Projects that beckon miles of smiles

CONTINUING from our article published yesterday on the interview with Khind Starfish Foundation CEO Cheng Ping Keat.

Q: I noticed these projects are conducted by local and private university students. Will they be open to students back on semester breaks from their studies abroad?

As long as you are an undergraduate student from a local institution, you are welcome to participate. Students from overseas universities are not accepted, simply because the projects require months of commitment and work. Semester breaks enjoyed by these students may not be long enough to complete a project, which takes months.

Q: How do you make an impact with these projects and keep their momentum after execution?

This starts from the selection (judging process). One of the things we judge a project by is its sustainability. Not all projects are sustainable. Some projects fizzle out due to the commitment required which fades away, while some are one-off projects but enthusiastically developed on. One project that has continued until today is the Projek Berimpak Tinggi Cendawan Tiram Kelabu (Grey Oyster Mushroom High Impact Project) at Pulau Perhentian. The students from Universiti Teknologi Mara Terengganu taught fishermen to grow mushrooms as a side income, which can earn them a living during the monsoon season. The project is still running and gaining popularity.

Q: Do you provide recommendations and feedback to the students on their projects?

We share our views, give recommendations and feedback during the judging session. We also introduce people who can help the students in their projects, like the locals, even suppliers of products, in areas where the projects are being carried out. We also monitor their progress where possible.

Again, we need to make sure the projects are carried out by a group of students, via a committee, depending on the size of the project. One of the projects that did not take off involved just one student who wanted to establish a food bank by going to hotels and restaurants to collect left over food and distribute it to disadvantaged groups. Although we approved the project, it never took off because the student worked alone, without the help of a committee. This is whywe prefer to support a team and not an individual.

Q: How has the Projects for Happiness benefited you or the company Khind?

The biggest benefit that we receive is seeing the difference the students have made in the community. It means a lot to us to know that our small contribution and the little “motivation” we provide are getting the students to initiate something that impacts society. In the process, we are also able tomake a positive difference in the community, thus meeting our purpose of delivering happiness.

Q: Please share some of the common problems faced in running a project, from application to execution and completion. Do you have any advice to give on these?

What we notice is that many students are not good in project planning. If you do not have a convincing, feasible and clear-cut project, we will not finance it. The other problem is communication skills. Some of these students may have a good projects and intention, but they are unable to communicate and “sell” their ideas. If we cannot understand the mechanics and basis of their project, it is difficult for us to buy into it and support their ideas. Some projects are too simple, lack creativity and have very little impact. One such project that was not shortlisted involved students helping old folks homes to save on their electricity bills by changing the electrical appliances. It did not come off as practical or make economic sense as it would take a long time to reap that little benefit.

My advice to prospective project applicants are to plan your projects well, improve your communication skills and be creative and adventurous.

Q: Could you tell us about some of the latest projects?

We recently had our first judging session for this year and approved a few projects. Two of which I would like to share – the SOYAI and homeless database project.

SOYAI involves students getting technical support from a Myanmar NGO to help refugees get some form of income. Refugees are given machines to make soya milk and sell the product at designated locations.

The other project sees students helping the homeless by coming up with a database on the destitute. Armed with such information, the students will look out for suitable jobs to help these poor people become gainfully employed. We have started to extend our reach beyond the Klang Valley, to be more inclusive.

Now we are also in the east coast and Johor. We currently have 11 corporate sponsors to help us expand our efforts under the Projects for Happiness.

Q:What do you hope to see in future projects and applications?

We have a lot more universities aware of our projects. Many now recognise our undertakings as educational and able to foster better ties among the people. This also works in line with what education is all about.

More and more universities are encouraging their students to participate.

However, these projects can only be successful if we have the full support of the students involved. So what we hope to see is more Malaysian students inculcating the interest and having passion for community work. We also want to see more quality applications/projects.

Project applications are still open until July 15.

Q: Other than the Projects for Happiness, what are some other projects initiated by Khind Starfish Foundation?

We have conducted projects like the Bald and Beautiful. We organised it twice – once in 2012 and another in 2015.

Bald and Beautiful aims to raise awareness on cancer, its diagnostic and research.

The project required participants to shave their heads to make them see life through the eyes of cancer patients who lost their hair due to chemotherapy.

The response was great – 178 participants raised RM215,000 the first time, followed by 975 participants who raked in RM1.2 million. We will be running this project again in 2018.

For more information on the Khind Starfish Foundation, visit its website, its Facebook page or Khind Holdings Berhad webpage.