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Ordinary heroes: How The Picha Project delivers meals… and hope to refugee families

Ordinary heroes: How The Picha Project delivers meals… and hope to refugee families

 The three co-founders of The Picha Project (left to right): Lee Swee Lin, Kim Lim and Suzanne Ling. — Pictures by Ham Abu Bakar and courtesy of The Picha Project The three co-founders of The Picha Project (left to right): Lee Swee Lin, Kim Lim and Suzanne Ling. — Pictures by Ham Abu Bakar and courtesy of The Picha ProjectKUALA LUMPUR, Feb 25 — What started off as just an idea a couple of years ago is now primed to take a home-grown Malaysian social enterprise to the world stage.

The Picha Project, which delivers to customers traditional meals made by families from marginalised groups, will head to the Chivas Venture Global Final at The Next Web Conference, Amsterdam in May after winning the Malaysian Final earlier this month.

Founded by musician Kim Lim, psychology graduate Suzanne Ling and finance executive Lee Swee Lin, The Picha Project aims to provide job opportunities to these families by creating a platform for them to leverage on their existing cooking skills and cater food to the public.

Food preparation at the kitchen of a Picha Project familyFood preparation at the kitchen of a Picha Project familyThey currently support 12 families that offer Palestinian, Iraqi, Syrian, Afghan and Burmese meals.

Lim will represent The Picha Project in competing with 26 other social entrepreneurs from around the world for a chance to pitch their business to thousands of international investors, entrepreneurs and tech experts for a share of US$1 million (RM3.9 million) in funding.

Sharing session at The Picha Project’s Iraqi family’s open houseSharing session at The Picha Project’s Iraqi family’s open houseThey’ve certainly come far since their early days when it was all a matter of “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Little did they know their efforts would benefit more and more refugee families in need and help them change how they viewed themselves. They’re no longer mere idealists; they’re real entrepreneurs now.

The competition, in particular, has helped the team to question how they can scale both the business and their impact to reach more people. Lim says, “It made us think hard about how to present Picha to Malaysians and the world. Also, what other models can we incorporate to involve more communities? Ultimately, we hope that what we are doing can be replicated in other countries to benefit those who are in need.”

Looking back, one of the team’s biggest challenges in creating their business was their lack of a business background. Lee says, “We had to learn a lot of things from scratch the past two years — from understanding how an F&B business works to hiring staff and marketing. Another challenge is growing the team and have them be on board with the same vision.”

Mantu is an Afghan dish of chicken dumplings available for order from The Picha Project websiteMantu is an Afghan dish of chicken dumplings available for order from The Picha Project websiteJoining a competition like the Chivas Venture meant the Picha team got to learn from the other finalists about the work they do. Lim says, “We all have to start something sustainably to give those without a voice back their voices.

“We are very happy to see other people doing the work that we can’t do, such as the environment. We cannot do everything alone, we have to make the impact collectively together.”

Business pitching has helped the team become more resilient and more analytical. Lim says, “We are lucky that we got to rehearse many times since the day we started the project in the MaGIC (Malaysia Accelerator Global Innovation Centre) Accelerator Programme, where they refined our pitches.

“Later on, we presented at various universities, corporations and organisations. Personally, I’m now able to be precise and on-point with what I want to say and deliver our vision in a short time-frame. Pitching made us think deeply about the business direction and our impact, pushing us to do better.”

The Picha Project has expanded their product line to include homemade sambal and biscottiThe Picha Project has expanded their product line to include homemade sambal and biscottiDuring the competition, from the initial pitching process till the finals, the team was motivated by the support of the families involved in the project. Lim recalls, “Two of the families that we were supporting came on the event day itself. They spoke Arabic and not much English but they sat quietly and waited for my turn to present on stage. They were very proud of us and wanted us to win because that meant more refugees will be helped.”

Once The Picha Project was announced as the winner, the families were thrilled. Lim says, “The first thing I wanted to do was rush to them and hug them. And also giving them the prize because it doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to many of those who didn’t had a voice like them. We were very, very moved having the presence of our families and team there.”

Besides this sense of giving, another trait that has become part of The Picha Project’s company culture since their inception is fearlessness. According to Ling, this specifically means advocating failure.

She explains, “We are not afraid of failure, because we will quickly bounce back and return stronger. We made sure that every intern or anyone who joins us understands this – the idea of ‘pick yourself up real fast and improve on what you’re doing’ – and hopefully, when they leave the team, they will bring this value with them.”

Chicken Mandi, a Palestinian dish of roasted chicken and basmati rice cooked with spicesChicken Mandi, a Palestinian dish of roasted chicken and basmati rice cooked with spices2018 will be a big year for The Picha Project as the team is planning to launch kiosks and non-perishable products. They’ve already expanded their initial product line beyond delivered meals to include homemade sambal and biscotti.

Lee adds, “We are also growing the team as fast as we can and trying to bring in more partners to work with us. The goal is to be able to involve more families, making sure they can put food on the table, cover their rental and send kids to school.”

Charmingly, the social enterprise calls their customers “Picha heroes” for their contribution towards providing a better life for these disadvantaged refugee families. One could say the same about The Picha Project folks themselves: they are heroes and role models in the best way possible.

Find out more about The Picha Project at www.pichaproject.com

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