Empowering Young Adults with Learning Disabilities to Become Independent Through Kindness Cookies - Jiran

Empowering Young Adults with Learning Disabilities to Become Independent Through Kindness Cookies

As a social enterprise, find out how GOLD arms this community with economic empowerment through baking

Published on 7 June 2022

GOLD is an acronym for Generating Opportunities for Learning Disabilities, a social enterprise that offers facilities and support for learning and planned training programmes for the development of children, youths and adults.  

What exactly is a social enterprise? There are three characteristics that determine a social enterprise. First and foremost, they directly tackle a social need. Secondly, their commercial activity drives a strong revenue, and finally, the primary goal is to ensure positive outcomes for the communities they serve. 

Located in Bandar Sunway, GOLD is essentially a vocational training centre for secondary school graduates with special needs. Here, the students are taught and trained to produce baked goods, ceramics, cards, and handmade packaging suitable for corporate gifts, door gifts and ornaments. After completing the training sessions, some are able to seek employment elsewhere, while some continue to be employed by GOLD. Most of them have difficulties securing jobs outside of this organisation. Nevertheless, over the years, a total of 280 students have been successfully trained by GOLD to join the workforce.  

jiran GOLD founder
Hajah Juairiah Haji Johari, founder of GOLD 

“They are like my own children,” said GOLD founder, Hajah Juairiah Haji Johari enthusiastically. “It’s either they have been with me for so long or I’ve been with them for a long time.” She explained that GOLD’s aim is to help young adults with special needs — who would otherwise be unemployed and reliant on others for life — gain a regular cash income that will be reinvested into the centre’s operating costs, training services, and increased job opportunities.  

Kindness Cookies by GOLD is one of the core products of their hard work. Every jar of Kindness Cookies purchased helps support their vocational training and living skills education. “It is a small set-up, but I feel satisfied when I train a student with zero skills and after a few months they can actually get it right,” Juairiah said. 

These young adults start the day with tasks that have been pre-assigned to them. Some are responsible for taking the butter out of the refrigerator, while some begin their morning routine by preparing the baking trays for the day-long cookie production. These duties are carried out independently. 

Learning how to be independent is a big part of the programme. The youths are given a specific amount of cookies that has to be produced within a week and it is up to them to pace themselves. “They know their roles, where their work stations are and who they are partnering with,” she emphasised. Juairiah and her team also include basic survival skills like how to order their lunch from food delivery services.  

jiran kindness cookies team

To paint a clear picture of how GOLD develops skills, Juairiah explained that a new intake of students go through a three-month observation period. “The parents’ intentions are very important as we do not want them to just send their kids here to ride on our initiative. We have our own clause that lists down expectations we have from the parents as well.” 

Within the three months, the potential students are assessed through three categories which include their verbal capabilities, communication skills, and their overall behaviour. For instance, young adults with autism might have certain restrictive and repetitive behaviours that need specific care and caution. It is important for Juairiah to know what they are dealing with.  

“After three months, I will go through the final assessment with their parents, and if they agree with what we’ve concluded then we can accept their child into the GOLD programme,” she said. They encourage the parents to be a big part of their child’s development during their participation in the programme.  

Juairiah has vast experience as a special needs educator. She had been a teacher for 36 years  with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in special needs education. “During my tenure as a teacher, there was no specific special needs education in our local school system. Sekolah Kebangsaan (P) Jalan Batu in Kuala Lumpur initiated the Integrated Special Education Programme (PPKI) in 1989 to carry out activities for its special needs pupils. In Selangor, Sekolah Kebangsaan Raja Muda was the first one to do so in the state,” she said. 

jiran kindness cookies flour

Teaching special needs students isn’t an easy feat. In public schools, it involves teaching them reading and writing skills. “After a lot of reading and researching, I decided to shift my focus to equipping special needs students with the skills to be independent. If they are not independent, they will end up not mastering any motor skills.” 

GOLD first launched the Kindness Cookies project through a collaboration with Sunway Group and the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation. Both organisations pledged RM100,000 that helped fund and develop their social enterprise model. GOLD’s aim to provide vocational education extends via the Kindness Cookies project to include training in basic accounting and inventory management needed to run small businesses.   

jiran kindness cookies production

Initially, GOLD listed itself as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) but eventually progressed to become a social enterprise. As a social enterprise, they do not rely on donations to be sustainable. They have been sustaining the organisation with sales of their cookies, and Juairiah is proud that they have yet to incur any outstanding debts.  

Customers come in the form of corporations with Corporate Responsibility Programmes (CSR) that make contractual purchases ranging from six months to a year and these purchases are paid in advance. The general public can also make similar pledges and purchases through the Kindness Cookies website.  

“Some people feel like we could expand our initiative but my ambition doesn’t extend that far. For me, I want them to enjoy coming here and I want to also enjoy their company. We try not to take huge amounts of orders as this will be taxing for them. I am proud that they are self-sufficient now.” It’s not just about sustaining a business, but as an educator, Juairiah’s main goal is to teach youngsters with learning disabilities to become financially independent.  

jiran kindness cookies cookies

As social entrepreneurship continues to grow in Malaysia, there are ways that the industry can grow further. Working with similar organisations is one way to do it. GOLD works closely with Komuniti Tukang Jahit. They have been an active ally by helping promote Kindness Cookies through their corporate gifts and hampers.   

“We have also worked with Spargo Eats, another social enterprise. They collaborated with us during Chinese New Year to produce a thousand yee sang sets and vegetarian burgers to be given to charity homes.” Social enterprises not only generate income but also impact the communities that they are dedicated to. Active collaborations between social enterprises can help drive the growth of this segment in Malaysia. 

Head to unifi Business Club (uBC) and explore how to develop your social enterprise as a sustainable business. 

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