Persons with disabilities (PwDs) have long had their needs unmet or shafted in Malaysia. The Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 exists, but many PwDs have called for a review and update of the act to better cater to them.
But despite the policies for fair treatment, the implementation and enforcement of them are lacking. Thus, social enterprises have taken matters into their own hands by hiring groups of PwDs to train and upskill them, allowing them to earn some income independently too.
Some examples of such organisations would be Stand Pie Me and Autism Cafe Project which work with autistic young adults, and Silent Teddies, which focuses on empowering the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.
Those aside, there are also PwDs who go on to be entrepreneurs with the help of loved ones. One such entrepreneur I recently learnt of was Ahmad Musim Muzaffar, who runs Muzaffar Mart with the help of his father, Ahmad Fairuz, or Coach Fairuz.
A step ahead
Muzaffar, currently 22 years old, had already been selling muffins under the brand Muffins by Muzaffar at the Autism Cafe Project way back in 2019.
Though he enjoyed what he did, starting the mart wasn’t something on his prior agenda. Instead, Muzaffar was in a local programme that trained autistic youth in IT or culinary arts. He’d spent 6 months there training to have basic IT skills, likely inspired by Fairuz, who had almost 30 years of experience in the software industry.
However, things later took a turn with the programme, and Muzaffar wasn’t offered the employment he was promised upon completion of the training.
Although both father and son had had high hopes for this job and the potential security it would’ve offered Muzaffar, Fairuz already had another plan in mind if things didn’t work out—entrepreneurship.
“As a parent of a child with autism, our main concern is always what happens to them when we’re no longer around. And with this mart around, it helps put us more at ease knowing that he can continue running this in the future with someone we trust,” Fairuz shared with Vulcan Post.
He also shared that he initially found it challenging to come to terms with Muzaffar’s diagnosis, but rather than dwell on it, Fairuz and his family learnt to think positive, plan for Muzaffar’s future, and move forward.
Fairuz himself later became an autism exercise specialist, and today coaches high-functioning autistic students in tennis.
Lessons learnt as a budding entrepreneur
Muzaffar’s journey began with muffins, but when Fairuz’s friend in the perfume business learnt of their plans to start the mart, he offered to create a perfume brand for Muzaffar.
It was a heartwarming gesture for Fairuz, who beamed as he recalled, “We’re very proud that Muzaffar, a person with autism and who’s not even a celebrity can have his own perfume line.”
From 2019 until today, Muzaffar has sold about 5,000 muffins and a few hundred bottles of perfumes, which Fairuz considers a milestone for his son’s journey in entrepreneurship so far. Recently, he’s also started selling fresh Sabahan seafood.
Besides doing e-commerce, Muzaffar has also sold out his products in physical bazaars before, most notably at the Autsome Bazaar organised by Sunway Putra Mall.
But like every other entrepreneurship journey, there are always lessons to be learnt. For Muzaffar, one of the biggest lessons was learning to face rejection when selling his products.
“During the bazaar, we tried not to bring too many muffins because we were worried they might not be sold out. Muzaffar gets sad when they don’t,” Fairuz explained, adding that his son used to also get upset when people passed by without making a purchase.
“To him, when someone inquires about his product, they should buy them after. He took a while to understand that.”
Admittedly, Muzaffar’s frustration was understandable since he manned his bazaar stall from morning to evening, which would be tiring for anyone. To add, autism can be accompanied by sensory issues too, whereby common everyday noises to us may feel overwhelming for those with the condition. Thankfully though, this was where the Sunway mall’s calm room for autistic people came in handy for Muzaffar to recuperate.
Fairuz also recalled, “When Muzaffar first started baking, he asked me for money once he was done with the baked goods!” To overcome this misunderstanding, he explained the process of sales to Muzaffar and what he could do to maximise his muffin sales.
“Sometimes, customers pay late as well, so I had to teach him how he can only get paid once they’ve paid, not right after he finished baking. People with autism sometimes have this rigidity in understanding processes, so it was something we had to get familiarised with,” he shared.
Thanks to Fairuz’s warm guidance, Muzaffar has come a long way from his early entrepreneurship days.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Muzaffar is in charge of baking and inventory management, so he would inform Fairuz anytime they’re running low on baking supplies like eggs, blueberries, chocolate chips, etc. With his full-time job and role as Muzaffar’s assistant, the father finds himself usually working 7 days a week.
It’s tiring, but Fairuz finds it more reasonable to help Muzaffar at home instead of sending him to work at social enterprises with groups of other youth. Because both he and his wife are full-time workers, transporting Muzaffar back and forth to his workplace would be difficult.
Furthermore, Fairuz has larger plans for Muzaffar Mart. “My plan for this mart is to give job opportunities for those who are in Muzaffar’s shoes as well, people with disabilities who need employment as we grow,” he shared with Vulcan Post.
He’s hoping that they can go physical one day, as it would be a dream come true for him and Muzaffar, on top of being in the position to afford giving more PwDs employment opportunities. Fairuz also plans to offer his tennis coaching as a service through the mart.
However, he acknowledged, “With the current pandemic and uncertainties, we think it’s not the ideal time yet to open a physical mart.”
Taking the initiative instead of waiting
We’ve seen the many ways that businesses have diversified especially during the pandemic, when entrepreneurs have to be more resilient in weathering the storm.
For entrepreneurs with disabilities like Muzaffar, this practice of diversifying in their careers to prepare for the future is something they’ve become accustomed to since the beginning.
The government still has a long way to go with properly implementing the 1% affirmative action for hiring PwDs. In the meantime, social enterprises and supportive parents like Fairuz are the ones who have to create opportunities for PwDs.
If Fairuz and Muzaffar can continue running Muzaffar Mart in a sustainable manner and reinvest profits to grow the business, there’s no doubt that they’ll find a target market that aligns with their mission.
- You can read more about Muzaffar Mart here.
- You can read more about other Malaysian startups we’ve covered here.
Featured Image Credit: Muzaffar and Fairuz, founders of Muzaffar Mart