Transforming Refugees into Entrepreneurs One Meal at a Time!

Effecting positive change in our community can take many forms and the business model employed by Kuala Lumpur’s, innovative The 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.”

To date 15 families from Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Palestine and, Syria prepare the food and 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. Delicacies from the homeland of their chefs include Iraqi Falafel, Palestinian hummus, Afghani dumplings and, Syrian sweets are 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 their 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”.

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 marginalized 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 was a powerful learning experience aligned with the school’s service learning program 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.


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. www.pichaproject.com