The Malay Mail: Two best friends work through the Covid-19 pandemic to run a social enterprise that helps underprivileged Malaysians.

The Malay Mail: Two best friends work through the Covid-19 pandemic to run a social enterprise that helps underprivileged Malaysians.

Written by Arif Zikri from The Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 — Running a social enterprise is not an easy feat, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

For local social enterprise, Tumboh, it is definitely a challenging time especially when they just started their operations in July this year.

Tumboh was founded by two best friends, Amir Omar Anuar and Lam Min Yong who have been passionate in helping the underprivileged community since they were young.

Coining from the word ‘tumbuh’ which means grow or growth in Bahasa Malaysia, both Amir and Min Yong hope to nurture growth among Malaysians, especially the underprivileged community.

Amir said while they wanted to start something to help people, they also wanted to build a foundation to do good.

“We realised that we could keep on giving but at the end of the day, it’s very limited in terms of what we can give and that could never be enough for the community to grow,” he said.

“So, we went with social enterprise and made it a running business because not only can we continuously give back, we also want to be able to offer job opportunities for the underprivileged community.

“That’s one of our big goals with Tumboh, if we can start the business and move on to areas where we can hire these people into our business, that’s really what we want to do.”

Amir said amongst the challenges of running a social enterprise was to make profit while also giving back to the community.

“Running any kind of business is difficult and it’s more difficult when your business is a social enterprise because you must find that balance between profitability and giving back.

“Because if you’re talking about any other product, I can always drop down the prices to make the sale, but I can’t do it in social enterprise. It’s a commitment and no matter what, I must give back that certain amount from what I make.”

Aside from that, he added that building the trust amongst their consumers was also difficult especially during the Covid-19 pandemic as they were unable to go out and meet people.

“Our initial plans were to open booths and interact with people, but we cannot do any of these, so things are moving very slow right now,” he said.

Tumboh started out by selling and giving their hand sanitisers, face masks and hand-made toiletry bags, however, they’ve recently pivoted to healthy food products as their other products were not doing that well.

This is after they ran into a few complications with their advertisements on Instagram which resulted in them re-strategising their Instagram page.

“What happened was, in May 2021 just about a month before we launched, Instagram introduced a new ruling that won’t allow you to promote products related to Covid-19 which was set to prevent exploitation. And that includes hand-sanitisers.

“It really caught us off guard because social media is really the only platform for us, especially with us stuck at home, that was the only way to get the word out.

“That really caused a lot of headaches, and which is why we pivoted to food sooner than expected,” Amir said, adding that the lack of manpower in their team was also a challenge.

Even though Tumboh is like any other social enterprises in Malaysia, however, according to Amir, they are focusing on the long run and sustainability as there are not many local social enterprises that excels in that sense.

Even though Tumboh is like any other social enterprises in Malaysia, however, for Amir and Lam, they are focusing on the long run and sustainability as there are not many local social enterprises that excels in that sense. — Picture by Yusof Mat IsaEven though Tumboh is like any other social enterprises in Malaysia, however, for Amir and Lam, they are focusing on the long run and sustainability as there are not many local social enterprises that excels in that sense. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Meanwhile, when talking about the future for Tumboh, their chief operating officer, Lam said they were going to take a healthier approach for their future product development.

“In the future we are going into teas, biscuits, spreads, and long term-wise we are planning to move back into body care products like lotions, shampoos and body wash but all of these are still in the works.

“Right now, our focus is on our beneficiaries, we do hope we can grow the team where we would have more time and resources to plan the next step.

“One of the things we definitely will try to do next is open a café or a restaurant when things get better,” Yong said.

He added that the reason why they wanted to open a restaurant, or a café was because it was easier for them to provide job opportunities for the underprivileged community. 

At the moment, Tumboh is working with Komuniti Tukang Jahit (KTJ) and Need to Feed the Need Malaysia (NFN).

This is after they went through some difficulty in deciding which group from the underprivileged communities should they help first.

They initially planned to collect funds and distribute it on a monthly turn basis but due to them wanting to build a healthy and trustworthy relationship with their consumers, they decided to focus on these two beneficiaries.

Some of Tumboh’s products that are available on online shopping platforms like Lazada and Shopee. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Some of Tumboh’s products that are available on online shopping platforms like Lazada and Shopee. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

From August until December, Tumboh aims to donate a total of 350 bottles of hand sanitisers and 350 packets of face masks every month aside from contributing the sales from their other products which include their ‘Generous Granola’ packs.

They have managed to sell almost 150 packs of their homemade Generous Granola, which was just introduced a week ago.

All of Tumboh’s products are currently available on online shopping platforms like Shopee and Lazada.

Aside from that, their collaboration with KTJ in producing the handmade toiletry bags, Tumboh has managed to contribute over RM5,000 to the underprivileged women of KTJ.