Having never worked with a social enterprise in the past, I had no clue as to what to expect. It didn’t really help that I couldn’t really figure out the specifics of the company’s range of services (which is honestly no surprise as they offer a ridiculously diverse number of products and services). All I knew at the time was they focused on sustainability, which was in line enough with my interests for me to request for an interview.
So, it turns out that the company was in the thick of projects when I first came in, which was to my benefit as my short internship of 1.5 months would never have been approved otherwise. To provide some context, Biji-biji has six departments: Events, Fashion, Electronics, Communications, HQ (HR & Finance) and Fabrications. I joined the events team, and worked closely with Jey Bala.
I spent the first week understanding the company and writing some proposals on the side, which I will now explain in detail for the benefit of any prospective interns and/or clients out there.
To begin with, the fashion department designs and manufactures a sustainable bag collection upcycled from rejected seat belts, discarded banners and felt. All their products are absolutely gorgeous and skilfully tailored by a small team, which you can find on the Biji-biji Design website. They also accept custom upcycled design projects if you have any specific requests. I ended up spending several hours helping them out throughout the internship, and it was a delightfully fun experience to assist the flamboyant fashion bunch (bearing in mind I had very little interest in fashion).
Next up, we have the electronics division. They are the coding brains behind Biji-biji; researching and designing any relevant installations and workshops. A textbook example of their work is the Bicycle Charger/Juicer, which converts the kinetic energy from cycling into electricity to either power your phone or a juicer. They also concurrently work on new ways of implementing renewable energy, which is very cool. The lovable nerds of electronics are always amusing to be around, and I could always go to them for any pertinent questions.
The loudest group in the Biji-biji office in Sentul however, has got to be the events team. Constantly on the hustle, we organize talks & workshops and raise installations in venues all over Malaysia. Sourcing of materials, delivery of the materials and engaging facilitators for workshops are done by the events team. We also do our fair share of brainstorming for fresh workshop ideas to ensure our catalogue constantly gets updated with new workshops. However, we also know how to relax with a fiery passion—thankfully, I might add. We are also who you’d probably hear if you were to call the Biji-biji office number.
The comms department on the other hand handles the Biji-biji websites, social medias and videos. If you haven’t already checked out the amusing clips of our staff on our Facebook page, please go and do so. The media folks did an absolutely great job, and it would be an offense to not watch them. Actually, like and follow our Facebook pages, @bijibijiinitiative and @merekamakespace while you’re at it.
Following that, Fabrications is split into two teams; one in the office in Sentul, and the other in the Biji-biji factory in Klang. Sentul’s team is led by the mad scientist Gurpreet ‘G’ Singh, who constantly pumps out wacky inventions one after another. G’s Research & Development team tests out new ideas that come from all corners of Biji-biji. The Klang half is headed by William, whose Builds team handles the woodworking and metalworking aspects of every project and workshop. Sometimes offices and cafes commission Biji-biji to make upcycled furniture; these will be created in the factory. The factory houses an array of tools and machines, including a laser engraver and a waterjet cutter. It’s all mighty interesting if you have yet to be exposed to them.
Lastly, the HQ department, made up of HR and Finance, handles all the back-end numbers and employee-related matters. What they do is similar to other companies’ HQ departments, but I’d bet other social enterprises do not have a David that says the darndest things.
So, to recap: Biji-biji offers an upcycled bag collection, hosts talks & workshops, rents out installations, creates art installations and features (think Publika’s art pieces and roundabout features) and custom builds upon requests. We’re also moving to Me.Reka @ Publika in October 2017, which is a makerspace that will be holding coding classes and various workshops. Furthermore, Me.Reka will be selling maker-kits for passers-by to build on their own, should they prefer to work in the comfort of their own home.
Back to my internship experience. The weeks that followed came with a large project by SP Setia, a property developer. Jey, my fellow intern Dominic and myself were left in charge of preparing for twelve locations’ worth of workshops over two weekends. This included sourcing the materials, sorting the amounts specific to each location and ensuring all items and equipment arrived at their destinations intact. While this sounds relatively simple, prepping for four workshops per location (thus twenty-four per week) is no easy task in a cramped space. It didn’t help that Jey left for Sabah (one of the workshop locations) earlier in the week whilst Dominic was MIA for the entire week too. All in all, the first SP Setia weekend was insanely hectic, but as they say: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I was about an inch away from death though, but I’ll admit it did build character.
Learning from the not-so-distant past, I made sure not to commit the same mistakes when preparing for the second weekend. For starters, my two team members were present this time. This led to a more efficient organizing system, and everything passed by smoothly with very few hiccups.
A week after the SP Setia workshops, I had the opportunity to take part in Desa Park City’s very first Minifest, a Mini Cooper-themed mini carnival. Although it was on a Sunday (don’t worry internship-hunters, you get remuneration), it was great fun to experience being behind the booth such an event, instead of a consumer. I also got to chill with other departments’ staff too, namely Aziz from Builds and Elaine & Ardi from Fashion, so all’s good. We had some pretty amazing nachos that night.
These events pretty much sum up the highlights of my internship, though of course I had some other tasks on the side. The tasks include writing more proposals, coming up with workshop ideas, gardening, painting, shopping and writing a sustainability report, but I wouldn’t consider them interesting enough to delve into details.
All in all, I cannot dispute the fact that I have been exposed to plenty of new experiences. The company’s staff overall were very accommodating, and the line between superior and junior is blurred to non-existence. Jey was a splendid mentor, as was Juliana and Chewi(my other superiors). My internship may only have lasted 1.5 months, but the skills attained and friendships formed would last a lifetime. Being part of Biji-biji’s events team truly improved my management, research and soft skills. Also, I can never needlessly throw a plastic bottle away ever again, thanks to spending hours figuring out how to upcycle them.
Oh, and I’m currently studying Actuarial Science.