Strategies and Approaches to Increase Livelihood Opportunities for B40 Communities

The 16th ILMU Hasanah session in collaboration with MATCH Hub was successfully conducted on 7th August 2020 with four panellists; Christopher Choong Weng Wai the Deputy Director of Research at Khazanah Research Institute, Samantha Ong, the General Manager of People System Consultancy (PSC),  Kon Onn Sein the Managing Director for the Foundation for Community Studies and Development (YKPM) and Anne Lasimbang the founder and Executive Director for PACOS TRUST on board to share their thoughts and experiences on Livelihood opportunities amidst Covid-19: Strategies and approaches to help the B40 communities. This webinar was moderated by Shareen Shariza Abdul Ghani of Yayasan Sejahtera and Match Hub with approximately 100 attendees.

Adopting the community-based approach, empowerment, motivation, and the right support and access were among key components highlighted, which proved to help the underserved community reducing their vulnerabilities and increase their economic independence. Strengthening the network and coordination of all relevant parties throughout Malaysia was agreed to be essential for the B40 community and the indigenous group to continuously become self-reliant. Below are some lessons that offer strategies/approaches that can be taken to support B-40 communities from a livelihood standpoint:

Researching and understanding the implications of the poverty line on social protection (Christopher Choong Weng Wai, KRI)
As a result of the revised Poverty Line Income (PLI) by the government, 405,000 households are now considered poor. Although there has been a reduction in the absolute poverty rate where more Malaysians are able to meet basic needs, there is a considerable number of households which falls slightly above the poverty line.  Their vulnerability will not be able to withstand a shock to the economy, such as the impact of COVID 19 and Movement Control Order (MCO) and can drag them to fall far below the poverty line.

Though there has been an increase in the amount of support provided under the social protection system; however, a more reformed system is much needed. One suggestion is to move away from the current employment system and targeting the individual’s needs during her/his life cycle such as at early childhood, adulthood and as an elderly. A more thorough and systematic review should be conducted to redesign the current social protection system so that’s it’s not highly dependent on employment status but gives more in-depth assistance, as well to upgrade the economy and to have a fairer supply chain.

Building rapport with local communities (Samantha Ong, People System Consultancy)
One of the main challenges faced by many people from the low-income community is not having contingency saving or buffer to support them during an emergency, causing them to have almost no money to sustain themselves. Thus, leaving us with the question of what can be done to help them? Working closely, building rapport and connections with the local community and authority were among the points highlighted. When trust is given, with the addition of proper knowledge of financial literacy, injections of useful technology and innovation and monitoring; the economy of the low-income community can be further improved.

Ensuring the project activities does not cause communities to go into a debt cycle (Samantha Ong, People System Consultancy)
It is worth also to note that organisations providing financial assistance to the community should also consider the capabilities for the community to repay. The organisations need to assess how much the community needs, ability to repay, their financial literacy and the purpose of financing. This is to ensure the organisation does not finance things that the community does not need, and it does not create dependency and ensure that the community are not caught in debt, for not being able to repay.

Understanding and valuing the Orang Asli as forest people (Onn Sein, YKPM)
It was highlighted by all panellists that the Orang Asli community was severely impacted by the recent pandemic. As land is being allocated for palm oil and rubber cultivation, the Orang Asli are losing more of their identity and culture, source of income, building materials and notably their life savings.  One of the lessons learnt here was that when working with Orang Asli, organisations should remember that they are the forest people who are deeply connected with the forest- hence all interventions should be designed keeping them in mind. Simply replicating projects that work in an urban set-up does not speak to the context of Orang Asli’s.  We need to recognise that the Orang Asli’s are uniquely gifted to conserve the forest and able to contribute to the economic growth in their own meaningful way.

Contextualisation of the training programme to communities (Onn Sein, YKPM and Anne Lasimbang, PACOS)
As indigenous and Orang Asli have their own unique culture, it is crucial to contextualise, and tailor make the empowerment programmes relevant to their set-up. A proper understanding of their culture which can be obtained from an established relationship and continuous engagement will help to design a good empowerment programme. This will assure acceptance and allow active participation from the community. They will feel more dignified, respected, and motivated to improve their self-reliance and economic independence when programmes are designed taking their culture, voice, and abilities as the reference.

One of participants in Hasanah’s empowerment programme

Building capacities from an empowerment perspective (Anne Lasimbang, PACOS)
Organisations providing assistance should ensure that the communities do not become too dependent on the aid received. Aside from upgrading the community with farming, craft making, food processing and other livelihood skills, it is also essential for the community to learn to adapt to the current market, equipped with necessary entrepreneurial skills.

The capacity building programmes should be aiming at empowering them, support to develop their own local organisations and encourage leaderships among the community members. All these efforts need to be done with proper planning and monitoring. Organising the community in groups, giving exposure, teaching them to empower their leaderships to be able to coordinate and be the first responders have successfully increased their ability to respond during a crisis such as COVID – 19 and becoming more resilient.

Understanding supply chain challenges in East Malaysia (Anne Lasimbang, PACOS)
The biggest challenge for the community in East Malaysia, especially the indigenous community is to have access to support, fair markets, seeds capital, subsidies, and proper logistics. A well-coordinated platform between organisations, agencies, and community should be enabled not just within East Malaysia but to also linked to Peninsular Malaysia to address the supply chain issues. A longer-term solution is needed, not to only focus on the current community, but also their future generation so that the effort is continuous and sustainable.

In conclusion, as COVID – 19 is yet to end, and the Malaysian economy has yet to be operating at the optimum level; more measures need to be taken to inject the economy. Family-based risk assessments need to be built into the current social protection scheme taking into consideration childcare allowance, social pension etc. with a mix of fiscal resources and contributory schemes.

The recording of the webinar can be found on Yayasan Hasanah’s Facebook page here