Single mothers are one of the most adversely affected demographics during the Covid-19 pandemic, says IbuPJ, a non-profit single mothers’ empowerment initiative.
According to a survey done by the Selangor's Women Empowerment Institute, a majority of single mothers in Selangor are earning less than RM3,000 per month. Some 40% of them were also either forced to take unpaid leave, or close down their respective businesses during the second week of the implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO).
"Their sources of income were affected by the pandemic but they still needed to support their families," says Heng Qiao Yi, project director of IbuPJ.
Heng explains that IbuPJ is a new initiative under the Axiata Young CEO Development Programme that aims to empower single mothers living in Petaling Jaya through entrepreneurship. The initial pilot program, which will last for four weeks starting July 2020, aims at helping existing single mother micro-entrepreneurs digitise their business processes and migrate their business online.
"We are collaborating with the NGO Women of Will (WOW), which regularly conducts these kinds of training modules, to help single mothers to develop their businesses," says Heng.
"We are also collaborating with (MBPJ), which will be giving seed funds of up to RM800 to each of these mothers, to help them start their business online or buy raw ingredients or basic items needed to run their businesses."
Heng also highlights that they are collaborating with two e-commerce platforms — Ibupreneur and Carousell, where these single mothers are able to host and promote their products or services online.
Ibupreneur is a social enterprise e-commerce platform specifically for financially dependent and vulnerable mothers. It trains and upskills these women to become micro-entrepreneurs and provides an online marketplace for the single mothers to list their products.
"For Carousell, there will be an advertising banner on the website and app homepage, where customers are able to buy products from IbuPJ. We are also partnering with a local telco provider which will provide them with free internet connectivity throughout the four-week training programme," says Ellis Azhar, vice project director of IbuPJ.
According to Ellis, the four-week programme is limited to only 10 participants, but IbuPJ hopes to expand the scale and scope of the training programme. Single mothers who join this programme can expect to learn both soft and hard skills, such as financial literacy, business planning, digital marketing and branding.
"According to our own research, the type of work suitable for single mothers include baking, or any form of home-cooked food. Some services are popular as well, such as babysitting, house cleaning, or postnatal massages," says Wong Kang Yao, chief technology officer of IbuPJ.
"One of the biggest challenges they face is how to balance their responsibilities of a 9-to-5 job, while caring for their children at home. That is why entrepreneurship and jobs that provide flexibility are much more suitable."
Heng recalls interviewing one single mother who applied to join the programme. The applicant's spouse has passed away, and she had to take odd jobs to support her three children as well as a disabled niece who had lost her guardian.
"So she started selling traditional kueh, cakes and cookies. She went for pastries because it is her passion and also because she could not afford daycare. Selling pastries allowed her to make money while [keeping] an eye on the children."
Wong also highlights that there are plenty of single mother empowerment initiatives in Malaysia. However, most of these programmes are hidden under a larger umbrella of women empowerment in general.
"We wanted to focus on single mothers in particular because, in our opinion, they are the most vulnerable group under the women empowerment sector. We need to give them a higher priority and highlight to the public that this particular community is struggling right now,” says Wong.
"There should be a distinction between a single mother's programme and a general women's empowerment program because single mothers are dealing with issues that are unique to their position. The programme needs to be tailored to their busy work and daily lives and, at the same time, provide an additional means of income."
Heng highlights that ibuPJ is currently only able to assist single mothers with an existing business framework, such as a roadside stall operator or a freelancer, due to resource and time limitations. She hopes to be able to expand the scope of the programme to include single mothers in general after evaluating the success of the pilot programme.
"We have a target of having each single mother increasing their monthly income by 20% to 30% by the end of the program. At the end of the day, we hope to see these mothers having a stable stream of income with sales orders placed beforehand so they can be self-sustainable," says Heng.