Transforming refugees into entrepreneurs one meal at a time

Creating positive change in our community can take many forms. The business model employed by Kuala Lumpur’s innovative Picha Project is a great example of how an impact driven enterprise is changing the lives of refugees in Malaysia by helping them rebuild their lives.

In 2016, Kim Lim, Swee Lin and Suzanne Ling decided to take action, one family at a time.  Together the trio co-founded The Picha Project – an innovative food business offering home-cooked food prepared by the refugees themselves. The business is based on the premise that each family deserves a chance to rebuild their lives, regain their dignity and provide for their family through their own hard work.

The Picha Project has one simple mission: to serve great food and at the same time provide an opportunity for refugees in Malaysia to start a new life. Their ethos is that “Together, we can offer comfort of their past, support their present and be an investor in their future.”

picha project food - Happy Go KL

To date 15 families from Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Palestine and Syria prepare the food. They have collectively cooked more than 90,000 meals from box sets and dinner parties to catering for large scale events for corporates such as Bank Negara and TalentCorp.

Picha’s story

Delicacies from the homeland of their chefs include Iraqi falafel, Palestinian hummus, Afghani dumplings and Syrian sweets – all made with authenticity and love. Through the business more than 80 individuals have transformed from refugee to entrepreneur and 100% of their children are in school.  This includes six-year old Picha, after whom the business was named. Picha is the youngest son of the first refugee family who joined the social enterprise and his mother has been involved from the outset.

Suzanne Ling explains, “Picha is a child full of happiness, positivity and initiative, we see potential in him to grow into an individual who can achieve great things in life. However, when the harsh reality kicks in, Picha will most probably be limited from getting access to various basic needs due to his status and background as he grows up, such as education, healthcare and job opportunities. The Picha Project aims to make a difference in his life and that of his family, and families like his”.

picha project order online - Happy Go KL

She continues, “Picha and his family are only a small part of the 168,000 other refugees in Malaysia. Naming our social enterprise after him is a constant reminder for us to continuously strive and work towards creating a better Malaysia, where marginalised groups will be included in the society and economy of the country. The Picha Project will always strive for the future of Picha, and for more families like Picha’s.”

Suzanne recently shared some of The Picha Project’s stories, like Picha’s family, of refugees turned entrepreneur, with a group of Grade 8 students at The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL). For the students who were studying “Advocating for Dignity”, a social studies unit based around migration, Suzanne’s presentation and The Picha Project lunch provided afterwards offered a powerful learning experience aligned with the school’s service learning programme, which encourages students to look for opportunities to take action and make a difference in the world around them. Suzanne’s insights also created a tangible connection for students between classroom learning, the real-life experiences of refugees and the direct impact of an enterprising community service initiative.

Picha Project - Happy Go KL

The question Suzanne asked ISKL’s students, “How can you be YOU and make a change in the world?” is also a question that resonates with all of us fortunate to be here in Malaysia either as a resident or expatriate.  For each of us, taking action and helping to make change can be something as simple and easy as supporting a local initiative such as The Picha Project. So, the next time you have a party or need catering please check out their menu. Quite simply, as they put food on your table, you put food on theirs.

Go to Picha Project’s website here


About ISKL

Established in 1965, The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) has become known as a center of excellence in the world of international education. ISKL is a co-educational, private, not-for-profit school responsible for the learning journey of over 1,700 students aged 3-18 years from more than 60 countries at its state-of-the-art campus in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.  

ISKL offers a robust international curriculum which combines leading North American educational frameworks with global best practice.  The curriculum recognizes that students are on a lifelong learning journey and is driven by ISKL’s mission to challenge each student to “Be All You Are” and develop the attitudes, skills, knowledge, and understanding to become a highly successful, spirited, socially responsible global citizen.

ISKL is an IB World School and has been authorized by the International Baccalaureate Organization to provide the prestigious International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) since 1989. In addition to the full IBDP, students also have the option of combining individual IB, Advanced Placement and High School Diploma courses to create a customized program tailored to their abilities, interests, and aspirations. The flexibility of ISKL’s academic program creates global opportunities; last academic year over 160 graduating students representing 48 different nationalities received acceptances from over 400 universities in 26 countries spanning 5 continents.

ISKL is accredited internationally through the Council of International Schools (CIS), and in the United States through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). ISKL has a strong focus on service and sustainability across its divisions and is a member of the Eco-Schools organization and the Green Schools Alliance.

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