EO MALAYSIA | MyEO ENGAGE WE RISE
The novel COVID-19 Virus has become a global concern, that has called for world-class action. EO chapters from all over have started to organize themselves, in every corner of the world, in order to help their communities. As part of our ongoing MyEO Engage ALL RISE series, we take a look at how a group from EO Malaysia is adapting, improvising, and overcoming in these times.
For this edition, we spoke to Fong Leng and Dr. Choy Sook Kuen — two of the leaders of the MyEOEngage Malaysia COVID19 Initiative. They came together, with a committee of 12 EO members, to address one of the biggest concerns of Malaysia’s government-run hospitals: securing and sustaining supplies of personal protective equipment, otherwise known as PPE.
THE MALAYSIAN SITUATION
Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to operate under what we used to know as business as usual. The conditions that made global trade possible, that allowed the EO global network to be so effective, haven’t been the same since social distancing measures and lockdowns have become part of this new normal. In Malaysia, the Movement Control Order (MCO) has put a halt to the popular night markets and crowded streets that parts like Kuala Lumpur have been known for. Since the 18 March enactment of the MCO, movement has slowed significantly between the 13 Malaysian states, including the Johor-Singapore Causeway that bridges Singapore and Malaysia. At the same time, all COVID-19 related cases are currently being managed exclusively by the Malaysian Government’s Health Ministry. Private hospitals are on standby at the time of writing, as the number of COVID-19 cases are expected to peak in April, based off of current national models. Malaysia’s lockdown looks looks to be in effect til May12 officially, pending any major developments.
As soon as the nationwide lockdown was put into effect, the EO Malaysia chapter based mostly in Kuala Lumpur got the conversation started. Through MyEO Engage relationships, 12 members volunteered to come together, spearheading this COVID-19 specific assistance with their time and effort. By 20 March, just two days after the MCO was put into full effect, the group was ready to get down to business.
Calling themselves the MyEO COVID-19 Helping Hands initiative, the group put out a call for donations to members across the country. The goals set for this initiative group were straightforward. First, the Helping Hands group would raise funds in an effort to pool together at least RM 100,000 (approximately USD 22.7k) for the initial wave of support. Second, the group agreed on concentrating their efforts solely on sourcing Personal Protective Equipment for Malaysia’s medical frontliners to bridge the Government’s interrupted supply chain with exponential rise of demand. With these goals in mind, the Helping Hands group got down to work.
ADAPTING IN DIFFICULT TIMES
When the Helping Hands group decided to focus on PPE donations, they did so to ensure that whatever was donated would benefit doctors, nurses, and support staff most at risk of contracting the virus. Determined to help this particular sector, the Helping Hands group knew they would have to face several challenges before they could get to work: finding sources and establishing relationships. Raising money was very much within the entrepreneurs’ skill set, the trickier part was learning quite quickly how to put those funds to work under the present MCO circumstances.
There are members in the Helping Hands group who had backgrounds in the medical and pharmaceutical fields, veteran non-profit advocates as well as one logistics expert. They were instrumental in the beginning, guiding the group to the people they would need to talk to. Everyone else would first need to learn how to approach the bureaucratic process of partnering with government hospitals. With Malaysia’s Health Ministry directly handling all COVID-19 cases, the Helping Hands volunteers had to find a way to reach hospital directors for their donations to go through. According to Dr. Choy Sook Kuen, even if NGOs or smaller private entities wanted to help, they were uncertain if the donated goods will reach the intended end users. “Unless you are a big institution or a public authority, it is difficult to engage the hospital personnels who is authorised to receive the PPE,” she said, “Most of the NGOs want to help the hospitals because these are the appointed COVID medical centers (fighting COVID-19).”
It was quite a challenge to enter into conversations with leaders of the individual hospitals, let alone leaders in the Health Ministry handling the pandemic. Fortunately, through their network of contacts, EO Malaysia was able to establish relationships with Sungai Hospital Buloh, Hospital Selayang, and Hospital Kuala Lumpur. Through this process, they were able to have a more precise planning process for supplies for each of these hospitals, with PPEs being the common denominator. Helping Hands established formal partnerships in mid-March, and began identifying the specific types of PPE that they would need to source. With all of these in place, Helping Hands ensured that the recipient hospital’s medical teams would be getting just what they needed. It was now all a matter of how soon these items could be procured and delivered.
With a clear mandate in place and benefactors clearly identified, the task of sourcing medical grade PPE would be the next challenge put before the Helping Hands team.
IF THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY TO FIND PPE
As they got to work, the Helping Hands group realized that certain hospital partners would be put into dangerous situations a lot sooner than expected. The clock was ticking and supplies were already running low. As COVID-positive cases continued to climb, key wearable protection equipment were not readily available on the market, with little to no viable alternatives for sale domestically.
The stark and urgent reality that the Helping Hands team had to face was finding a way to acquire the coveted PPE supplies. Even in the team’s own words, sourcing medical equipment was far out of their core competencies as entrepreneurs. The business norms that these EO members understood and were used to operating under no longer existed, replaced instead by a wartime-like mentality. “Even if you had money in hand, you weren’t guaranteed your goods,” said Dr. Sook Kuen about this process. On more than one occasion, the Helping Hands team was able to order and pay for equipment, only to find out a day later that their supplies had been sold to people willing to pay more.
Even with the supplier promising to substitute their order with other products, these circumstances were unacceptable to the team at large. This brought the Helping Hands team to the realization that even in unusual times like this, you had to hang on to your integrity. Fortunately, the group was able to get their money back after these incidents. Unfortunately, they were still left without PPE supplies in these instances.
UNEXPECTED ASSISTANCE FROM FRIENDS
At this point, the Helping Hands team reached out to their fellow EO-ers in North Asia, specifically EO Beijing that had weathered the earlier waves of the COVID-19 outbreak. With the open market for PPE providing limited options for groups like Helping Hands, they turned to fellow entrepreneurs who had gone through the exact same scenarios.
With major shortages in PPE being experienced across the world, mass produced medical supplies would often go to the highest bidders with the most urgent needs. In terms of production, the gaps in local PPE supply are too great for smaller countries like Malaysia and their neighbors in South East Asia to work around. The Helping Hands group’s budget was too limited to meet industry minimum order quantities, and their budget too small to find the right deals regionally. Facing these challenges, the team would find unprecedented support from EO Beijing.
Every EO member knows that at its heart, EO is a global network that allows members to offer support from all over the world. When the COVID-19 Outbreak began to peak in China back in February 2020, EO Malaysia reached out to North Asia members following EO North Asia COVID-19 report. The EO Malaysia members knew that it would be difficult to provide support in kind given logistical restrictions. They, however, did understand that even small gestures to boost morale could go a long way. With that, the MyEOEngage team in Malaysia, put forth the idea to EO Malaysia Chair Wong Ai Ling, who alongside regional EO chapter presidents, put together a video of encouragement looking to lift the spirits of their fellow EO-ers in the most heavily affected areas. This show of support would lay the groundwork for this relationship that would prove to be invaluable later on. By the 29th of March, the Malaysia-based Helping Hands group was looking to the EO contacts in EO North Asia to help secure PPE supplies. The group turned to their peers with whom they connected to on Febraury 20 just to see if anyone from those conversations could assist them. Initially, the Helping Hands team were focused on procuring the medical grade PPE from trustworthy suppliers, hoping on the off chance that their fellow EO-ers had suppliers that they could trust to do business the right way. In a best case scenario, the North Asia based contacts would be able to negotiate for lower minimum order quantities on behalf of the Malaysian team. What followed went above and beyond what anyone from the Helping Hands initiative could have expected. An EO Beijing member, supported by the Director of North Asia replied quickly and pledged to help with the procurement process. Any kind of expedited assistance would have been more than enough in this scenario, however there was more support on the way. Over the course of these conversations, the Beijing based members told Dr. Sook Kuen that not only would there be help with procurement, but that funds would will be raised to supplement the initiative's efforts. These funds would be taken from the initial COVID-19 task force fund raising efforts in China, with additional funds raised and now ready to supplement the Malaysian PPE mission.
Dr. Sook Kuen described receiving that message as not just mind blowing, but heart filling at the same time. Through all of their efforts, EO Beijng efforts increased funds available from only RMB65000 to a total of RMB155000 to the Helping Hands team secure PPE products. Those funds have translated into protective gowns and masks that will be used to protect frontliners in the three hospitals across Malaysia .
EAST MALAYSIA TOO!
One of the goals of the Helping Hands group was to ensure their efforts extended outside of the capital in Kuala Lumpur. Peninsular Malaysia may be the land mass we usually associate with the country, containing the major cities of Kuala Lumpur and Penang. East Malaysia on the other hand is the portion of the country that is on the Borneo island, containing cities such as Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. In times of crisis, East Malaysia sometimes does not receive the immediate attention required as a result of the geographic divide.
In the case of the Helping Hands group, they always intended for East Malaysia to be a part of their efforts, logistics permitting. This was made possible through one representative whose primary business is in logistics & freight operations. His involvement gave the Helping Hands group the ability to reach East Malaysia, and in the future, other states in the country. This kind of an inroad would allow for the PPE donations to arrive, be organized in Kuala Lumpur, and later reach the hospital partners in the states of Sarawak and Sabah.
CRISIS BROUGHT OUT THE BEST
The COVID-19 pandemic has, and will forever change the way business around the world, perhaps in ways we have yet completely understand. What didn’t change for these EO-ers in Malaysia is how they were able to show what it meant to live out the core values. The situations that the Helping Hands team found themselves in were not unique to anyone who has done business before. In some form or fashion, we’ve experienced scenarios where our integrity is tested, where profit and principles oppose each other. Unfortunately for this chapter’s team, it happened in the middle of unprecedented events.
Throughout this story however, you can see how this team rose to the occasion to do good, but empowered by the Malaysia chapter members and supported by North Asia chapter members. It was evident that volunteer members were forced to grow, to adapt around circumstances none of us would wish upon a fellow entrepreneur. Difficult as it may seem, EO Malaysia’s best shines through this effort. In the face of greed, in the face of adversity, members were able to deliver hope in the form of life protecting PPE, ensuring that medical experts can fight the good fight. The compassion shown by this small group also extended beyond the immediate borders of their base in Kuala Lumpur.
What is astounding about this initiative is how much heart was required of the Helping Hands team to pull this off. How everything translated, from the relationships that the team established, to the inroads that they created, and to the assistance that they provided— all of it was truly inspiring, This was just phase one of EO Malaysia’s plans, with a more sustainable PPE sourcing cycle lined up for an in-the-works phase two.
Is your chapter conducting efforts to help combat this Global Corona Pandemic?
If so, please let the MyEO Engage team know so that we can report to members across the world how your chapter has a beacon of hope. Help us tell your story through https://bit.ly/MyEOEngage_WeRise, or at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can inspire members across the world to share your stories of social impact, especially when the world at large needs hope the most.