CEO & Co-founder of PurelyB
PurelyB is on a mission to transform lives. When the company was first established in 2015, the objective was to do this by providing health education with a focus on Asian traditions in wellness. In doing so, it would also promote the idea of sustainable healthy living for urbanites who weren’t familiar with these methods.
Now the mission to transform lives has expanded to create opportunities for marginalised communities through the creation of jobs while still preserving local herbs and wellness.
“We’ve expanded our social impact initiatives to help communities, especially single mothers who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet,” says Raja Jesrina Arshad, CEO and co-founder of PurelyB, which is a social enterprise registered with the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC).
“We have expanded our social impact initiatives beyond just working with marginalised farmers in the harvesting of our herbs,” the CEO writes in her 2021 updates to investors. “But now to also train and employ marginalised communities to be able to sell our products and spread good health in an affordable and sustainable way.”
The company’s social mission is aligned to five UN Sustainable Development Goals – no poverty, good health and well-being, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and responsible consumption and production.
The idea to expand the company’s social mission to empower the lives of women began more than two years ago. Through conversations with PurelyB’s herbalist Hameedah Hamid who comes from Narathiwat, Thailand, the idea of doing something to help the community from her village was formed. The villagers were impoverished and received little help from the Thai government. When visiting the area, Jesrina discovered that the only source of water was from a well that had been built through funds sent by Hameedah, earned through her work as a massage therapist and mid-wife.
“It was a real eye-opener,” recalls Jesrina, of her visit. “I could see that a lot of women were affected and a lot of them were single women. I wanted to help and I could see that we could help by doing this together.”
That resulted in the creation of the product Pegaga by PurelyB, which was made using the herbs that were cultivated by the villagers from Narathiwat.
“We started with a small plot of land and then trained them to grow these herbs,” she says. “For Kak Ida (Hameedah) it wasn’t just about making money but about helping people and we believed that we should have that same purpose.”
That’s when the inclusion of women as part of the company’s social mission began. When the product was launched, Jesrina described the herbs as being, “part of women’s traditions for many generations.” Thus, the best way to produce these herbs was by “working directly with the women that know them best and have relied on them for many years.”
The mission has, however, since evolved. There were limits, she says, as to how much they could help women purely through farming.
“We are a small business,” she explains. “We are limited in terms of capacity and in terms of how many women we can employ, how much farmland we can have and how much production we can do.”
That prompted the team to start thinking about how else they could help women, particularly those who have been affected adversely by the pandemic.
“If they are single mothers, how are they earning to put food on the table?” she thought. It was also at that point that they started receiving requests by women who were keen to sell their product.
“Some of them had not even tried our product but they believed in it because of Pegaga and the herbs in it. We saw this as an opportunity to help more women.”
Hence, in 2020, the decision was made to take things further with the development of the PurelyB Empowerment Agent Programme. While contemplating the use of agents, the question of whether they would be able to sell the products in this digital age also arose.
“Some of them had old-school skills in terms of selling but we felt that we could train them in digital marketing,” she explains. “So later on if they want to create their own product, they can use these skills to do that. We can empower and upskill them so that they are not just limited to selling PurelyB products. For us, it became about making a difference and not just about selling our products.”
They then reached out to organisations like Ibupreneur and The Family Wellness Club, to connect with single mothers and marginalised women who were keen to boost their income through participating in this empowerment initiative. Interestingly, the workshop conducted with The Family Wellness Club in Ipoh, also attracted a couple of retirees as well who were also interested in learning how they could boost their income. That meant they were also able to engage with the elderly too.
The initiative has had its challenges, Jesrina admits, particularly since the country went into lockdown soon after the workshop that was held a year ago. The ensuing restrictions have prevented similar face to face workshops from being conducted. Nonetheless, a digital session was held with members of Ibupreneur recently.
“I loved seeing the response,” she says. “There were so many great questions that ranged from the product to health.”
It is still “early stages” for the empowerment programme but Jesrina is content that there is an initiative in place that can help women learn new skills.
“I hope it can translate to them being able to use these skills for more than just selling PurelyB products,” she states. “But for now, it helps to have our products because a lot of women can’t afford the raw materials to make their own products.”
Through the workshops, Jesrina has had the opportunity to meet many women and have conversations that have solidified the social mission.
“There are so many stories of women who have lost their jobs and are selling kuih and biscuits to make a living. But it is hard and they make less than a certain amount each month,” she says. “Just hearing these stories, I feel that I want to help. I am not sure how much of a difference it would make but I hope that it is a channel to earn income. I am here to provide training, support and guidance.”