As a full-time teacher, Zaleha Zulkifly was living her dream. Being a teacher had been her ambition since she was young and hailing from a small town like Jeli in Kelantan, she was sure that teaching would be her lifelong career. After all, how many people can say that they got their dream job – and stayed on for 18 years?
Of course, life was not just about going back and forth between her school and home. Zaleha also loved baking. As family and friends complimented the food she made, she began formulating an idea to start her own bakery business, but never did she expect that seven years later, today, her baking business would grow from a side hustle to Azreha Bakery, a household name in her town.
Her experience isn’t an isolated one. In a rural town like Jeli, most people rarely get the chance to come across a turning point like how Zaleha did – and one reason for this is the lack of resources.
Realizing this, Microsoft joined hands with social enterprise Me.reka to bring digital tools and skills to Jeli. Together with the support from MyDIGITAL Corporation, we organized ‘Program Digital Usahawan Jeli’ (Jeli Digital Entrepreneurship Program). Through this program, we aimed to reach out to local entrepreneurs and guide them to grow and sustain their businesses by leveraging technology and digital skills.
Five of the entrepreneurs were then selected for a three-month-long mentorship program conducted virtually on Microsoft Teams where they were trained in three key areas: Sales, Social Media, and Partnerships.
“I never expected my bakery to grow to the extent that I could do this full-time, but technology has transformed my whole business,” said Zaleha. “Previously, only those who lived around the area knew about my business and I only sold in-store but now Azreha Bakery has an online footprint, and I have people reaching out to me daily to place orders for my cakes.” Sales for Azreha Bakery have increased by 37% while social media engagement shot up by 546%.
Beyond that, Zaleha is now also a mentor to others in her community, offering internship opportunities to students, further enabling them to pick up baking and entrepreneurial skills at a young age.
Like Zaleha, Siti Nur Ain Binti Ismail also had a completely different goal in mind when she was younger. “You wouldn’t be able to tell, but I was an athlete when I was younger. I did long-distance running and thought my sports career was set in stone,” she shared. “I started Ain Aiskrim when I was only 25 years old, and my child was only a one-year-old then.”
Ain didn’t have high expectations when she first signed up for the workshop. While her regular customers liked her ice cream, having a small team caused her to let go of multiple opportunities to cater to larger orders. When she spoke about her struggle at the mentorship program, she didn’t expect that it would lead a way out of this bottleneck.
“The mentors from this program opened my eyes and provided guidance – not only through digital tools but they’ve also broadened my perspective on entrepreneurship,” she shared. ”I used to scribble all my notes from customer details to daily sales all in a pocket-sized notebook. Now, I use Microsoft Excel. All the data is neatly organized and easily trackable – and I don’t have to worry about losing my notes!”
Ain who used to cater ice creams for two schools and a grocery store has now expanded her business and is supplying twice the amount. “I want to continue growing my team and help more people realize their potential too – maybe I’ll start putting up job vacancy postings on social media soon!” In bringing to life her goal of promoting health at an affordable price, Azizah Binti Sulaiman founded SAS Mummy Power Legacy, selling coffee that is both tasty and healthy. But when the pandemic started, she had to put a pause on her goal. “It was frustrating. I wanted to do so much but I couldn’t since there were movement restrictions in place.”
What remained, however, was her grit and a willingness to explore alternatives. Azizah signed up for training programs to reskill herself and that was when she came across the Digital Experience Workshop. Today, Azizah has up to 18,800 followers on social media compared to only 4,000 three months ago. “I realized that like me, a lot of people were stuck at home with their devices so my consistent efforts in social media marketing were able to reach customers that I never imagined.
There are so many readily available tools online that can help. All it takes is an effort to learn how to leverage these tools and with time, you’ll reach your goal eventually!”
This tenacity was also seen in Natasya Binti Abdul Ghani, a fellow entrepreneur from Jeli. Unlike others, Natasya has aspired to be a businesswoman since she was young, and what better way to do this than turn her hobby of beekeeping into a business?
Founded in 2017, The Bee Garden is a bee farm in Jeli that sells pure honey and honey-based soaps. Natasya also trains other aspiring beekeepers. With big goals to expand her business and create job opportunities, she signed up for the workshop aiming to become more involved across different facets of business operations.
“The experience made me realize that I am far from reaching my goal, but it also enlightened me on many different approaches to growing my business. Recently, I even received orders from Singapore! This is a huge milestone I didn’t expect to achieve so early on, but now I feel more motivated than ever to let even more people know about The Bee Garden,” shared Natasya. She also recently secured partnerships with J&T Express Malaysia, a leading courier company in Malaysia as well as deals with multiple sundry shops.
When mother-of-two Suhaila Binti Jusoh started her business, it was an effort to support her family. Orfeo Perfume was founded just before the pandemic. “It was a brick-and-mortar business. I knew nothing about technology but to sustain my business, I only had two options – to learn or to lose out.”
Not one to give in, Suhaila was among the most eager to learn. In its early days, the perfume business generated RM300 in revenue per month. Now, Orfeo Perfume sells up to 80 bottles of perfume in onlytwo weeks.
“One thing I’ve learned is the importance of making your products visually appealing. I was initially worried if I would be able to familiarize myself with digital tools since they’re all new to me, but Microsoft Sway is simple to navigate. It helped me create designs for the Orfeo Perfume website – and it looks good too!”
From Microsoft Teams to Microsoft Excel, Suhaila leverages these tools for networking purposes, getting her business new customers, and helping her keep track of business data without worrying about misplacing the information.
While digital and technical capabilities is at the core of Microsoft’s Skills for Jobs program, our main objective is to bridge the digital divide and empower equal opportunities for every Malaysian to succeed in an increasingly digital future. This was what drove our commitment to upskilling an additional 1 million Malaysians by the end of 2023.
We have since achieved more than 60% of our target as of August 2022, a reflection of our continued partnership with Malaysia towards a future that is inclusive, innovative, and competitive – true to our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
Looking back, Zaleha, Ain, Azizah, Natasya, and Suhaila were five businesswomen with only the most basic knowledge of technology. In only four months, they are now the first five Microsoft Digital Entrepreneur Ambassadors in Malaysia. Beyond that, the success of the Jeli Digital Entrepreneurship Program has inspired Microsoft to launch the ‘Digital Entrepreneur Skills and Tools in a Box Programme’, a platform that Microsoft aims to leverage to replicate and for future digital entrepreneurial skilling programs.
We hope to continue nurturing these five entrepreneurs as mentors to other aspiring entrepreneurs, and continue empowering more people to realize their aspirations, from Jeli to the world.