The White Flag movement that sprung up recently has shined a spotlight on the struggles faced by Malaysia’s urban poor in attaining their basic daily necessities.
While it attracted much attention from individuals and businesses through the movement, it’s an experience that isn’t isolated to MCOs, but an ongoing problem. Masala Wheels, a food truck doubling as a social enterprise, has been trying to tackle this issue since its inception in 2015.
Over the years, its team went from raising charity money through selling affordable Indian meals to employing B40 individuals to work in its business. Now with backing from public and corporate sponsorships, they’re strengthening their social activism by providing food aid, and training microentrepreneurs to become self-sufficient.
Driven to serve the hungry
During 2020’s MCO, Masala Wheels pivoted from running its food truck and PJ cafe to providing food aid to medical front liners, welfare homes, and stranded university students.
This initiative began with a request from a local university student who reached out to Masala Wheels for help. They were looking to contribute packed food for the students stuck in campus dorm rooms during the lockdown.
With the help of social media, Masala Wheels was able to meet that demand within minutes and supplied 240 meals, sponsored by the public. Moved by the kind gesture and uptake, the company started a Pay It Forward initiative where people could purchase packed meals in advance (known as suspended meals) for those in need.
Today, the Pay It Forward initiative has distributed 31,000 meals to its beneficiaries. But co-founder Kuhan Pathy isn’t settling yet. He’s targeting to supply 50,000 meals through Masala Wheels by September 2021.
Teach 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 for a lifetime.”
Masala Wheels is doing more than just feeding the hungry. They’re looking to train up microentrepreneurs within B40 communities to become self-sufficient by earning a living for themselves.
When we last interviewed Kuhan in 2019, the startup had been working with KCOM Group to incorporate digitalisation as part of the social enterprise.
From the learning, its team of 25 employees has built a training arm focusing on digital upskilling for microentrepreneurs in marginalised communities. These microentrepreneurs were trained in a 3-month programme conducted last year in collaboration with Yayasan Hasanah.
“We help them in outreach via social media platforms, customer service management through basic tools (i.e. WhatsApp Business), and go-to-market strategies in collaboration with e-commerce sites,” Kuhan shared. Trainees are then listed on Masala Wheels’ online marketplace mobilefood.my, which works similarly to other homemade food marketplaces like Kravve.
Dictionary Time: A go-to-market strategy (GTM strategy) is an action plan that specifies how a company will reach target customers and achieve competitive advantage.
Though it can be seen as competition, the presence of more options for homemade food marketplaces can also be argued as a good thing. It provides regular home cooks with the exposure to reach more customers, generating an income to sustain themselves if unemployed.
The beneficiaries on mobilefood.my also have the advantage of leveraging Masala Wheels’ existing following. The social enterprise’s mission is one that has resonated with many people if the number of meals supplied through the Pay It Forward programme is anything to go by.
Kuhan also reported that 40 of their beneficiaries have collectively generated RM100,000 of revenue in 3 months. One of them was also able to score a deal with BMW during Hari Raya in supplying corporate gifts.
“We’re now organising a similar programme and looking for 200 participants,” Kuhan said. “We’ve received combined sponsorships from individuals and private organisations. Each training could [be valued] up to RM 3,000 and it would be fully sponsored.”
No signs of slowing down
Thus far, the effort by Masala Wheels in aiding marginalised communities has gotten the attention of the Implementation Coordination Unit (ICU) from the Prime Minister’s Department (JPM). It’s an agency managing the National Poverty Data Bank System, otherwise known as eKasih which provides information and assistance to poverty groups in Malaysia.
Kuhan shared that this collaboration with the ICU will be beneficial in verifying Masala Wheels’ credibility and accountability when reaching out to both their beneficiaries and sponsors.
“We’re able to help provide feedback to ICU as well on policy input in improving livelihoods through our grassroots outreach and close relationship with the beneficiaries during the meals delivery and training,” he said.
Other than serving those in Klang Valley, Masala Wheels has extended its outreach to Kedah, Penang, Negeri Sembilan through partner social enterprises with similar beneficiary groups.
Although it’s still seeking approval, Masala Wheels will be phasing out its PJ restaurant to replace it with a digitalised cloud kitchen instead. Kuhan predicts it would help empower more beneficiaries and create a model that’s easily replicable.
“Alone, we’re probably creating an innovative path of a sustainable future for our beneficiaries. It’s a journey, and this would require collective action from both private and public entities,” he shared.
- You can learn more about Masala Wheels here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups we’ve covered here.
Featured Image Credit: Masala Wheels
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