PichaEats is a remarkable social enterprise that works with refugee chefs hailing from across the Middle East. In this episode of #PrestigeBizTalks, co-founder Suzanne Ling talks about the journey of PichaEats in creating opportunities for social advocacy, justice and awareness.
The brand was born in 2016 out of charitable intentions by founders Kim, Swee Lin, and Suzanne, who were then studying in university while spending weekends volunteering with refugee children. Upon learning that many of the children had to work to support their families, and that there were many mother’s who were also incredible chefs, the idea for a social enterprise soon turned into a plan in motion.
Their first customers were classmates, who Suzanne is grateful to for their support. She recalls how they resonated with the purpose of PichaEats, “knowing that this meal that they eat — that they have to eat anyway — is helping someone else”.
PichaEats works with 17 home chefs from Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq who share their cuisines through home-cooked meals. Each of these meals also come with a note that contains the chef’s personal story. So while the chefs are able to earn a steady income, PichaEats is also a vehicle to ultimately, create more awareness for the issues refugees in Malaysia have and are facing.
Suzanne describes these initiatives as a reminder that we can all be helpful in our own little ways. “Sometimes we think that we want to do something, but we can’t because we are not Mother Teresa, we are not Nelson Mandela, and we just go on with our lives and do nothing,” she remarks. “But this sentence: ‘how can you be you and make a change?’ is so powerful because I can be a business person and make a change in my own way.”
The pandemic posed a big problem for the social enterprise where 70% of its sales came from catering. Thankfully, its founders found ways to get creative and serve its charitable core purpose, including a frozen meals and a Facebook cook show, and an initiative called the Zaza movement, named after a Picha chef named Zaza who passed away in 2017.
Through public donations of any amount, PichaEats chefs were able to carry on cooking meals that would feed communities in need. “Within two months, we gave out about 25,000 meals, and the sales that the Picha chefs got from the Zaza movement actually lasted them for three months to cover rental when it was really tough.”
The latest initiative from PichaEats forays into graphic design, called Zucchini & Co. This venture spotlights the younger members of the refugee communities with a knack for art and graphic design. With social media’s growing popularity and crucial role for almost all businesses, comes a demand for marketing collateral like digital posts and stories.
“So if there are companies who need social media help, and there are refugee teens who can become designers, why not we match that?” she suggests, adding that your marketing dollars can also now make a change.
And finally, the co-founder shares her advice for other entrepreneurs out there. “There’s definitely an initial ‘why’ that sparked you to go into this (business), and I think when things get tough, when there are challenges, it’s always important to remember the ‘why’, and that will drive you forward.”
Videography & main photo: Hans Media
Special thanks: 8 Conlay, KSK Land
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