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#LocalBrandsSnapshot 04: Social Enterprise in East Malaysia

Wong Shu Lee  


  May 29, 2021

#LocalBrandsSnapshot is a column to introduce homegrown brands, labels and entrepreneurs that are worth mentioning. Readers’ suggestions are welcomed. Write to us at admin@zom-in.com if you want to recommend your favourite homegrown brands. 


In conjunction with Harvest Day, we would like to introduce two social enterprises from East Malaysia. Do you know what is social enterprise? A social enterprise or social business is defined as a business that has specific social objectives that serve its primary purpose. Social enterprises seek to maximize profits while maximizing benefits to society and the environment. Their profits are principally used to fund social programs. 


Catama Borneo



Catama Borneo is a social enterprise based in Sarawak that empowers rural artisans to craft contemporary design pieces for sale to create a sustainable livelihood. The traditional plaiting techniques can produce very beautiful and attractive pieces. However, the artisans in rural areas have very limited access to the market – the majority of their buyers are tourists. Thus, they slowly giving up their crafting skills. This lead to the fading of the indigenous traditional crafts in Sarawak communities.


Catama Borneo buys the plaited rattan products like baskets, hampers, handbags, etc. from the artisans and then sells them online or to third parties around the world. They are committed to Fair Trade principles – craft makers are paid a fair price upfront for each piece they produce. Besides, Catama Borneo conducts training to upgrade artisans’ skills in craft production, as well as in quality control, business management, and entrepreneurial skills. 


They are providing sustainable economies to the rural communities in Sarawak and preserving the traditional crafting techniques. At the same time, Catama Borneo also exposes the beauty of traditional plaiting crafts in Sarawak to the world.





Tanoti is also an enterprise that engaged with Sarawakian artisans to produce unique crafts. Their artisans’ expertise is in songket weaving. Songket is a type of fabric that is handwoven from silk or cotton and intricately patterned with gold or silver thread. The crafting of a beautiful songket requires hours of intense labour and careful attention. Sadly, the art of crafting songket is in danger of losing its charm because the younger generation is opting for jobs with a steadier income.


Tanoti employs weavers and provides them good salary packages that come with proper benefits and mentorship programs. Similar to Catama Borneo, Tanoti also wishes to offer the Sarawakian artisans a better career path so that they can provide their children better education.


The weavers and designers from Tanoti have successfully created a lot of high-quality apparel from their hand-woven songket fabrics. 


The impact of social enterprises


Social enterprises provide a significant impact on community development. These enterprises tap most locals as a way to both provide income for them and answer the call of change in their community. By engaging themselves in this kind of social action, they can bring fulfillment to their hearts.  


Social enterprises are also considered as a tool to develop the locals’ skill sets. This business covers a lot of areas – finance, problem-solving, creativity, technical work, risk management, and more. Locals get to learn while facing all these challenges and can later use the gained experiences and knowledge to further community development initiatives. 


Do you know any other social enterprises? Share with us in the comment box! 


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