KUALA LUMPUR: “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
This is the guiding principle of Women of Will (WOW), a non-governmental organisation that aims to empower disadvantaged women.
It provides interest-free microcredit and conducts entrepreneurship programmes for women in B40 communities to enable them to start their own small businesses.
“Our principle is to teach women how to fish, instead of giving them the fish. We want them to run their own businesses so they can support their families and not rely on handouts,” says WOW founder and president Goh Suet Lan.
Beneficiaries comprise single mothers, widows, abused or abandoned women, and those from households earning less than RM2,500 a month.
Since its establishment in March 2016, WOW has helped uplift some 2,000 women.
A loan of RM2,000 on average is extended to those under its microfinancing scheme, and recipients have to repay 20% of the amount over four months.
The participants are required to go through a programme that covers marketing strategies, financial literacy, digital marketing, skills training and business coaching.
“We spend a lot of time making sure we recruit the right beneficiaries, because we want to see their businesses succeed,” Goh tells FMT.
She adds that about 70% of their microloan recipients are in the food and beverage line, which allows them to work from home while looking after their children.
WOW is currently focusing its attention on B40 women residing at 11 People’s Housing Projects (PPR) around Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
It also provides resources to projects by the communities themselves, such as daycare centres and community classrooms.
“One community wanted to teach teenagers to play the kompang, to prevent them from getting entangled in social ills,” Goh says, revealing that they eventually ended up performing at weddings and various corporate events.
“We facilitate the process and help them get started. Many of them have the answers, they just don’t have the resources.”
The pandemic effect
When the pandemic struck, most of their beneficiaries’ ventures were adversely impacted, with 70% of them no longer in business and having less than RM100 in savings.
WOW acted quickly by conducting online programmes to teach the women how to manage and grow their enterprises, as well as coach them on online marketing and e-hailing services.
The outcome was encouraging as many of them soon resumed operations, but WOW then discovered another problem.
“Many of them were dealing with mental stress and were unable to continue,” Goh shares.
WOW responded by implementing wellbeing programmes in collaboration with Thrive Well, a community-based mental health centre.
The pandemic also led to greater nutritional deficiency among children living in PPRs. To address this, WOW set out to create more awareness on nutrition, on top of providing suggestions to selected entrepreneurs on the kinds of food they could sell to benefit their communities.
WOW has further launched a community leadership programme to acknowledge the important role played by women leaders, who are a “strong source of support to others in the community”.
Goh highlights, for example, the role of these leaders in distributing food during the recent movement control order.
Under this programme, women leaders are trained to connect members of their community with relevant social support services, and will also be coached in various aspects of project management, such as writing reports and reaching out to funders.
“Ultimately, when we exit the community, these women will be able to manage their projects on their own,” Goh says.