My name is Faris, and I head Project:Phoenix.
Having worked many years as a restaurant waiter, I had noticed a common problem in the hospitality industry: a communication barrier between customers and the service staff. As a consequence, customers would receive wrong orders and complaints would ensue. In most places, waiters were unable to effectively upsell the menu and build relationships with customers, leading to losses in sales and customer loyalty. Even in upscale restaurants, managers had neither time nor qualifications to teach proper English to the service staff.
Using experience gained while working in the hospitality industry, I started Food Lingua – a corporate training service specialising in teaching hospitality skills and English language to restaurant employees. The program objective was to overcome the communication barrier and thus contribute to higher service standards and sales in restaurants. One of the main reasons why I started Food Lingua was because I wanted to raise the standard of living among restaurant waiters by helping them upskill for a promotion or an increase in salary. And still I wanted to do more.
I was volunteering at a soup kitchen on Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman when I thought of another idea. Although distribution of free food to the homeless is praiseworthy as an activity, it isn’t a long term solution. So I tinkered with the idea of giving free hospitality and English language skills to the urban poor before sourcing job placements at restaurants and hotels on their behalf. This would enable Food Lingua to evolve from a corporate training service into a human resource provision program, to be called Project:Phoenix.
To initiate Project:Phoenix, I needed financial support and mentor guidance. As a timely blessing, I got a call from myHarapan to participate in its Social Business Challenge 2015. At the first briefing session, they assigned participants with two mentors to help them finetune social business models and polish their presentation skills. Each mentor came with vast experience, knowledge and passion. My mentors were Sanul Stephen of myHarapan and Giorgio Cattuci of DHL. myHarapan also roped in a financial advisor. My mentors have not only become my sources of guidance but good friends whom I appreciate.
As part of the competition, myHarapan gave each participant RM500 to pilot and validate ideas. This was helpful as I got to do my research when I ran a 1-hour free English language class for the homeless and urban poor youth of Kuala Lumpur. This enabled me to gauge their response towards the idea of attending a weekly hospitality and English language program as well as their literacy and fluency in English language. Information and media gathered during the pilot class also allowed me to strengthen my presentation deck for the competition.
I met many kind souls during the competition who have given me encouragement, shared their wisdom and contacts that I am sure will help me through my entrepreneurial journey. And now, upon winning the competition, we have a great chance of turning Project:Phoenix a reality. It is scheduled to start in February 2016 and will be a big step forward not just for me personally but hopefully for the underprivileged in Malaysia. Working with myHarapan has been a wonderful experience, and it is about to get even better.