Meet The Man Helping Transform Disadvantaged M'sian Women's Lives Through Entrepreneurship

So far, he and his team have transformed the lives of more than 2,400 women from 26 communities in Malaysia.

Cover image via Women Of WIll (Provided to SAYS)

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"It begins in your own community."

This Kofi Annan response when he was asked what people can do to become good global citizens has inspired the people behind Women Of Will (WOW) in their work with disadvantaged women in Malaysia.

A non-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO), WOW works to transform the lives of single mothers, widows, abandoned women, and women with incapacitated husbands. The organisation helps these women, who are living in poverty, struggling to get by day-to-day, through microcredit financing with entrepreneurial development programmes.

Active in the country since 2009, WOW, in an email to SAYS, shared that they have worked to give a new lease of life to the urban poor in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, and Sabah. The group has also helped hundreds of refugees in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Among the thousands of disadvantaged women that WOW has helped empower, many have gone on to start their own small businesses and have gained financial independence. The footing provided to these women has enabled them to care for themselves and their families without having to rely on handouts.

A WOW community leader conducting a baking class for a group of women.

Image via Women Of Will (Provided to SAYS)

And leading the people behind the NGO is 29-year-old Lakshwin Muruga, who works as the WOW chief operating officer (COO)

Lakshwin shared with SAYS that WOW provides B40 women in the country with business capital, training on entrepreneurship, and coaching to support them in developing sustainable and profitable businesses.

According to Lakshwin, WOW works to develop some of these women entrepreneurs into women community leaders who play an active role in supporting the sustainability of their community.

"Together with these women community leaders, WOW has developed a community kitchen, community sewing centre, and community business centre in low-cost flats (PPR), with the aim of financially supporting women entrepreneurs in these communities," he said.

WOW COO Lakshwin Muruga.

Image via Women Of Will (Provided to SAYS)

Lakshwin, who started working with disadvantaged communities during his teen years, has since gained almost a decade of experience through urban and rural communities in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Nepal

An individual who refused to accept the status quo and "norm" of a typical young graduate, the 29-year-old has coached and taught single mothers in Malaysia how to make money in their small business ventures.

Lakshwin told SAYS that he has been part of WOW's core team since the NGO was formerly registered in March 2016 with the Registrar of Societies Malaysia.

Speaking further, Lakshwin shared that WOW has gone on to transform the lives of more than 2,400 women from 26 communities in the country, while developing 59 women community leaders in these communities.

"WOW is currently focused on deepening our impact in the 26 communities that we are active in. This includes developing more women leaders and giving them the resources they need," he said while elaborating on the resources such as training, coaching, funding, connections, etc. to implement projects that can support their fellow community members.

"Furthermore, we're looking at reaching out to more women entrepreneurs to help them in creating sustainable and profitable businesses. This includes expanding our reach to other states such as Kedah," he added.

Lakshwin with a group of women at a farm.

Image via Women Of Will (Provided to SAYS)

Talking about a recent experience that touched his heart, Lakshwin related that the incident involved one of the women who had joined WOW's community sewing centre near a PPR

"Last week we had a team meeting with the tailors [at the community sewing centre] and got everyone to share their challenges and successes. As we went around, we heard stories of new tailors who had just joined the [centre three] months ago and had zero sewing skills when they joined. They joined the [centre] as a way of developing their independence by generating their own income.

"What touched me was how one participant shared that in her first month she had no idea how to even sew a button. By the second month, she was making about RM400, and by the third month, she [doubled it]," Lakshwin told SAYS.

Women taking part in one of the sewing sessions organised by WOW.

Image via Women Of Will (Provided to SAYS)

According to Lakshwin, it was the happiness the woman had on her face while sharing with the group that really moved him and reminded him that those living in low-income communities have the potential and ability to develop themselves and their peers — they just need the right support and resources.

"She was so proud of herself for being able to develop a skill and earn her own income, thanks to her fellow community members who taught her sewing at the centre," Lakshwin added.

The experience was only made warmer, he told us, by the support and encouragement she received from the more senior tailors who advised her to save up to buy her own sewing machine as they did.

Some of the handicrafts made by disadvantaged women supported by WOW.

Image via Women Of Will (Provided to SAYS)

The 29-year-old aims to be in a position where he can make the lives of others better, especially those from low-income communities

Lakshwin, who is a Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) certified trainer with eight years of experience in the training and development industry, as well as a Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) fellow, shared that he would like to further develop his skills so he can be more effective at what he does.

"I would like to understand how I can help create a system/society that allows for more people to play an active role in supporting those who need help," he shared.

Lakshwin conducting a session.

Image via Women Of Will (Provided to SAYS)

How can people help?

While the NGO continues to provide a footing to disadvantaged women in the country, people can also help make their lives a bit better by looking for opportunities to volunteer in local organisations.

"Ideally, look for something that resonates with your own passion and interest, as this ensures the engagement is more sustainable," said Lakshwin.

He added that WOW is also active in rural communities in Keningau, Sabah where they conduct similar programmes focused on agriculture as a source of income.

Group photo of a programme focused on agriculture.

Image via Women Of Will (Provided to SAYS)

All this month, SAYS will be featuring inspiring stories of extraordinary Malaysian changemakers in collaboration with Wiki Impact

Wiki Impact is an online platform dedicated to the impact industry. They share stories and data on issues that matter, highlighting impact-driven organisations and changemakers on the ground. Categories include poverty alleviation, social justice, gender equality, healthcare and education for all, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, impact influencers, and more!

Find out more here.

Image via SAYS

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