GOLD stands for “Generating Opportunities for Learning Disabled”. It started off as an NGO and later evolved into a social enterprise. GOLD’s general objective is to provide facilities and support for learning and planned training programmes for the development of children, youth and adults.
It is a vocational training centre for secondary school graduates with special needs or learning disabilities (LD). Its core activities are the production of baked goods, ceramics, cards and handmade packaging suitable for corporate gifts, door gifts and ornaments.
“Our beneficiaries are young adults with learning disabilities that are consisting of autism, down syndrome and slow learners,” said Juairiah Johari, founder of GOLD, who is a special education specialist.
How It Started
According to Juairiah, a large percentage of slow learners stay home after graduating from secondary school. Young adults with low to middle functioning autism are not getting employed.
The origins of GOLD date back to 1998. A group of teachers from SMK Bandar Sunway and parents of the school students with LD volunteered to help strengthen the school’s Special Education Programme (SEP) for special needs students. SEP was in line with the Education Ministry’s Special Education Department’s initiative of providing a different curriculum and syllabus for children in need of special education. The objective was to maximise their potential and help them to achieve both economic and societal independence.
The success of GOLD from its early days till now is largely thanks to the continuous support of the Kiwanis Club of Bandar Sunway. In 1998, the groundwork began with the fundraising projects and donation by Kiwanis to set up physical structures and facilities for the development of vocational skills of the LD students of SMK Bandar Sunway. It took off from there.
“I want them to go to work and feel that they are part of an organisation, that they are part of society,” said Juairiah.
When she started GOLD, the beneficiaries were taught art and crafts, as well as cooking at the centre. In the afternoon (after 2:00pm), the parents would come to the centre and they would bake cakes together and have tea parties.
In 2006, Juairiah decided to start the Kindness Cookies Project. She taught them how to bake cookies. At first, they made small batches as gifts for family and friends.
The feedback about the cookies was good and very encouraging. Then the families and friends started to order the cookies from GOLD.
Juairiah realised that it was an opportunity to generate income for the centre, which until that point in time did not have any source of income. Before that, people came to the centre free of charge. Juairiah did not charge them for anything and she provided all the equipment and ingredients.
In 2015, GOLD became a full-fledged social enterprise that provided supported employment. GOLD’s Kindness Cookies and special “Adopt A Jar” project were launched in the same year.
Training the Slow Learners and Getting Them Employed
“We do the job matching for them. We have an assessment tool where we teach them on three main aspects. We look into their work skills. We also look into their behaviours. And we also look at their academic level,” said Juairiah.
“If they are very good and excel in the assessment tool, we will place them outside to be in the workforce. By making and selling the cookies, we feel that it is easier for us to not only teach them skills but also the transition between the school and the workplace. We also teach them the work ethics they are supposed to practise outside,” she explained.
“I’m happy to say that we have successfully gotten 128 young adults with special needs employment outside,” she added.
Now, the young adults come to the centre at 9:00am in the morning and go home at 4:30pm, just like going to work in a company. Juairiah also taught them how to take the bus and komuter to come from their homes to the centre. It is part of the training of how to be independent.
“We want to make sure that they can take care of themselves if something happens to their parents,” said Juairiah.
Growing the social enterprise
GOLD has received multiple awards, which are a recognition of its good work and meaningful contributions to society.
In 2016, the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) gave GOLD the Social Enterpreneurship Amplify Award and a RM120,000 grant.
In the same year, YOUTH volunteerism platform iM4U conferred GOLD with the Best Volunteer Initiative - NGO / NPO / Collective Award.
In addition, GOLD is a part of the Pemangkin Usahawan Sosial Hebat (PUSH) programme, and supported by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and MaGIC. PUSH is a scale-up programme with an ambition to grow social enterprises and increase their social impact through a personalised capacity building and skills development training.
“PUSH has helped us in many ways. We now have a much more concrete plan and we can actually execute it in a very good manner. I also had the opportunity to network with other social enterprises and NGOs, and they helped us to sell our products in the market. We also had the opportunity to network with corporate companies and this has boosted our sales. I learnt the importance and value of collaboration,” said Juairiah.
“With the assessment tools that we have, we will be able to help more kids with special needs in Malaysia. In the future, we hope to conduct training for young adults with learning disabilities in other states, such as Johor, Kelantan or Terengganu,” she added.
How You Can Help
Through a supported employment environment setting, the young adults with special needs engage in activities such as measuring, sorting, collating, labelling, folding, mailing, sub-assembling and hand packaging. Besides training them to get them ready for employment outside, it allows GOLD to generate an income from sales of products and contractual services with local corporate entities.
Products of GOLD such as the Kindness Cookies, ceramics, handmade cards and notebooks, as well as special gift packs/hampers are available for sale. Orders are most welcomed.
Volunteers are also welcome to help out at the centre and also help to manage GOLD’s social media accounts.