Mobile Food Empowerment – Empowering Youth at Risk Though F&B

Incitement is the implementing agency for the Volunteering International Professionals (VIP) Fellowship Programme 2017, a National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) project monitored and overseen by the National Strategy Unit (NSU) of the Malaysian Ministry of Finance. More information about this collaboration between Incitement and the Malaysian Ministry of Finance can be found here.

The VIP Fellowship programme took place from August 19th till December 17th 2017. During these 4 months, a total of 10 social impact projects were implemented with the help of 50 international professional volunteers, touching the lives of 12,840 beneficiaries.

This is Impact Project 4: Mobile Food Empowerment
This project increased the participation of youth-at-risk from B40 communities by providing them with the necessary skills and working experience to get employed in the F&B sector.

Project location: Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC), Petaling Jaya & Kuala Lumpur Sentral
Host organisation: Masala Wheels
Impact area: Youth at Risk
Website: masalawheels.com, facebook.com/masalawheels


Key project outcomes

  • 60 students graduated from the programme
  • For graduates, the likelihood of being employed increased with 80% on average
  • 2 Standard Operating Procedures were created
  • 1 fundraising activity was successfully organised
  • 3 training modules were created

This Malaysian social enterprise is poised to set a new norm through mobile empowerment. Masala Wheels is the First Social Food Truck in Malaysia, run almost entirely by youth aged 14 to 18 years, who used to be at borderline risk of getting involved in gang related activities, drug abuse, and other illegal pursuits, heading for a life of unemployment, homelessness, or even imprisonment. Masala Wheels was driven to empower the B40 community through its mobile truck and borderless kitchen, and provided training and employment opportunities for B40 youth, equipping them with the skills and experience required to get employed in the F&B sector.

Masala Wheels, with the professional help of the VIP 2017 Fellows, aimed to bring positive social impact to help solve the following societal issues:

  • The youth unemployment rate in Malaysia was estimated to have reached 10.7% in 2015, which was threefold the national unemployment rate of 3.1%.
  • The low income of B40 communities is the leading cause for underprivileged youth to not pursue any form of education.
  • This results in an increment of youth involvement in illegal activities by an estimated 50% every year.

Masala Wheels, with the support of the VIP Fellowship Programme, aimed towards tackling these issues by providing youth-at-risk with a comprehensive capacity building programme, preparing them to receive employment opportunities in the food and beverage industry. The hope is that the youth involved have a higher chance at legal and sufficient income for themselves and their families, and a reduction in their involvement in illegal activities.


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Malaysia’s youth unemployment rate was at 10.7% in 2015, according to the Outlook and Policy 2017 report by Bank Negara Malaysia, which was more than triple of the national unemployment rate. Due to limited high-skilled job creation, job seekers struggle to find employment opportunities that match their educational background. And due to an inadequate supply of industry-ready graduates, employers continue to cite significant skill gaps amongst new recruits. As a result, the gap between employers and job seekers continues to grow. This is the current situation for fresh graduates without any working experience, however, in possession of a degree. If the educated youth already struggle to find jobs, imagine what it is like for youth with no experience or education to find suitable employment. This becomes a seemingly impossible task.

For youth from the B40 community who have never had the resources to further their education, have little to no working experience and who have to continuously overcome the stigma on poverty that to this very day still surrounds them, resorting to illegal activities seems like an easier and more pro table way to survive. This causes more youth, who are already struggling to get by, to cripple themselves even further financially by getting involved in gang activities and drug abuse, straying away only further from the opportunity of ever having stable jobs and income.

Masala Wheels tackled both of these issues. By giving youth an opportunity to gain the skills and experience in the food and beverage sector, this social enterprise both reduced youth unemployment rates, as well as the number of youth who would otherwise be forced into taking illegal measures to sustain themselves, potentially ending up in a world of crime, violence and drug abuse.

“Masala Wheels has been an ongoing programme even before we joined as a Host organisation with the VIP 2017 Programme. However, we’ve always had limited success due to the lack of manpower”, says Chandru, one of the founders of Masala Wheels. One of the success stories was of a bene ciary named Servin, who now has a job at the Grand Seasons Hotel where he earns MYR1,800 a month. It is these kinds of stories that push Masala Wheels to help more youth, and the VIP 2017 Fellows have allowed the organisation to do exactly that. The structured approach developed by the Fellows made Masala Wheels successfully reach out to more beneficiaries with the hope of helping more youth get sustainable jobs and income.

The VIP Programme has been a blessing because it provided the manpower and structure to scale up.

VIP 2017 - Mobile Food Empowerment

The model was simple. By giving hands-on training inside the restaurant, the youth learned how to cook and serve actual customers. During this training programme, the youth gained the skills and experience required to work in the F&B industry, and Masala Wheels earned enough revenue to sustain the programme, to be able to take in a new batch of youth, and continue their impact. “The VIP Programme by the Malaysian Ministry of Finance has been a blessing”, says Masala Wheels co-founder Chandru, “because it provided the manpower and structure to scale up.”

We treat everyone like family at Masala Wheels, so that the youth know that this is not just a place to learn skills, but also their support system.

Masala Wheels focuses not just on teaching their students the skills they need to get employed, but also puts heavy emphasis on long-term behavioural change of the students. “Take Veera, for example,” Chandru continues. “He was living a life of gangsterism. He went to prison for two years. When he came out of prison, without hesitation, Veera wanted to dive back into his life of crime – because it was easy. He didn’t want to change. He didn’t have a vision of his life beyond what he ended up going to prison for in the first place. At this point, having the right skills is useless – what is the point of having skills if you don’t want to use them? That’s why we treat everyone like family at Masala Wheels, so that the youth know that this is not just a place to learn skills, but also their support system, and because he is surrounded by people who support him, who believe in him, Veera now sees a future for himself.”

The VIP 2017 Fellows who worked together with Masala Wheels have an incredible amount of knowledge and relevant experience to share. “With the VIP Fellows we had more ideas and more manpower to implement them, and, due to the professional background of the Fellows, it was easier to assess the needs of our beneficiaries, design better training to build their self-esteem and skill sets. For Masala Wheels as an organisation, we now have a better idea of where we should go next, and how to get there.”

VIP 2017 - Mobile Food Empowerment

Three training modules were added by the Fellows, mostly created by Loreta Pivoriunaite, an International Fellow from Lithuania. The new training modules were specifically designed with the goal of developing life skills of the beneficiaries, and to help them build their confidence and self-esteem.

Elmira Mukhametova, an International Fellow and psychologist from Russia, acted as counsellor and coordinated the practical and motivational workshops with the beneficiaries, helping them with any personal and professional stumbling blocks. At the same time, Alexander Vladimirskiy, an international Fellow and Food & Beverage professional from Azerbaijan, focused on preparing the beneficiaries for jobs in the F&B industry, educating them on the various aspects of running a restaurant business, such as customer service, cooking, stock management and how to run a mobile food truck.

With the professional support of the Fellows and during the four-month duration of the VIP programme, sixty new students enrolled in the Mobile Food Empowerment project by Masala Wheels, of which 80% went on to get employed in the F&B and hospitality industry after successfully completing the programme.

The Fellows also organised a fundraising dinner as well as a closing gala dinner in a successful attempt to raise awareness and raise more funds for the Mobile Food Empowerment project, helping to ensure the project’s continuity. On top of that, the Fellows created two new SOP’s for Masala Wheels in order to optimise the restaurant’s operating efficiency.

For Masala Wheels as an organisation, we now have a better idea of where we should go next, and how to get there.

Chandru’s dream for Masala Wheels is to train twenty youth each month and help them nd jobs in the F&B industry, so they can create sustainable monthly incomes for themselves and their families. He believes it is important that the public perception changes, and that the F&B industry in Malaysia learns to see opportunities in supporting underprivileged youth to earn decent legal incomes. Youth who would otherwise likely turn out to be more of a burden rather than a contributor to Malaysia’s economy and society.

VIP 2017 - Mobile Food Empowerment

Learn more about the VIP 2017 Fellowship Programme: VIP.org.my

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