2019 Social Entrepreneur of the Year Makes Real Imprints in Malaysia’s Social Entrepreneurship Space
Kuhan Offers a Vehicle of Change Through Masala Wheels
While supposedly every business needs profit to operate and every cloud has a silver lining, when you're truly up against it, silver linings can be really hard to find. Kuhan Pathy, 30, a social entrepreneur says, "Profit is just away for us to remain sustainable and to continue making a difference."
At a time when the food truck trend was rolling fast into the food scene, in2015, Kuhan was gutted when his brother asked him for help to find a way to get his troubled friend, S. Ravin out of crime.
He says, "The thing that struck me immediately was this sense of we're all in this together. I needed to find a way to extend a helping hand. This could be a good way for a common friend my S. Ravin to make a fresh start. Unfortunately, not many are able to turn things around when their backs are against the wall," he says.
Fearing that S. Ravin, who was from a vulnerable background could not get away from the clutches of violent gangs, Kuhan, a chemical engineering graduate at UTP, hit upon the idea of operating a food truck that offers Malaysian Indian cuisine.
After bouncing the idea off of three other friends, the four of them pooled RM15,000 together to buy a used truck. After purchasing the truck, Kuhan and his friends kickstarted Masala Wheels. At the heart of Masala Wheels' business—selling biryani rice and curry dishes, the social enterprise intends to give youths from troubled backgrounds a new lease of life.
Soon, the truck started its operations in Kuala Lumpur's Brickfields neighbourhood and moved to Kuala Lumpur City Centre. However, at first, it was really difficult to sell up their dishes. They could only sell just five packets of rice on their first day.
Motivated to help more marginalized youths like S. Ravin, Kuhan and his friends went back to the drawing board. They figured they needed more than just good food. As a result, Masala Wheels turned to digital media in order to increase the social brand's visibility to capture the location's high foot traffic.
Fashioning their message around Masala Wheels' social impact, gradually, Masala Wheels became known as the orange truck that provided good food with a good heart.
After some time, Masala Wheels was able to operate a healthy profit. By day, it sold tasty Indian food by day. By night, with its profits, it provided free meals for the urban poor. With the visibility that Masala Wheels has garnered, words got to S. Ravin's friends more marginalized youths who then came to Masala Wheels looking for a job.
Kuhan shares, "These were youths with limited education and troubled backgrounds, at risk of being lured into a life of crime or drugs. In a heartbeat, we took them in. Although some left after a while because they didn't like it, some were hired as permanent employees. We provided training for them to teach them a little bit about the food business, discipline and life skills. Today, almost all the 15 staff of Masala Wheels were formerly marginalized youths, primarily at risk."
However, after a couple of years in business, Masala Wheels found that the food truck trend was on the decline. It could no longer sell the volume it needed to expand. Then, Kuhan and his friends knew they needed a revamp. This prompted them to look into setting up a permanent café, and by chance, they came across a long-untenanted shop in a quiet neighbourhood of Petaling Jaya. However, with such low foot traffic, initially, even the owner had doubts that a restaurant could thrive there.
From the relationships that Masala Wheels have cultivated from its digital platform, Kuhan and his co-founders had high hopes this would help draw itsfood truck regulars to the restaurant. In 2017, the restaurant opened its doors with its signature orange food truck parked outside as a prominent landmark.
Beating all odds, the restaurant now enjoys brisk business from its food sale as a result of creating steady stream of information about the social cause advocated by the business. While it all started with a wish to help his brother's close friend, now, Masala Wheels serves up one of the best biryani rice you'll ever eat while empowering marginalized communities through sustainable economic opportunities.
Currently, Kuhan is one of Malaysia's up and coming figures who has emerged on the national stage in recent years as a multi-award winning social entrepreneur. "It's the opportunity to work with those who are unfortunate to be where they are now. While some people are successful because they're given special opportunities, usually the difference in long-term success and failure lies in what we do when we're faced with adversity, misfortune, and seemingly insurmountable challenges," says Kuhan.
"The payoff is astounding. It's a miracle that this thing has kept on as it has. It is something very special to me. Social cause and profit can combine to become a scalable means to impose positive change sustainably," he adds.
Under Masala Wheels, more than 50 youths have undergone training. S. Ravin, one of the first beneficiaries is now the Chief Executive Officer with allocated shares from the business entity. Following this, Kuhan was recently awarded the Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 award from Datuk Seri Redzuan Yusof, Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Datuk Wan Suraya, Secretary General, Ministry of Entrepreneur Development at the Palace of Golden Horses on Nov 8, 2019.
It was an award to honour change makers in the social entrepreneurship space at the SME & Entrepreneurship Business Award 2019 held last November. The award was given as a recognition for Kuhan's impactful involvement in co-founding one of the longest serving social enterprises while shaping the ecosystem in Malaysia through collective initiatives.
Also, Kuhan is the Secretary General of the Chamber of Social Entrepreneur Development he co-founded in 2018. He says, "Membership is open to all aspiring social entrepreneurs." Now, the chamber has nine council members in a bid to spur collective contribution from like-minded entrepreneurs and drive policy development for an integrated social entrepreneurship eco-system.
Indeed, Kuhan is another prime example of UTP's profound career connected learning and industry collaboration. From the work we do, we foster long-term relationships with our global social-impact partners to prepare our students, people and researchers as global citizens.
As a leading university in engineering, science and technology, our graduates are driven to exceed their professional objectives and contribute towards overcoming capability deficit across all sectors and industries.
Published on 6 February 2020