24/06/2021  •  8 mins read

Helping Hands in Trying Times

Teman Malaysia is providing much needed short term care companionship services for your loved ones when they most need it.

Chai Li Tiing

When Klang Valley went back into Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) in November 2020 to combat the rising number of COVID-19 cases, Wendy (not her real name) was concerned. Being confined to her wheelchair, Wendy’s commute to work is often challenging without additional assistance.

While she was able to go about her daily routine independently, she usually had to rely on friends or family for transportation to and from work. Whenever help was not available, Wendy often had to take a day off from a job she truly enjoyed doing. On some days, she could not help but feel powerless. 

When she came across Teman Malaysia in 2020, Wendy decided to take a chance and call on the ‘Temanions’ for help. Her decision that day had improved her quality of life considerably. With the assistance provided by the Temanions, Wendy feels like she has taken back control of her life.

But the availability of that help hangs in the balance during these tightened restrictions. However, the team at Teman Malaysia leaped to action, seeking permission to continue operating under these restrictions as an essential services provider. 

“People like Wendy, with no friends or relatives living nearby, are our biggest drive to get the permit to operate during EMCO from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and we’re thankful that we could be there for our customers during these extraordinary times,” says Nurul Ezzati Mohamed Nasir, Chief Executive Officer of Teman Malaysia. 

Different kind of care

Teman Malaysia is a new venture conceived by first-time social entrepreneurs in Cohort 1 of the 12-month Social Enterprise Education Lab (SEEd.Lab) which started in January 2020.

“Our care companionship service matches Temanions with our customers. A portmanteau of the Malay word ‘teman’ and its English equivalent, 'companions', Temanions are our caretakers who accompany our elderly customers for a range of activities from healthcare appointments to running errands about town,” she adds.

It was during the ideation stage of the SEEd.Lab programme that the idea was conceived for the startup to provide this service to Malaysians. Having done extensive research into the care sector, the team found a gap in the services catered for the elderly, particularly those in the M40 and B40 communities. 

“What makes Teman Malaysia different from other care-giving services in this country is that we provide short-term assistance, instead of asking for a weekly or monthly commitment from our customers. We provide services as short as one hour, this makes it more feasible for those who may not be able to commit to a hefty fee that locks them in for the entire duration,” Ezzati says. 

“What makes Teman Malaysia different from other care-giving services in this country is that we provide short-term assistance, instead of asking for a weekly or monthly commitment from our customers. This makes it more feasible for those who may not be able to commit to a hefty fee."

Nurul Ezzati Mohamed Nasir

Chief Executive Officer, Teman Malaysia

Currently, Teman Malaysia offers three distinct types of services to its customers. Ezzati relates that they try to accommodate the requests of their elderly customers as much as possible to help them lead a more comfortable and functional life.

  • Teman Health Appointments – Temanions accompany customers to the hospitals and clinics, for dialysis sessions and other healthcare-related appointments. 
  • Teman Ziarah – Temanions visit homes to do welfare check-ins.
  • Teman Customised Activities – Temanions take customers out for errands, grocery shopping, mosques and other activities unrelated to healthcare.

The Temanions were also carefully screened and selected to ensure the utmost level of safety and trust for customers. 

“We put them through a rigorous application process, which we went through ourselves when applying for SEEd.Lab. This is because passion is really at the core of what we do, and those who partner with us must have the same qualities. Caring for the elderly demands a lot of patience and understanding. You have to really be passionate to actually make this work for you. We put them through three stages to really understand our future Temanions. These stages help weed out those who are unsuitable or not up to the task,” Ezzati explains.

Starting from scratch

Ezzati believes that the 12 months spent in SEEd.Lab changed her life. As a dietitian, she held regular jobs that were more routine than she had hoped. Upon first contact with the concept of social enterprises, she signed up for the SEEd.Lab programme by PETRONAS and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

The programme, which took its ‘SEEd.lings’ through the crucial early stages of a startup – ideation, incubation and commercialisation, provided not only business support but also opened up opportunities to leverage the networks and knowhows from the two established corporations behind it. 

“My like-minded teammates and I chose the care sector and began refining this idea that we had in SEEd.Lab. All of us have experienced or heard of situations where people had to take time off from work to take their parents for healthcare appointments, some of them have to go outstation and travel to another city or state. That’s great if you could juggle these responsibilities, but sometimes, that’s not an option,” she adds. 

For those who need that extra bit of help from someone they could trust, the idea conceived by Ezzati and team could be the answer to their prayers. Throughout the pandemic, the team at Teman Malaysia continued to persevere on video calls to debate ideas, to argue and reason with each other, fuelled by their passion and belief that this was an idea that could be marketable.

“It really was the best learning experience for us. Besides giving us an education about the social enterprise business model and design thinking, more importantly, the coaches encouraged us to be fearless with exploring ideas and listened to our pitches with an open mind.

“Through the programme, we get to work with the extensive network PETRONAS has, we also got to discuss our ideas with some very experienced and established people from the PETRONAS management, who gave us invaluable advice on how to refine our ideas further. Beyond that, we got to leverage the expertise from TCS to develop our upcoming app.

“SEEd.Lab really brought me to a good place, and I am excited to be here,” says Ezzati.

The big picture

The team at Teman Malaysia believes that this startup could make an impact on youth unemployment while helping the elderly. But an early concern during their time at SEEd.Lab was that there would be a lack of interest among the younger gig professionals for jobs of this nature.

“But we are really encouraged by our results. Even with our rigorous interview process, we have recruited more than 50 Temanions, many of whom have been doing gig jobs and delivery services. I think they are encouraged by the work that we do.

“Through Teman Malaysia, they can supplement their income by helping others,” Ezzati confides.

But the team at Teman Malaysia hopes to expand its services to other states. Since services officially started in September 2020, they have recorded some 650 hours and attracted 40-45 unique customers just within the Klang Valley area through their social media presence and word-of-mouth.

Outside of Klang Valley, the full range of Teman Malaysia’s services are now available in Johor Bahru and Kota Tinggi. Efforts to widen their reach are already underway with the launch of the vaccination assistance service made available in seven cities around Malaysia, including Ipoh, Butterworth, Georgetown, Seremban, as well as cities in Johor and Klang Valley.

“We are also keeping close tabs on the current needs of the community we serve. With the rollout of the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme, there are many instances of no-shows and cancellations – particularly among the elderly. Reasons cited were mainly issues relating to mobility and transportation to the centres.

“This is a pain point for our target beneficiaries that requires an immediate solution. We are starting with these cities but we also have been receiving a lot of requests from customers whose parents are in other states, so we are focusing our efforts on ensuring we are able to extend our Temanions assistance to them as well,” Ezzati adds.

Having had the opportunity to secure the corporate social responsibility grant by PETRONAS Refinery and Petrochemical Corporation, Teman Malaysia is wasting no time to set their plans in motion. A beta version of their app is expected to launch in the third quarter of 2021 to make it easier for customers to engage their services.

Teman Malaysia has also entered multiple collaborations to expand its business. With the National Cancer Society Malaysia, they got medical doctors to train Temanions to ensure that they are well-equipped with the basic knowledge to handle emergencies. While their collaborations with Jasper Lodge Nursing Homes and Hospital Islam Az-Zahrah, Bangi will see their services being called upon for residents and inpatients.

"Teman Everywhere"

Ezzati has a dream to see Teman Malaysia expand to become “Teman Everywhere”, particularly in the Southeast Asian region. With an expansion of this scale, they could not only help more people but also give their Temanions a meaningful stream of income that could sustain their lives.

“We don’t have to just stop at helping elderly people. There are many more groups that need that extra helping hand. For example, young mothers, pregnant mothers and children. We want to anchor ourselves on the word ‘Teman’ in our name and be a company for all who need us, regardless of demographics or borders,” she explains.

For more on Teman Malaysia, visit www.temanmalaysia.com

SEEd.Lab is calling for all young innovators in Malaysia to join its second cohort launched in June 2021. To find out more and apply, visit www.seedlab.my

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