The social enterprise M’sian trains adolescents with special needs
People with disabilities in our society tend to be marginalized due to a general lack of understanding of how to properly interact with them.
This misunderstanding then turns into stereotypes and misconceptions, which unfortunately affect many aspects of their lives.
One of these aspects is the lack of employment, probably due to the fact that many employers believe that people with disabilities lack the knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics necessary for certain jobs.
Changing these mindsets and encouraging companies to adapt their processes to create disability-friendly workplaces is a long and slow process, but that doesn’t mean nothing is being done at all.
Bridging this gap is precisely the raison d’être of social enterprises such as Seven Tea One.
Seven Tea One currently has three outlets in Setia Alam, all within close proximity. Each outlet has its own vocation, such as a therapy-based training center, a central kitchen called Kitchen for Good, a cafe and a production center.
The central kitchen is named Kitchen for Good because of the way it is equipped with coffee facilities.
One minute of patience, ten years of peace
Founded on the principle of inclusiveness, Seven Tea One focuses on providing vocational skills and training to adolescents with disabilities.
Their goal is also to provide employment opportunities for teenagers to earn a dignified income so that they can live a sustainable life.
These teenagers are equipped with basic professional skills such as writing, recording, calculating, arranging, organizing, with some more specific to the F&B line in which Seven Tea One is located, such as picking, washing and cleaning, slicing and chopping, and more.
They are also taught basic life skills which include communication, leadership, teamwork, friendship, human values (love, care, patience, tolerance, compassion), interaction, taking decision and cognitive skills.
By doing all of this, they are also being trained to develop their own independence.
“We focus on B40 teenagers and single parenthood because we want to give these teenagers the ability to generate income and not remain a burden on their families,” said founder Lai Chong Haur.
As for fees, teenagers in the B40 category have nothing to pay for the first six months of their internship.
After the training is completed, Seven Tea One will pay the teenagers RM5 to 10 per hour, in the hope that this salary can help their families.
However, teenagers who are not in the B40 category must pay a sum of RM500 per month as part of their training fee.
“These fees will be used to buy all the raw materials for training purposes, as we teach them to cook their own meals,” Lai said.
Founded in 2016, Seven Tea One faces the challenge of improving the productivity of its teenagers as most of them are limited in their talents and abilities without proper guidance.
Therefore, the team must be patient and repetitive in training their teenagers.
Additionally, Lai admits that the social enterprise has always struggled financially.
“Our monthly expenses are usually very high, as we have to pay for renting three stores, salaries for our teenagers, and raw materials for training,” Lai explained.
Although the social enterprise received monetary grants from the government in 2019 and 2021, its main source of income is still generated by the sale of its products.
But their efforts have also been noticed by private entities as CIMB provided the social enterprise with a grant of RM50,000 which was used to set up its production centre.
“In 2020, we won the Coveted Golden Heart Award 2020 by The Star [and] received a total of RM5,000. We were also the big winner of the Gamuda Inspiration Award 2020, [and] received a prize of RM50,000,” Lai explained.
Fill the void
Lai had not been with Seven Tea One since the beginning (2016), only taking over the social enterprise in 2018.
Prior to that, he worked as an HR practitioner for over 20 years. But he’s always had an interest in community work and environmental conservation, having been involved in both for over a decade, so Seven Tea One wasn’t new work for him.
In addition to running Seven Tea One full-time, he runs his own HR consulting and outsourcing company in Puchong, HK Harmony Resources.
Being continuously involved in the HR field, Lai sees that there is still a noticeable gap in the market.
“Teenagers with disabilities or special needs struggle to find jobs due to their lack of job skills, college degrees and behavioral shortcomings,” he observed.
Therefore, Seven Tea One’s goal is to fill this gap in the market and be able to offer these teenagers an opportunity and a place to grow and learn.
The social enterprise’s operations manager, Bibi Bong, is also their beneficiary and full-time trainer for the teenagers.
Bibi and the team train teenagers in the production of herbal teas, baking, cooking and making dried fruits.
“Once the teenagers are capable and ready, we will integrate them to become our employees. To date, we have converted six special teenagers into employees and they each earn a minimum of RM1,200 per month,” Lai said.
The future is made of the same stuff as the present
Seven Tea One must be doing something right because they have been instrumental in breaking down the barrier of unemployment within the disability community.
“We have teenagers who got jobs outside of Seven Tea One and their salaries range from RM1,100 to RM1,680,” Lai shared proudly.
Currently, Seven Tea One is in the process of having its products Halal certified. They are also actively leading product development, improving their packaging, and seeking more corporate customers.
To date, Seven Tea One has provided its products to various banks, insurance companies and businesses, and it is good to see such support for their mission.
Going forward, Lai said, “We hope to establish more Seven Tea One centers in different states to expand our impact and be accessible to communities that need us.
- Learn more about Seven Tea One here.
- Check out other Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Seven Tea One