The recent white flag movement has highlighted the difficulties faced by the urban poor in Malaysia in meeting their basic daily needs.
While it has garnered a lot of attention from individuals and businesses across the movement, it is an experience that is not just for MCOs, but an ongoing problem. Masala Wheels, a food truck doubled as a social enterprise, has been trying to tackle this problem since its creation in 2015.
Over the years his team has gone from fundraising and charity work to selling affordable Indian meals to hiring B40 people to work in his business. Now supported by public and corporate sponsorship, they are strengthening their social activism by providing food aid and training microentrepreneurs to become self-reliant.
Urged to serve the hungry
During the 2020 MCO, Masala Wheels transitioned from running their food truck and PJ cafe to providing food assistance to frontline doctors, social homes and stranded university students.
This initiative started with a request from a local university student who asked Masala Wheels for help. They were seeking to provide packaged food for students trapped in campus dormitories during the lockdown.
With the help of social media, Masala Wheels was able to respond to this request within minutes and provided 240 meals, sponsored by the public. Moved by the kind gesture and acceptance, the company launched a Pay It Forward initiative where people could purchase pre-packaged meals (called hanging meals) for those in need.
Today, the Pay It Forward initiative has distributed 31,000 meals to its beneficiaries. But co-founder Kuhan Pathy hasn’t settled in yet. It aims to deliver 50,000 meals through Masala Wheels by September 2021.
Teaching a Man to Fish
As the saying goes: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him all his life.
Masala Wheels does more than feed the hungry. They seek to train microentrepreneurs within B40 communities to become self-reliant by earning a living on their own.
When we last interviewed Kuhan in 2019, the startup was working with KCOM Group to mainstream digitization as part of social enterprise.
From the apprenticeship, his team of 25 employees built a training arm focused on improving digital skills for microentrepreneurs in marginalized communities. These microentrepreneurs were trained as part of a 3-month program conducted last year in collaboration with Yayasan Hasanah.
“We help them in their dissemination via social media platforms, customer service management via basic tools (ie WhatsApp Business) and go-to-market strategies in collaboration with commerce sites electronics, ”Kuhan explained. The trainees are then listed on the Masala Wheels online marketplace. mobilefood.my, which works similarly to other homemade food markets like Kravve.
Dictionary time: A go-to-market strategy (GTM strategy) is an action plan that specifies how a business will reach its target customers and gain a competitive advantage.
While this can be seen as competition, the presence of more options for home-made food markets can also be seen as a good thing. It offers regular home cooks the opportunity to reach more customers, generating income to support themselves if they are unemployed.
Mobilefood.my recipients also have the benefit of leveraging existing Masala Wheels subscribers. The mission of social enterprise is one that has resonated with many people, judging by the number of meals provided through the Pay It Forward program.
Kuhan also reported that 40 of their beneficiaries collectively generated 100,000 RM in income in 3 months. One of them was also able to make a deal with BMW during Hari Raya for the supply of corporate gifts.
“We are now organizing a similar program and looking for 200 participants, ”said Kuhan. “We have received combined sponsorships from individuals and private organizations. Each training could [be valued] up to RM3,000 and it would be fully sponsored.
No sign of slowing down
So far, Masala Wheels’ effort to help marginalized communities has caught the attention of the Implementation Coordination Unit (ICU) of the Prime Minister’s Department (JPM). It is an agency that manages the National Poverty Database System, in other words eKasih which provides information and assistance to poverty groups in Malaysia.
Kuhan explained that this collaboration with ICU will be beneficial in verifying the credibility and accountability of Masala Wheels when it contacts both their beneficiaries and their sponsors.
“We are able to help provide feedback to the ICU as well as on political contribution to improving livelihoods through our grassroots outreach and close relationships with beneficiaries during delivery of supplies. meals and training, ”he said.
In addition to serving those in the Klang Valley, Masala Wheels has extended its reach to Kedah, Penang, Negeri Sembilan through partner social enterprises with similar beneficiary groups.
While still seeking approval, Masala Wheels will phase out its PJ restaurant and replace it with a digital cloud kitchen. Kuhan predicts that this would help empower more beneficiaries and create an easily replicable model.
“Alone, we are probably creating an innovative path to a sustainable future for our beneficiaries. It is a journey, and that would require collective action by private and public entities, ”he explained.
- You can read more about Masala wheels here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups we’ve covered here.
Featured Image Credit: Masala Wheels