When Major (Rtd) Shera Ann Bosco decided to start a Facebook group in April 2016, little did she know that it would grow into the successful social media platform it is today. The group — called Jobs for Caring Moms Malaysia — Babysitter, Tutor, Daycare (a long, all-encompassing name, as Shera concedes) — grew out of the need to address the issues and challenges faced by mothers like herself and is aimed at empowering women, especially mothers. Over time, Shera found that the page developed a life and direction of its own. “I want to convert the frustration and negative energy from the problems we face into positive energy for this group,” says Shera, who retired after serving in the army for 22 years.
“Mothers are very protective over their children and we ask them to extend that to other people, so we can become one big family,” says co-founder Umesh Narasimhaiah who manages the technical aspects of the page. Caring Moms Malaysia quickly gained traction and reached 10,000 members in its first month alone. Currently, it has almost 60,000.
Most of its members are mothers and it is a platform for them to earn an income while caring for their families. The group does not discriminate in terms of demographic — be it a mother (with a full or part-time job or a stay-at-home or single mother), or any woman for that matter, provided her objective is financial independence. The added benefit is the flexibility to take care of their families.
Amanda Gan, who runs a balloon art business, was initially unsure if she would be allowed in the group as she was not a mother. “But I soon realised that this is a group for a special kind of women — those who are actively striving for something.” This is a sentiment that new member Pik Yi Chong shares.
There are many success stories from Caring Moms Malaysia and Shera believes that the members are the best people to relate their stories. “The journey and the stories are theirs,” she smiles, as each woman present at the interview begins to speak. “My medical insurance does not cover the alternative holistic treatments that I opted for over chemotherapy when I was diagnosed with stage four cancer last year,” says Jennifer Atkinson-Arnold (who makes acrylic painting and glass bead lampwork), adding that she has gained tremendously, financially and in terms of friendship.
Revathy Muniandy says: “My story isn’t very different from many single mothers. I am the sole breadwinner of the family … I chose freelance tutoring so that I could spend more time with my boys. However, it does not always sustain us financially.” Since joining the group, she has sold 1,000 bottles of homemade kitchen remedies and says her sales have skyrocketed to the point that it is almost overwhelming at times.
Caring Moms Malaysia has strict rules enforced by the administrators Shera, Umesh and Allisya Chai Abdullah. “If you come to my house, there are rules to be followed … Every single guideline is there for a specific reason and I can relate the very incident that led to each of them,” Shera says. For instance, ranting is not allowed on the page. “If you are focusing on your business, you should not have any time to rant!” she says, adding that buyers are encouraged to communicate any dissatisfaction in a constructive manner. The co-founders also prohibit posts stating that sales proceeds will go to charity and donation drives.
An aspect of the group’s dynamics that stood out to me is the strong bond of friendship and camaraderie the women share. Equally noteworthy is their immense gratitude to the founders of the Facebook page — not only for setting it up but for providing them with guidance and tips to boost sales from time to time, free of charge. Lemonade syrup maker Ruzanna Rosli is especially appreciative of the Business Mastery Bootcamp that was organised by Caring Moms Malaysia while Three Leafs Enterprise owner, Gladys Lee, finds that she has improved her knowledge of business management, production processes, marketing strategies as well as interpersonal skills.
“Caring Moms is the best platform to post about my catering business,” says Kiren Sachdev, a former senior finance executive for Coca-Cola Malaysia, while Ayu Lestary says the group was the turning point for her business. Operating based on a deep-rooted aim to help one another, the members often form lasting friendships outside the virtual world.
Membership is increasing each day and Shera quotes growing pains as one of the challenges faced at the moment. “We have been forced to pause adding new members to sustain the rapid growth,” she says. In addition, the ever-changing Facebook landscape and guidelines may not make it the ideal platform for Caring Moms Malaysia in the long run. The plan is to eventually migrate to an e-commerce site that is already being tested.
Henna hair colour maker Christine Tang benefits from the platform that Umesh help her set up for a fee. It helped her manage the whopping 500 orders that she received within the first three days.
Lack of resources and operational costs also pose a challenge to both founders, who pursue this full time, as the group does not take any profit from its members. It is only the companies or enterprises that wish to sell on the group’s platform are charged a monthly fee of RM300, which the founders feel is only fair to others who operate on a smaller scale.
“I think I have grown too attached to the group,” quips Shera, who has contemplated closing down the group as it was consuming too much of her personal time. Thankfully, she decided against it, considering the large number of women Caring Moms Malaysia is helping.
The platform has also become an avenue to develop one’s skills and hobbies into a money-making enterprise. Some examples are Dr Jashitra Krishnan, who makes child-friendly cakes and desserts, Kenny Go who makes Indonesian layer cakes and the dessert, bika ambon, as well as photographer Meitty Tang who is also a volunteer photographer for Caring Moms Malaysia.
In many ways, the group connects working and stay-at-home mothers in a wonderful symbiosis that empowers them and enables them to trade with each other. Anita Victor, who made and sold 148kg of her vegetarian snacks last Deepavali, recalls a defining moment of empowerment as a result of being financially independent. “When we went to register my daughter for college, I paid her registration fee and part of her semester fee,” she announces, beaming with pride.
Towards the end of the session, a warm, familial atmosphere fills the meeting room at The Edge office as all the members begin exchanging and sampling the goodies they brought with them. Having had the privilege of meeting these strong, entrepreneurial women, it is apparent to me that there is a sense of contentment and happiness in being able to realise one’s potential from the comfort of one’s home while providing for the family. Caring Moms Malaysia presents that opportunity along with a glimmer of hope that a balanced life in terms of career and family may be attainable and that a woman can, in fact, have it all.
This article first appeared on Jan 29, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.