In conjunction with International Women’s Day, the Yunus Social Business Centre at Sunway Education Group (YSBC@SEG) together with Sunway University’s School of Hospitality (SOH), organised ‘The Social Kitchen,’ a culinary and entrepreneurship workshop for refugee women and B40 women in partnership with two social Malaysian enterprises – PichaEats and Ibupreneur.

A total of 32 women from Malaysia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Myanmar participated in the event, which was held at Sunway University on 7 March 2020.

“International Women's Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women - while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender equality. This year’s theme, #EachforEqual underscores the power of individual roles in creating a gender-equal world,” said Sunway Education Group CEO and Honorary patron of YSBC@SEG Dr Elizabeth Lee.

“We specially designed ‘The Social Kitchen’ as a way to both celebrate these courageous women – some who have lost their homes, their work and some their families, but who did not give up and are finding a way to start over again as well as empower each of them to be part of our socio-economic growth. By equipping them with new skills and understanding business principles, we hope to enable them to generate sustainable incomes for themselves and their families. As outlined in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, empowered women are the foundation of an empowered society,” said Dr Elizabeth Lee.

At the event, Sunway University’s School of Hospitality’s international culinary champions taught the participants their award-winning culinary skills. 2019 World Pastry Cup Champion Chef Patrick Siau Chi Yin taught the participants how to bake mixed-berries butter cakes and cookies. Chef Soon Pau Voon led a cooking workshop and shared his 2020 IKA Culinary Olympics gold-medal roasted chicken and baby carrots recipe. Both chefs were assisted by their culinary students.

After completing the cooking and baking sessions, the participants sat down for lunch together – enjoying the food they had just prepared. Some were joined by their children and supportive husbands.

The lunch was followed by workshops conducted by representatives from two social enterprises – PichaEats and Ibupreneur. PichaEats is a catering service that connects refugees to catering opportunities while Ibupreneur is a catering service that helps B40 women, including stay-at-home-moms and single mothers.

Both organisations shared their experiences in setting up and running social enterprises, provided useful tips on how to work with stakeholders, as well as shared knowledge about the importance of social media marketing, product packaging and communicating with clients. “I learned many skills from the chefs, other participants and the social entrepreneurs. I also made some new friends. Opportunities are very limited for the refugee community and initiatives such as these open up more opportunities for us. I hope to join more workshops like this,” expressed Mozhdeh Qurbani, a refugee from Afghanistan.

“The idea for this event is to share the techniques on how we prepare culinary based products, how we can innovate it further and make it more marketable. We try to teach them what they can do to uplift their business ideas from their homes and everyone seems very happy which makes us happy,” said Chef Patrick Siau.

We were also very happy to learn that the cake and cookie recipe taught by Chef Patrick Siau was introduced to the menu of one of the participating social enterprise - Ibupreneur.

Just a few weeks after the life-skills workshop was hosted, humanity faced the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19. Malaysia along with the rest of the world went on lockdown and in these challenging times, YSBC@SEG's primary focus was to help social enterprises in Malaysia survive the economic impact of the COVID-19.

In such trying times, one of the ways we helped social enterprises and the community was through utilising the social enterprise network of the YSBC@SEG.

We were able to connect Ibupreneur with one of our social enterprise partner – TBN Asia. The partnership with TBN Asia allowed us to support Ibupreneur to get an exhibition booth at the TBN Asia's virtual conference which attracted social business enthusiasts and impact investors around the world. The exhibition spot helped Ibupreneur to showcase their business and attract investors. They were able to connect with other social enterprises, receive guidance, mentorship and legal support from an impact investor to help their social business go forward. YSBC@SEG has collaborated with Ibupreneur and PichaEats to help provide jobs to the participants from the workshop based on the culinary skills they have gained to generate sustainable income.

In many ways, the life-skills workshop transcended beyond its purpose to empower the participants with new skills. It helped to create a bond between YSBC@SEG, the courageous participants and the social enterprises to support each other in times of need which truly epitomizes the essence of social business.