Nasi lemak is a staple Malaysian dish adored by locals and even those who sojourn our nation for a vacation. Whether eaten on the simple brown paper packaged in its ever recognisable triangular shape, or alongside other Malaysian delicacies such as rendang and fried chicken, it is one of the most well-known food symbols of our nation.
In fact, ask any Malaysian living abroad what dishes they would be craving after some time spent overseas, and one of the dishes that could send them salivating at the very thought of it, would certainly be the dish we are proud to call our own.
One social enterprise took the simple concept of this delectable delicacy and made it the centre of what their business model revolves around. Thus far, they have been able to wrap their wonderful premise of social entrepreneurship around the humble packet of nasi lemak.
One Dish At A Time
The Nasi Lemak Project (TNLP), founded back in 2012, is a social enterprise which sells nasi lemak in order to alleviate poverty. They do this by empowering the urban poor community in teaching them how to cook, prepare and sell their own nasi lemak in order to make an income.
TNLP recognised that there is a need for someone, be it just one person, or an entire entity, to reach out to the Malaysian mothers who can make use of these soft skills in order to feed others the same way they feed their own little ones.
What’s interesting is that TNLP not only benefits the poor by teaching them valuable life skills such as learning to provide for themselves, but also sells the dish to corporate offices and commuters on the go, hence killing two birds with one stone.
Getting Down To Business
In order to make this happen, the team recruits specific families with a household income of below RM900, whereby the mother has at least 2 children who can help with cooking. The family has to be disciplined enough to sign a contract to supply nasi lemak every working day for a duration of 12 months. They are also required to have a kitchen space to cook in.
Having fit the bill, the mothers would then go through a 3-week training process which involves standard quality control, a cleanliness certification as well as entrepreneurship lessons on how to sell their nasi lemak.
TNLP will then purchase the food from the families at reasonable prices and sell them to the community at market prices. “We invest and train urban poor families to produce quality nasi lemak. We will then buy the nasi lemak from them and sell to urban office workers who want convenience and good food,” the team shared.
A Delicious Turnover For TNLP
The team made out of co-founders Mastura M. Rashid and Zul Imran Ishak, both only 25 years of age, has been able to steer TNLP to greater heights. Thus far through TNLP, the families under them have been able to produce 4000 nasi lemak per month, the TNLP team proudly states that they are able to help each family to have at least a 50% increase in their monthly income via the nasi lemak sales.
They have also engaged 1000 families in the process, and won 5 awards on top of getting 700 volunteers on board. Though numbers are the significant source by which a startup can be validated, TNLP are more than just that. They are out to impact the community and that is essentially the heart of what they are. They were also one of the startups of the recent MaGIC accelerator programme (MAP) Social Enterprise track whereby they learnt to fine-tune their model and process.
Besides just selling nasi lemak, the team does an outreach program for 200 homeless in their database, every Saturday and Sunday. Volunteers who have signed up with TNLP would then cook 150-200 packs of hot meals and will then distribute it at night around 5 regions in the Klang Valley. Each volunteer will also have to teach up to 5 children, for 4 contact hours every week.
“To sign up as a volunteer is not easy, let alone be a consistent volunteer. But these volunteer gems are out there, they just don’t know there are volunteering opportunities,” shared Mastura, on the principle of volunteering.
The team’s ultimate mission is to alleviate the issue of poverty through social entrepreneurship and the power of youth volunteers, and thus far they have been able to do it rather successfully.
One particular mother who has benefited from TNLP, only known as Makcik W, comes from a familial background of 6 children and on top of having so many mouths to feed, she also has to look after her disabled husband. With TNLP, she is able to be empowered to provide for her own family.
Instead of the conventional ways of helping the poor such as collecting donations via campaigns and crowdfunding, The Nasi Lemak Project embodies the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Future plans for the team would be to back more nasi lemak producers in order to generate more profit. They also wish to replicate the business model throughout Southeast Asia. TNLP believes that they will be able to create more employment through the creation of businesses, and this is their first step towards that.
If you’re interested be a volunteer at The Nasi Lemak Project, you can fill in your details here.