Making profits while maximising social benefits

Recently, two Malaya-based social entrepreneurs made their way to a sharing event organised by Angkatan Zaman Mansang Sarawak (AZAM Sarawak) in Kuching, Sarawak. Founder of Grow the Goose and Borneo Cocoa, Ida Faranina Othman has been an entrepreneur for 16 years, from owning and running a baking studio, event management company, supplier of corporate gifts, production house, advertising agency, photo studio to a kids party planning outfit.

Her entrepeneurial passion grew in her since her younger days. At 10 years old, she wanted a t-shirt that everyone wears. “I wanted it so my mum asked me to save up. So I sell things like recycled cans until I was able to collect enough money.” At 12, she started a cupcake business while at 15 she babysits.

Hence, after she took a break to focus on her family, she noticed a gap in the market on child empowerment programmes. It was a little experiment with her children that led her to launch ‘Grow the Goose’ — a social enterprise focusing on financial empowerment programmes for children to help them attain financial wisdom before entering adulthood.

From teaching her children to make their own money by selling healthy sausages, Ida now holds workshops teaching children, teens, and recently adults on money habits, ways to achieve their dreams and also how to earn.

Sisterhood Alliance is an NGO which advocates social changes by empowering young girls with life skills education.

Ida also mentioned that 60 percent of her net profits are used to run free programmes for children from marginalised communities. To her, it is important to learn entrepreneur skills as, “It is not about not wanting the children to be doctors and lawyers, rather it is important that they become doctors with their own hospitals/clinics and lawyers with their own firms.”

She elaborated further by saying that learning to be an entrepreneur does not necessarily mean stamping the future to work in the business line. By learning the skill sets of an entrepreneur, “They can learn critical thinking, troubleshooting, marketing, and also public speaking. And through the skills, they can address the unemployment issue where instead of looking for a job, they can create the job opportunities themselves.”

Ida represented Malaysia and South East Asia in the SE Forum Outreach Accelerator based in Stockholm, Sweden in 2017. The six-month programme saw eight social enterprises selected globally, fully funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

Menstrual Hygiene Management programme by Athena Empowers at Kampung Silad, Ranau, Sabah together with Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad. Teens were given a package of Athena cloth sanitary pads.

In April 2019, Ida represented Malaysia for the International Visitors Leadership Programme – US Department of State’s premier professional exchange programme. Later in June, she founded Borneo Cocoa, a social enterprise empowering small cocoa growers in Borneo with the knowledge and skills to create their cocoa-based products and earn better incomes through ethical and sustainable cocoa farming and production.

On the other hand, Anja Juliah Abu Bakar is the founder and social impact director of Athena Holdings Sdn Bhd (a social enterprise that empowers women with entrepreneurship skills), founder of Sisterhood Alliance (an NGO which advocates social changes by empowering young girls with life skills education) and a social impact consultant at ContentLab Sdn Bhd (a social impact consultancy helping companies to build their CSR capacity building activities and also consults businesses to become social enterprises as part of their business model.)

When met, Anja said that 23 years ago she was a college dropout with a fiery passion to go abroad. “So I knocked door to door at corporate firms for my crowdfunding. It took me eight months before I finally managed to save up, and with the flight tickets bought by my family, I flew to the UK.”

With her typing skills, she landed a job in typing dissertation for masters students, which intrigued her to go back to study. “I went back home to Malaysia. Years later I graduated, but due to my experiences before I was solely interested in starting my own business.” 

Grow the Goose — a social enterprise focusing on financial empowerment programmes for children to help them attain financial wisdom before entering adulthood.

In 2004, Anja discovered ‘cloth pad’ — an environmental friendly washable sanitary pad — and she found it to be a sustainable method for female menstruation period.

From there, she did her researches, surveyed, and later on commercialised it until one day she was approached to be a sponsor to struggling girls who skipped school because of menstruation. “I felt curious about why these girls need to skip school. Then I found out that they lived in hostels, away from home. They only had enough money for food, so to choose between food and sanitary pads, they chose food.”

The sponsorship awakened the social entrepreneur in her, and led her to start a campaign for the cause. She initiated ‘For every pack you buy, a girl gets sponsor’ campaign and in 2015, her company Athena became a 100 percent social enterprise company. Through the campaign, Athena Holdings Sdn Bhd has helped 1,990 girls since 2015 and has reduced 986,000 usages of disposable sanitary pads.

“Twenty-three years ago I was a college dropout, then I managed to empower myself to go further. Now, I want to empower other girls,” said Anja.

An alumna of MaGIC Accelerator Program for Social Enterprise (2015), Anja was the first Malaysian to be selected to participate in the Social Enterprise Forum in Stockholm (2016) by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and returned as a guest mentor in 2017.

Anja is also a committee member with the Chamber of Social Entrepreneurs Development Malaysia – SE Council for social entrepreneurship practices and ecosystem building in Malaysia. In September 2019, Anja and 17 leaders from 18 countries received an invitation to the White House to be part of the W-GDP (Women’s Global Development and Prosperity initiative), the first whole-of-government effort to advance women’s economic empowerment.

She was also listed as one of the Top 10 Women Social Entrepreneurs by Top10 Malaysia.