicts during the pandemic.Forward-thinker: Suthan started BeliGas to provide employment to jobless B40 workers and ex-convicts during the pandemic.

Suthan said customers are allowed to offset and pay by recycling their used cooking oil, which has earned the company recognition from the Malaysia Book of Records.

He said the company buys used cooking oil at RM2.50 per litre, the same price as fresh cooking oil, thus making the essential item free when customers recycle with BeliGas.

“The offset is then used on their cooking gas purchase. This means that besides getting cheaper LPG, consumers, both home users and businesses, get free cooking oil, figuratively speaking.

“Consumers also don’t have to discard the used oil in drains and this protects the environment,” he added.

Suthan recounted a touching experience when an elderly woman running a roadside stall openly prayed before thanking a BeliGas dealer for supplying her business with free cooking oil and cheaper LPG.

He said besides doing its part in preserving the environment by removing toxic pollutants of used cooking oil from the sewage, drainage and water system, BeliGas is also encouraging regreening of the community via its seedling programme.

“Customers get BG Points through our app, where they can redeem flower, vegetable and fruit seeds, which they can plant for their own consumption or around their community,” he said.

Since last year, BeliGas has helped nearly 20,000 people every month buy and recycle more consciously.

“With the growing number, it shows that we are impacting the community in the right way,” he added.

Suthan is also proud of the fact that BeliGas has given many Malaysians such as convicts a chance to rebuild their life through gainful employment and be a contributing member of society.

“We are also able to innovate and make essential items such as cooking oil and LPG free and cheaper for the benefit of the poorer community,” he said.

Suthan said by using new approaches to modernise, digitalise and integrate the act of recycling, it could make essential items more accessible and free for the people, especially the poor.

“I want to bring this ‘be profitable to drive impact’ model across Greater Asia. One can be a ‘do good’ social capitalist and drive real change for the people.

“Through BeliGas, we will also be able to hire talented people to drive innovations and deliver impact-driven change in communities, such as recycling and the regreening of public spaces.

“I think this is a sustainable model and if brought forward, will impact 6.5 million households in Malaysia and nearly 300 million across South-East Asia, and reverse the damage to the climate and environment,” he added.

Beyond that, Suthan said he would look into ways to see if he could make another key item – sanitary pads for women – free for the poor through the BeliGas system.

“I think this might be realised soon enough,” he said.

For its noble efforts, BeliGas Malaysia is recognised as one of the 10 winners of Star Golden Hearts Award 2021, an annual award that celebrates everyday unsung Malaysian heroes.

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