Social Enterprise 101:
Your Guide to Impactful Business in Malaysia

Welcome to the world of social enterprises, where business meets social good.

This guide will take you on a journey through the concept of social enterprises, both globally and right here in Malaysia. 

Whether you're a budding entrepreneur, a student, or simply curious, this article will help you understand how businesses are turning profits into positive social impacts.

What Is A Social Enterprise?

A social enterprise is a business designed to address social problems while still making a profit.

Unlike traditional businesses focused solely on financial gains, these organizations balance their economic activities with a commitment to social impact.

They operate in various sectors such as healthcare, education, and environmental sustainability, applying commercial strategies to benefit society.

The Global Impact of Social Enterprises

Social enterprises are making significant strides on the global stage, reshaping how we think about success in business. They contribute to social and economic development by providing innovative solutions to persistent problems.

In developed countries, they improve social inclusion and community health, while in developing nations, they are often pivotal in creating jobs and enhancing local services.

The global community increasingly recognizes their value in achieving sustainable development goals, demonstrating that profit and social good can go hand-in-hand.

Understanding Social Enterprises in Malaysia

The landscape of social enterprises in Malaysia is both vibrant and diverse, reflecting a growing recognition of their role in sustainable development and social welfare.

The Growth of Social Enterprise in Malaysia

In Malaysia, the social enterprise sector is rapidly expanding, receiving substantial support from both the government and various organizations.

The Ministry of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives (MEDAC) recently reported that there are 414 registered social enterprises, collectively generating a turnover of RM100 million, significantly contributing to employment and social impact.

The Malaysian government has set ambitious targets to increase the number of registered social enterprises to 5,000 by 2025 and ultimately to 10,000 by 2030. This goal is part of the broader Social Enterprise Action Framework 2030 (SEMy2030), launched in 2022. The framework outlines five strategic thrusts, 20 strategies, and 45 initiatives designed to foster a supportive ecosystem for social enterprises.

Key initiatives include the Social Enterprise Accreditation (SE.A) program, which provides recognition and numerous benefits to accredited social enterprises, helping them attract talent, gain visibility, and access capacity-building programs.

Additionally, SEMy2030 introduces an "Aspiring SE" tier to lower entry barriers for new social enterprises. This tier requires enterprises to generate at least 10% of their revenue from business transactions and allocate 10% of their profits to social or environmental goals, encouraging more entrepreneurs to enter the social enterprise space and contributing to the sector's growth and sustainability.

Key Players in the Malaysian Social Enterprise Scene

Several social enterprises in Malaysia have become notable for their significant impact:

  • Komuniti Tukang Jahit: Empowers local women by providing them with sewing jobs, helping them achieve financial independence while supporting traditional crafts.
  • GOLD: Focuses on educational programs for disadvantaged youth, offering skills training and personal development courses.
  • Picha: Aims to improve the lives of refugees in Malaysia through a catering business that showcases their culinary skills.
  • Dapurku: Promotes healthy and affordable eating by providing cooking classes and nutritional education in underserved communities.
  • Masala Wheels: A food-based enterprise that uses a portion of its profits to fund meals and training for the homeless
  • Works to preserve indigenous crafts by connecting native artists with global markets.
  • Ibupreneur: Supports single mothers through micro-loaning and business development training.
  • Tanoti: Preserves and promotes the traditional craft of handwoven textiles, providing employment and skills training to rural women.
  • EarthHEIR: Combines luxury craftsmanship with ethical practices, focusing on fair trade and environmentally sustainable products.

These organizations represent a broader trend of enterprises that are not just business-savvy but are deeply committed to ethical practices and social betterment.

Their work spans across various sectors including education, healthcare, waste management, and cultural preservation, showcasing the versatility and impact of social enterprises in the Malaysian economy.

Government Policies Supporting Social Enterprises

In addition to broad policies and incentives, the Malaysian government also provides direct financial support through grants specifically designed for social enterprises.

These grants are aimed at helping these businesses overcome initial capital challenges, fund innovative projects, and achieve sustainable growth. Here are some key grant programs:

  • Youth Social Business Challenge Grant: Offered by the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), this grant supports young entrepreneurs who wish to solve social problems through innovative business solutions. It provides not only funding but also mentorship and training to help these young leaders build viable and impactful businesses.
  • Social Enterprise Enhancement Programme (SEEP): Managed by the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC), SEEP aims to enhance the capabilities and amplify the impact of existing social enterprises. The program offers a combination of grant funding and capacity-building workshops, ensuring that recipients are well-equipped to scale their operations and deepen their social impact.
  • Innovation for Social Impact Partnership Grants: Funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), these grants support projects that leverage technology and innovation to address social issues. The focus is on scalable and sustainable social enterprise models that can effectively contribute to Malaysia’s development goals.
  • Impact-Driven Enterprise Accreditation (IDEA): This initiative provides accredited social enterprises with access to funding and investment opportunities, capacity building, and market access. While not a grant per se, IDEA acts as a facilitator for enterprises to receive financial support from various sources, enhancing their credibility and attractiveness to potential investors.

These grants and programs reflect a targeted approach by the Malaysian government to nurture and sustain the social enterprise sector.

By providing financial assistance and developmental resources, these initiatives help ensure that social enterprises can continue to innovate and expand their positive impact on society.

Social Enterprise Business Plan

Starting a social enterprise in Malaysia involves understanding both the entrepreneurial and legal landscapes. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate these waters.

Steps To Launch A Social Enterprise 

Step 1.

Identify Your Social Mission

Define a clear social objective that addresses a specific issue in your community or sector. Whether it's improving education, reducing environmental impact, or providing employment, your mission is the foundation of your enterprise.

Step 2.

Market Research

Conduct thorough research to understand the needs of your target community and the existing market. This will help you design products or services that are both impactful and sustainable.

Step 3.

Business Model Development

Choose a business model that aligns with your social goals and ensures financial viability. Consider how you will generate revenue while fulfilling your social objectives.

Step 4.

Assemble a Team

Build a team that shares your vision and possesses diverse skills necessary for the success of your enterprise. Include roles focused on both business management and social impact.

Step 5.

Funding and Resources

Secure initial funding through grants, investments, or loans. Utilize government and non-governmental programs that support social enterprises in Malaysia.

Step 6.

Launch Your Operations

Start your operations with a clear plan for scaling both your impact and business activities. Focus on building partnerships and networks that can support your growth.

Step 7.

Measure Impact

Develop a framework for measuring the social impact of your enterprise. This will not only help you assess your effectiveness but also attract further support and funding.

Legal Framework and Registration

Understanding the legalities of starting a social enterprise in Malaysia is crucial for compliance and sustainability:

  • Choose the Right Legal Structure: Decide whether your social enterprise will be registered as a Company Limited by Guarantee, a Foundation, or a Social Enterprise Company (Sendirian Berhad). Each has different implications for governance, tax, and fundraising activities.
  • Registration: Register your enterprise with the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM). As of recent policies, you can also seek social enterprise accreditation through MaGIC, which provides additional benefits.
  • Compliance with Malaysian Law: Ensure that your enterprise complies with local laws regarding employment, safety, and business operations. This includes obtaining necessary licenses and permits, depending on your business activities.
  • Intellectual Property: Protect your branding and proprietary methods by registering trademarks and copyrights as necessary.
  • Data Protection: Adhere to Malaysia’s Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) if you collect, use, or store personal data.

By following these steps and understanding the legal requirements, you can set up a social enterprise in Malaysia that is not only legally compliant but also primed for making a significant social impact.

Social Enterprise Business Model

Navigating the financial landscape is crucial for the sustainability of any enterprise, and social enterprises are no exception.

Understanding the right business models and securing funding are pivotal steps toward ensuring long-term impact and success.

Understanding the Business Model

Social enterprises can adopt various business models, each tailored to balance social goals with financial sustainability. Here’s a look at some common models:

  • Product Sales Model This model involves selling products that align with the social mission. For instance, selling eco-friendly products or artisan-made goods to support community development.

Example: EarthHEIR

Earth Heir crafts luxury accessories that celebrate traditional artisan techniques. Each purchase helps sustain the livelihoods of artisans across Malaysia, supporting fair trade practices and cultural preservation.

  • Service Provision Model: Social enterprises under this model provide services such as education, healthcare, or consulting, where the revenue from paying clients supports the subsidization of services for those who cannot afford them.

Example: Masala Wheels

A social enterprise that leverages the food and beverage industry to empower at-risk youths through culinary and entrepreneurship training. They provide catering services, and revenues are reinvested into their social programs.

  • Employment Model: Here, the enterprise provides employment opportunities to marginalized groups. The business activities directly support these jobs, which not only provide income but also skills training.

Example: Komuniti Tukang Jahit

This social enterprise empowers underprivileged women by offering them employment opportunities as seamstresses. This model not only provides a stable income but also enhances their skills, boosting their long-term employability and self-reliance.

  • Fee-for-Service Model: Common among NGOs that transition into social enterprises, this model charges a fee for services to sustain operations without depending solely on donations.

Example: Dialogue in the Dark (Malaysia)

Dialogue in the Dark offers immersive experiences that simulate the daily lives of visually impaired individuals. Participants pay to go through these experiences, and the revenue supports training and employment opportunities for visually impaired guides and staff.

  • Cross-Subsidization Model: This involves operating a profitable business line that subsidizes a social impact initiative, allowing for financial independence and sustainability.

Example: EPIC Homes

Epic Homes builds homes for underprivileged communities, particularly the Orang Asli in Malaysia. The funds for these projects are generated through corporate team-building programs and workshops, where companies pay to participate in the home-building process, thus cross-subsidizing the construction of homes for those in need.

Selecting the right model depends on the enterprise’s mission, the needs of the target community, and market dynamics.

Funding Opportunities and Financial Management

Selecting the right model depends on the enterprise’s mission, the needs of the target community, and market dynamics.

  • Grants: Several nonprofits, government bodies, and international organizations offer grants specifically for social enterprises. These grants provide crucial non-repayable funding that can support various stages of development.
  • Impact Investments: Investors are increasingly interested in putting their money where it can create social as well as financial returns. Impact investing is a significant source of funds for enterprises with scalable models.
  • Crowdfunding: Leveraging platforms like PitchIn or Mystartr allows social enterprises to gather small amounts of money from a large number of people, often facilitated by compelling storytelling and the social impact of the project.
  • Debt Financing: Loans from social banks or microfinance institutions that offer more favorable terms for social enterprises, including lower interest rates and flexible repayment terms.

Financial Management Strategies

  • Budgeting: Effective budgeting ensures that resources are allocated efficiently, focusing on key areas of impact and business growth.
  • Cash Flow Management: Maintaining a healthy cash flow is critical, especially since social enterprises often have uneven income streams.
  • Financial Reporting: Regular, transparent reporting helps maintain trust with stakeholders and supports decision-making.

Understanding these models and strategies is essential for anyone looking to start or sustain a social enterprise in Malaysia or elsewhere.

Proper financial planning and management not only safeguard the business's health but also ensure that the social mission remains achievable and impactful.

Successful Social Enterprise Examples

Inspiring Local Success Stories

Komuniti Tukang Jahit

Komuniti Tukang Jahit empowers underprivileged women by offering them employment opportunities as seamstresses. This model provides stable income and enhances their skills, boosting long-term employability and self-reliance.

A significant achievement of Komuniti Tukang Jahit is their collaboration with major corporations like AirAsia and Maybank, producing corporate merchandise and uniforms, which has significantly increased their market reach and provided stable contracts for their seamstresses.

Earth Heir

This social enterprise crafts luxury accessories that celebrate traditional artisan techniques. Earth Heir supports community development by ensuring fair trade practices and sustaining the livelihoods of artisans across Malaysia.

Notably, they have partnered with over 100 artisans from various communities, providing them with a platform to sell their handcrafted goods internationally, thereby preserving cultural heritage and improving economic conditions.


PichaEats provides catering services prepared by refugee chefs, offering authentic cuisines from their home countries. The revenue generated supports the livelihoods of these refugee families.

A notable success of PichaEats is their impact on over 15,000 customers, providing more than 200,000 meals and significantly improving the economic conditions of refugee families by providing them with a sustainable source of income and integration into the local community.

Masala Wheels

Leveraging the food and beverage industry, Masala Wheels empowers at-risk youths through culinary and entrepreneurship training. Their catering services generate revenue, which is reinvested into social programs that help these youths build better futures.

A notable success includes their partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has enabled them to provide consistent support and training to refugee youths, helping them gain valuable skills and secure stable employment.

Dialogue in the Dark (Malaysia)

This unique social enterprise provides immersive experiences that simulate the daily lives of visually impaired individuals. Participants pay for these experiences, and the revenue supports training and employment opportunities for visually impaired guides and staff, promoting inclusion and awareness.

A notable success is their impact on over 10,000 participants who have gained a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the visually impaired, leading to greater community empathy and support for inclusive policies.

EPIC Homes

EPIC Homes builds homes for underprivileged communities, particularly the Orang Asli in Malaysia. They generate funds through corporate team-building programs and workshops, where companies pay to participate in home-building, thus cross-subsidizing the construction of homes for those in need.

A remarkable achievement is their completion of over 50 homes, directly improving the living conditions of more than 250 Orang Asli individuals and fostering a sense of community through their inclusive building projects.

Keys to Success in Social Enterprise

Based on the journeys of both successful and less successful social enterprises, several key factors emerge that are critical for success

  • Market Fit and Community Involvement: The most successful social enterprises deeply understand and continuously engage with the communities they aim to serve. Tailoring services and products to meet the real needs of these communities is crucial.
  • Robust Financial Planning: Having a clear and adaptable financial model that supports both the social mission and sustainability is essential. This includes diversified funding streams to buffer against financial downturns.
  • Adaptability to Change: The ability to pivot in response to changing market conditions, feedback, and internal challenges is a significant driver of success. Social enterprises that remain flexible and open to innovation tend to navigate obstacles more effectively.
  • Strong Partnerships and Networks: Building strong relationships with other organizations, government bodies, and the private sector can provide social enterprises with additional resources, knowledge, and market opportunities.
  • Transparent Operations and Impact Measurement: Demonstrating clear and measurable impact not only boosts credibility but also helps in attracting further support from investors, partners, and the public. Regular, transparent reporting is key.

Challenges and Opportunities

Common Challenges Faced by Social Enterprises in Malaysia

Operating a social enterprise in Malaysia comes with its unique set of challenges. Here are some of the most common hurdles and strategies to overcome them:

  • Funding Limitations: Many social enterprises struggle to secure consistent and adequate funding. Overcoming this involves diversifying funding sources through a mix of grants, impact investments, and revenue from sales or services.
  • Public Awareness and Understanding: There's often a lack of understanding about what social enterprises are and the value they provide. Enhancing public engagement through educational campaigns and active social media presence can help increase visibility and support.
  • Regulatory Hurdles: Navigating the legal and regulatory framework can be daunting. Partnering with legal experts and other experienced organizations can provide the necessary guidance and advocacy to manage these challenges.
  • Talent Acquisition and Retention: Attracting and retaining the right talent, especially in fields where profit margins are low, can be difficult. Offering non-financial benefits, such as a sense of purpose and community impact, can enhance employee engagement and loyalty.
  • Scalability and Impact Measurement: Scaling operations while maintaining or increasing social impact is a significant challenge. Implementing robust impact measurement tools and adapting business models for scalability are critical for sustainable growth.

Future Trends and Opportunities in Social Enterprise

The landscape of social enterprises in Malaysia is evolving, with several trends and opportunities emerging:

  • Increased Government Support: As the government continues to recognize the importance of social enterprises, more supportive policies and incentives can be expected, providing a more conducive environment for growth.
  • Rising Interest in Impact Investing: There's a growing global trend of impact investing, with investors looking to fund enterprises that offer both financial returns and social impact. Malaysian social enterprises are likely to benefit from this shift.
  • Technological Advancements: Leveraging technology, especially in areas like fintech, edtech, and healthtech, presents significant opportunities for social enterprises to expand their reach and efficiency
  • Collaboration with Traditional Businesses: Partnerships between social enterprises and traditional businesses are becoming more common. These collaborations can help social enterprises scale their operations and traditional businesses enhance their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
  • Focus on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): With the United Nations' SDGs gaining traction globally, social enterprises that align their missions with these goals can access international support and funding, positioning themselves as key players in global development initiatives.

How to Engage with Social Enterprises

Engaging with social enterprises can be rewarding, not just in terms of the products or services you receive, but also in the social impact that your engagement helps create.

Here are practical ways for both consumers and businesses to get involved.

For Consumers: How to Support Local Social Enterprises

Supporting local social enterprises can be a powerful way for consumers to contribute to their communities. Here are several ways to do this:

  • Purchase Products and Services: One of the most direct ways to support social enterprises is by purchasing their products or services. Look for labels or certifications that identify a business as a social enterprise.
  • Spread the Word: Use your social media platforms and community influence to promote social enterprises. Sharing their stories and the quality of their products or services can attract more customers.
  • Participate in Events: Many social enterprises host community events, workshops, or talks to raise awareness about their cause. Participating in these events can deepen your understanding of their impact.
  • Provide Feedback: Constructive feedback can help social enterprises improve their offerings. Engaging with them through feedback shows that you care about their growth and success.
  • Volunteer: Some social enterprises welcome volunteers. This can be a way to directly contribute to their operations and social impact.

For Businesses: Collaborating with Social Enterprises

For businesses, partnering with social enterprises can enhance their corporate social responsibility (CSR) profile and bring fresh perspectives into their operations. Here’s how businesses can collaborate:

  • Supplier Diversity: Incorporate social enterprises into your supply chain. This not only supports the social enterprise but can also bring innovation and diversity to your product offerings.
  • Joint Ventures and Partnerships: Collaborate on specific projects or initiatives. This can include joint marketing campaigns or co-developing products/services that leverage each partner's strengths.
  • Corporate Sponsorships: Support social enterprises through sponsorships which can help fund their operations or specific projects. This type of support is often publicized, reflecting positively on your company’s commitment to social impact.
  • Corporate Sponsorships: Support social enterprises through sponsorships which can help fund their operations or specific projects. This type of support is often publicized, reflecting positively on your company’s commitment to social impact.
  • Investment: Consider investing directly in social enterprises as part of your investment portfolio. This not only provides crucial capital but also aligns your business with impactful, sustainable ventures.

The Path Forward for Social Enterprises in Malaysia

As we've seen throughout this exploration, social enterprises in Malaysia are not just businesses; they are catalysts for societal change.

With their unique blend of entrepreneurial spirit and social consciousness, they tackle a range of pressing issues from poverty and education to environmental sustainability.

The potential impacts of these enterprises are profound. By focusing on both social objectives and sustainable business practices, social enterprises in Malaysia are positioned to create meaningful, long-lasting change.

They promote inclusive economic growth, enhance community well-being, and contribute to the broader goals of sustainable development.

Looking ahead, the road for social enterprises in Malaysia is promising but requires continued support and innovation.

The growth of this sector will depend on several key factors:

  • Enhanced Public Awareness: Increasing understanding and support among the general population is crucial. As more people recognize the value of social enterprises, consumer demand and community engagement will rise.
  • Robust Government and Institutional Support: Continued and expanded support from government programs and private institutions can provide the necessary resources and environment for social enterprises to flourish.
  • Innovation and Adaptation: Staying responsive to technological advancements and changing market dynamics will be essential. Social enterprises that innovate and adapt effectively will be able to scale their impact and reach.
  • Stronger Networks and Partnerships: Collaboration among social enterprises and with traditional businesses will be vital. These partnerships can amplify impact, share resources, and enhance sustainability.

As Malaysia continues to nurture its social enterprise ecosystem, these businesses are well-positioned to lead by example, demonstrating that it is indeed possible to do well by doing good.

The journey ahead is full of opportunities, and with the right support and collaboration, social enterprises can drive a new era of development that is both inclusive and sustainable.

Social Enterprise FAQs

As being one of the pioneers in the social enterprise scene in Malaysia, we've tried to include as much as we can in this guide.

In case we've missed any, here are some commonly asked questions when it comes to social enterprises in Malaysia:

What is a social enterprise?

A social enterprise is a business that operates to address social issues with a model that aims for financial sustainability and social impact. Its primary goal is to promote, encourage, and make social change.

How do social enterprises differ from traditional businesses?

Unlike traditional businesses that prioritize profit maximization, social enterprises focus on achieving social objectives while still maintaining financial viability. Profits are often reinvested into the community or towards their social mission.

What are some examples of social enterprises in Malaysia?

Examples include Earth Heir, which supports traditional artisans; Komuniti Tukang Jahit, empowering local women through sewing; and PichaEats, which helps refugees earn through culinary skills.

How can I start a social enterprise in Malaysia?

To start a social enterprise in Malaysia, identify a social mission, conduct market research, develop a sustainable business model, assemble a dedicated team, secure funding, and ensure compliance with local laws and regulations.

What government supports are available for social enterprises in Malaysia?

The Malaysian government offers various supports such as the Malaysian Social Enterprise Blueprint, Social Outcome Fund, tax incentives, and other funding opportunities through agencies like MaGIC.

How do social enterprises fund their operations?

Social enterprises often use a mix of funding sources including grants, private investments, revenue from sales/services, crowdfunding, and sometimes traditional bank loans.

What challenges do social enterprises face in Malaysia?

Key challenges include securing sustainable funding, navigating regulatory environments, achieving market fit, and building public awareness and trust.

Can social enterprises be profitable?

Yes, social enterprises can be profitable. While their primary focus is on social impact, they operate with business models designed to generate revenue that sustains their operations and social mission.

How do social enterprises measure their success?

Success in social enterprises is measured not just by financial performance but also by the social impact they create. This includes metrics like community impact, employment provided, environmental benefits, and improvements in quality of life.

Are there any networks or associations for social enterprises in Malaysia?

Yes, there are several networks and associations that support social enterprises in Malaysia, including the Malaysian Social Enterprise Alliance (MSEA) and the networks facilitated by MaGIC, which provide resources, networking opportunities, and advocacy.

Are there differences between an NGO and a social enterprise?

Yes, there are key differences between NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and social enterprises. NGOs are typically nonprofit entities that rely primarily on donations, grants, and philanthropy to fund their operations. They do not usually engage in commercial activities and often focus exclusively on social, charitable, or humanitarian goals. In contrast, social enterprises operate like businesses by selling goods or services but with the primary aim of solving social problems. While they seek financial sustainability or profit, these profits are mainly reinvested into their social missions rather than distributed to owners or shareholders.