Malaysia launches grants for small businesses to combat unemployment and income inequality.

ByYasmeeta Oon

Jan 29, 2024

Ahmad Iskandar, a dynamic entrepreneur, embarked on a unique journey in the world of coffee by launching a modest grab-and-go coffee stall at the National University of Malaysia (UKM) earlier this year. His venture, Monti Keopi, represents a fusion of South Korean and Italian coffee traditions, serving beans imported from the lush fields of Indonesia’s Aceh province. This innovative combination quickly resonated with the university’s student body, turning his pop-up shop into a campus sensation.

Expansion and Entrepreneurial Training Challenges

This initial success was bolstered by a government grant from the i-Tekad micropreneurship program, enabling Ahmad to expand his operations to five additional locations across various Malaysian universities. His business model not only focuses on offering quality coffee but also plays a pivotal role in nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit among Malaysian youth.

The Struggle to Cultivate Young Entrepreneurs

Training undergraduates to follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps, however, has been more challenging than Ahmad initially anticipated. Despite his active recruitment and training of baristas, imparting not just the art of brewing coffee but also the skills necessary for starting and running a business, he found that only a handful of trainees pursued entrepreneurship. Ahmad observed that out of every ten participants he mentors, typically only one takes the bold step of becoming a business owner.

Impact of SMEs and Government Initiatives in Malaysia

The broader context of Ahmad’s venture is the critical role of Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia’s economy. SMEs, comprising over 97% of the nation’s businesses and contributing to 38% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), are predominantly micro-enterprises. The government, recognizing this, has introduced initiatives like i-Tekad to encourage more Malaysians to establish small businesses, thereby mitigating unemployment and contributing to economic growth.

Challenges in Accessing Resources and Need for Targeted Support

Despite these efforts, the road to accessing these resources remains fraught with challenges for many aspiring entrepreneurs. They argue for more demographically tailored programs. Ms. Maziah Kamarulzaman, a partner at Coffee Classic, another pop-up chain, suggests that the government should introduce grants specifically for recent graduates struggling to find employment and for older individuals like herself. Her husband, Mr. Mohd Azmi Kamarulzaman, who co-manages their business, echoes the need for a more straightforward and transparent grant application process.

The Path Forward: Fostering Skilled Workforce and Economic Growth

The necessity for more targeted and result-oriented assistance is underscored by the struggles faced by small businesses amid escalating costs and diminishing consumer purchasing power. Economists, including Dr. Noor Azlan Ghazali, director of the Malaysian Inclusive Development and Advancement Institute, emphasize the importance of directing support to those who can genuinely leverage it for growth, rather than merely based on financial need. Dr. Ghazali also expresses concern about the increasing income and growth disparities among Malaysia’s states, highlighting the need for effective, equitable economic strategies.

In conclusion, Ahmad Iskandar’s journey from a small coffee stall at UKM to multiple outlets across Malaysian universities is not just a story of personal success. It’s a testament to the transformative power of entrepreneurship and the critical role of government support in nurturing this spirit. His experience highlights both the challenges and opportunities in cultivating a new generation of entrepreneurs, essential for driving economic growth and reducing disparities in Malaysia. As the nation moves forward, the focus on more targeted, inclusive, and strategic support will be crucial in realizing its economic potential and ensuring equitable prosperity for all its citizens.

Featured Image courtesy of DALL-E by ChatGPT

Yasmeeta Oon

Just a girl trying to break into the world of journalism, constantly on the hunt for the next big story to share.