Brunei’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) Poni Group, Al-Huffaz Management, and Projek FEED Management Services won ASEAN Business Awards (ABA) on November 13 in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Islamic education startup Al-Huffaz won Country Star of the Year, while diving and marine services provider Poni Group won SME Excellence, and social enterprise Projek FEED won Inclusive Business.
This year’s ABA saw 58 businesses from the region awarded in 10 categories with the ceremony hosted by country chair Vietnam’s ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) who had the event streamed online for those who could not attend due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In a press statement, ABA said that this year’s awards bring meaningful recognition for the region’s businesses for their resilience in weathering the economic impact of the pandemic.
Brunei’s recipients said the awards provides recognition for their internationalisation efforts and validates their business journey so far, providing them with added motivation to take on the future as the world enters a new normal.
ABA was launched as an initiative of ASEAN-BAC in 2007 to recognise enterprises that have contributed to the development of the region’s economies while also promoting the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
Businesses are nominated through their respective national business awards or directly to ASEAN-BAC through ABA’s online channels.
Poni rebounds from tourist losses with packages for residents and corporates
From a dive club to a leader in recreational and technical diving in Brunei, the Poni Group’s position built over the past ten years was put to the test when the COVID-19 outbreak saw borders close and lead to the cancellation of tourist bookings and commercial projects cumulatively worth over $200,000 just for the month of March.
Founder and CEO Thye Sing Wong and Business Development Director Anna Aziz continued their restructuring plans for their business which now spans seven entities covering different services relating to diving, marine and recreation, and then began marketing new packages for residents and corporates when restriction began to ease.
“Winning this award during this trying time is a big achievement for us as it provides us with external validation for our future growth potential,” said Thye.
“As a growing business with 40 staff we wanted to be able to get back to being active as soon as we could (during the pandemic), so we developed alternative revenue streams focusing on providing recreation for residents and corporate team building.”
Over 6,600 residents have participated in Poni’s local packages since the pandemic. These include team building, watersports, homestays, and adventure packages at Pelumpong island that have helped offset losses and kept Poni’s workforce fully employed as they prepare to launch their new beach site facility at the turn of the year in Serasa.
“What has kept is us growing and adaptable to the changes not just by the pandemic but throughout our history is our flexibility and willingness to take on different scopes of work (that relate to to diving and marine activity) which has ultimately built our now diverse expertise,” added Thye.
Anna said Poni will resume marketing for their Bali site – which targets Japanese tourists – when the pandemic eases, while also trying to penetrate Miri’s marine industry with turnkey project solutions.
Poni has also recently achieved the ISO 9001 – an internationally recognised quality systems management – through DARe’s Standards Consultancy Programme, and plans to pursue more certifications to improve their capabilities and help gain market access.
Al-Huffaz to expand market reach as the leading provider of Al-Quran education
With a pool of 2,000 customers learning the recital of Al-Quran, Al-Huffaz has offered part-time employment for close to 300 Islamic educators since starting four years ago.
Despite their leading position in the country, founder of Al-Huffaz Management Loqman Hamdan said there is still progress needed for them to achieve their target of 34,950 students, equivalent to 10% of Brunei’s Muslim population.
“For a startup to win the Country Star award is a huge achievement for us and is a testament to the quality of educators who have helped Bruneians’ learn the Al-Quran from the comfort of their homes,” said Loqman.
He added that the business’ traction owes to the increase in demand for personalised learning in an increasingly busy society, while also having a high quality Islamic education ecosystem that produces graduates capable of teaching the Al-Quran.
During the pandemic, Al-Huffaz replaced physical classes at customer homes with virtual sessions for three months, while also upselling courses based on their educators varied expertise outside Al-Quran recital, which include teaching Arabic and graphic design.
Loqman added that they are continuing to push for international expansion, having signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Singapore’s Asatizah to offer their platform which matches Quran teachers with students in their vicinity.
FEED to help the underprivileged earn income with basic skills training
Projek FEED is continuing to funnel corporate contributions under their Businesses Creating Impact (BCI) initiative towards their training programmes for the underprivileged to gain employment or start their own businesses.
The FEED empowerment programme has trained 15 participants since 2017; nine of whom have started their own small businesses while the remaining have been recruited under their subsidiary Bakamas which does grass-cutting and basic home maintenance services.
FEED’s Chief Marketing Officer Nur Diyana Sulaiman said their current team of 12 – Bruneian youths between 19 to 30-years-old – did not expect to be nominated for the award given as they are a relatively newly established social enterprise.
“We take the award as motivation to further expand our projects; we ultimately want to help more underprivileged Bruneians be able to sustain themselves independently,” said Diyana.
“With this award, hopefully it will help give participants and supporting companies (under BCI) more confidence in our ability to deliver and grow.”