More than 160,000 refugees and asylum-seekers are registered in Malaysia — but because the country isn’t part of the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, those refugees lack access to basic needs and legal employment. It’s a situation that didn’t sit well with Kim Lim, Lee Sweelin and Suzanne Ling. So three years ago, the Kuala Lumpur trio began a social enterprise called Picha Eats to, as they say, “rebuild lives through food.” Why the name “Picha”? Picha, now age 6, is the youngest son of the first family to join the project.
The concept is simple: Refugee mothers from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq cook the food they know and love, and Picha Eats markets and delivers it to the public — from small meal-box deliveries to catering events for up to 1,000 people. For every purchase made, 50 percent of the sales go to the chef, who covers the cost of raw ingredients and uses the rest for basic living expenses. The other 50 percent goes to Picha Eats, which handles packaging, transportation, operations and reinvestments back into the business.
In 2018, Forbes magazine recognized Lim, Sweelin and Ling on its “30 Under 30” list of Asian social entrepreneurs. But their true success comes to life in other numbers: Since 2016, 14 other refugee families have joined young Picha’s family in making a sustainable living through cooking nearly 100,000 meals.