How hubs helped hospitals: leveraging a sharing economy to fight COVID-19

Future of Business



How hubs helped hospitals: leveraging a sharing economy to fight COVID-19

Sanidhya Mathur
March 17, 2023

Sanidhya Mathur

Sanidhya Mathur is a content writer at Mereka with a passion for producing content that reflects and communicates diverse experiences through a shared vision of social innovation.

October 4, 2023

As Malaysia fought COVID-19, many doctors, nurses, police officers, and other critical service staff were left short-handed due to the global shortage of PPE. The frontliners lacked the medical essentials needed to ensure their safety. We quickly mobilized our network of suppliers, producers, and logistics providers to help meet this ever-growing demand for PPE.

In March we kickstarted Phase 1 of the “Protecting Our Frontliners'' campaign, which saw us utilize an NGO model of production. By engaging with the public to secure donations, we fulfilled an overwhelming amount of requests for face shields, aero chambers, and patient isolation boxes. This was not an individual effort, but rather a community-driven initiative whereby numerous partners worked in tandem to leverage collective resources as a means to support those at the frontlines. 

This initiative was powered through our COVID-19 Relief Platform, through which hospitals and other frontline organizations were able to make requests for the PPE that they urgently required. Producers, suppliers, and logistics providers were also able to join our platform and share their resources and capacities to ensure that PPE requests were met.

Phase 1 was able to raise RM 129,473 and deliver 24,670 face shields, 1,505 aero chambers, and 58 patient isolation boxes to 75 frontline organizations. Through phase 1 alone, this collaborative effort successfully impacted over 47 hospitals and 24,670 frontliners.

As months passed, other medical necessities such as PPE Scrub Sets became apparent — in total, our community of partners received 62,222 requests for PPE Scrub’s. We realised that our individual efforts, while still working towards a positive change, would be unparalleled if consolidated into an entire community of suppliers, producers, and logistics, whereby partners could leverage from each other’s capacity and resources to ensure the greatest collective impact. And thus brought upon this decentralized model of production, capacity building, and impact creation.

Also taking into consideration financial sustainability, we collaborated with our network of creative hubs, makerspaces, and local craftsmen and tailors to form the Social Textiles Initiative and initiate Phase 2 of our PPE relief. This movement incorporated a Social Enterprise Model, which prioritized the people and planet whilst also ensuring business longevity — the earnings in a social enterprise allowed the organization to provide for its stakeholders and also maintain the longevity of its primary goal, social impact.

The Social Textiles Initiative consisted of 9 local, impact-based organizations, comprising of sew x dignity, Suri Lifestyle, Tanoti Crafts, Batik Boutique, Earth Heir, MyFund Action, Setia, Taylor’s Me.reka Makerspace, and Biji Biji Ethical Fashion coming together to create a meaningful and inclusive solution for the PPE Scrubs shortages within Malaysia. 

On top of delivering PPE’s to frontline organizations, the production initiative successfully empowered local communities by creating livelihood opportunities and engaged local businesses and social enterprises to ensure business sustainability in such volatile times.

In total, The Social Textiles Collective was able to deliver 36,324 PPE Scrub Hoods, 35,764 Boots, 1,270 Gowns, and 16,267 complete Scrub Sets to 56 frontline organizations across Malaysia.

COVID-19 hit our organization in the midst of our digital transformation, just as we were in the development phase of Mereka, our digital sharing economy platform that aims to bridge the gap between innovators (changemakers, scientists, entrepreneurs, SMEs, NGOs, universities and government agencies) and innovation hubs (research and development labs, design and prototyping studios, rapid (digital) manufacturing facilities, engineering studios, makerspaces and universities) to create an innovation-friendly, collaborative environment, allowing for a community-centric approach towards innovation and impact creation through the leveraging of shared resources. 

Upon noticing the overwhelming necessity for PPE, we saw an opportunity to create a beta platform that served to connect key resources and partners for the means to supply PPEs for the frontliners in need. The COVID-19 Beta Platform acted as a catalyst for community and capacity building through a collaborative spirit.

This experience was a clear indication that it was no longer about what we each could do by ourselves, but rather how we could communicate effectively with others to ensure that impact is optimized. Collectively, through phases one and two of our PPE Initiative, RM 720,417 was channeled into our community of creative hubs, logistics and supply partners, and Malaysian craftsmen.

Indeed, in such unpredictable times, it is innovation and collaboration that propel society forward and keep our heads above water. Watching the communities, organizations, and individuals across the nation band together to solve a communal problem was incredibly heartening. Our spirits were lifted knowing that the people of Malaysia had each other’s backs and were ready to stride hand in hand towards positive social impact.

As we close phases one and two of our PPE initiative, as a social enterprise, we stand strong in our conviction that transparently sharing our initiative’s finances is necessary. We strive to champion social entrepreneurship and, in doing so, believe it is necessary to remain fully transparent with our stakeholders. This work is not about profitability, but rather maintaining a social obligation. 

Throughout the initiative, our platforms consistently updated financial information regarding total donations, product costing, and delivery fulfillment as a means of practicing self-governance and accountability. In such times of crisis, especially when public funds and donations are involved, we believe it is our duty to uphold certain guidelines and standards to ensure accountability of our actions. Phase 1 of our PPE initiative was audited by an external auditor, Kishen Jasani (CA). The relevant reports and supporting documents for both phases will be attached here.

Throughout these months of being at the forefront of such an impactful and meaningful campaign that included various partners and stakeholders, we gained valuable industry insight on how to appropriately activate such an initiative under the social enterprise model. We are therefore compiling a document of our experiences and will be sharing what we found to be the best practices in organizing such an initiative. Through this, we hope to further the conversation of socially conscious businesses in Malaysia.

While the fight against COVID-19 is far from over, we are certain of one thing: together with the collective support of Malaysians nationwide, we are able to triumph through any adversity that comes our way!

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