A lot has been cooking with The Picha Project over past two years, and they are about to take a bite out of something even bigger.
The social enterprise started with the vision to empower refugee families through food delivery and catering services. Founded by Kim Lim, Suzanne Ling and Lee Swee Lin, The Picha Project created a platform whereby families from marginalized groups can cook traditional meals, and have them sent to customers.
We talked to Kim about their journey so far, and where the team is headed to next, now that they are competing on the global stage with The Chivas Venture.
Empowering Lives Just by Eating
The three co-founders were students at USCI when they started volunteering at a refugee learning centre. It was there that they saw learnt about the plight of refugees, and a need within the community they could not ignore.
“A lot of their kids dropped out of school, so we had to find a sustainable way to help send these kids back to school,” said Kim. “We saw that they can cook as well, so we thought, why not create a platform which allows them to showcase their cooking skills to the public?”
In January 2016, the Picha Project was formed. Since then, they have gotten funding from MaGIC, myHarapan and AirAsia to support their growth.
Apart from enlisting the communities they were working with back then, the trio connected with refugee families through an entrepreneurship program in the United Nations. As word got out, their Picha families began to get their friends on board as well.
Today, The Picha Project provides job opportunities for 12 families from Palestinian, Iraqi, Syrian, Afghan and Burmese communities. Each family can prepare about 200 meal boxes in a day.
Within a mere two years, their impact has been noticeable. Kim shared that two to three families have started sending their kids to school, while many are now able to cover their basic expenses.
However, the biggest impact cannot be measured in numbers. It is the confidence these families gain from having a second chance at life, knowing that they can make a living just like everyone else.
“I think the joy of being able to earn their own living in a more dignified way is what they really want.” – Kim Lim
Changing Perceptions One Dish at a Time
Across the world, there are roughly 65 million displaced people. Of these, about 150,000 are living in Malaysia. Even so, the perception of the public towards refugees have not been forgiving.
“Many people think that refugees are here to strip away certain things. But in reality, they don’t have the rights to work,” said Kim, “And they don’t have any funding given, so they are very much on their own with no organisation support, unless an NGO chooses to do something for them.”
“A lot of them want to work for their own living but they are just not given an opportunity to do that.” – Kim Lim’
Aside from developing a credible list of hungry clientele, the team found another way to help people become more accepting of these marginalized communities. In true Malaysian fashion, it is also through the power of food.
The Picha Project regularly hosts open houses where the public can share a meal prepared by a refugee family. In every session, the family would share their personal stories of fleeing from war-torn countries and having to leave their relatives behind. This has been eye-opening for many guests.
“Most of them find it very insightful, because they really didn’t know what the rights of the refugees are here. Some of them didn’t even know there are refugees in Malaysia!”
She believes that this experience gives guests an understanding of how can they help support these marginalized communities, “knowing that they don’t have to donate, they just have to change the choice of purchasing food, maybe once a month or once every two weeks.”
Moving Forward with The Chivas Venture
The Picha Project is currently representing Malaysia in an entrepreneur competition by The Chivas Venture. Of the USD 1 million at stake, USD 200,000 will be distributed amongst the winners of an online voting competition.
The remaining prize money will fall on their final pitching in May 2018. Kim will be pitching the team’s sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis on a global stage at Amsterdam.
The team has exciting plans to expand their business. While they have already put non-perishable items on the shelf, such as dry sambal and biscotti, they hope to develop other products like sauces and frozen goods. They are also looking into getting kiosks for community outreach, and creating their own operating system.
“We are also looking into impacting thousands of families by 2025,” said Kim, “We want to see if we can replicate the model to other countries.”
There are several ways you can help The Picha Project. For starters, you can vote for them to help them get a share of USD 200,000 from The Chivas Venture by clicking here.