All information for this story, including images, interviews and video recordings were sourced in June 2021.
In an unassuming industrial site in Belait lies Khayla Zalzi company. Driving through its allotments populated by a largely male demographic, you would assume that Khayla Zalzi is too run by men. But the startup that’s contracted by Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) to collect its general recyclable waste is run by four sisters – who first began their business by selling health and beauty products four years ago.
At the helm from eldest to youngest are Siti Rohana, Siti Royaha, and Siti Rozima and Siti Rafizah Norudin who oversee a team of nine Bruneians who collect and sort up to three tonnes of general recyclable waste a month from 20 BSP locations from Muara to Kuala Belait.
Khayla Zalzi’s emergence to become one of the first startups to be awarded an i-Usahawan contract by BSP in 2019 came as a surprise to its founding quartet, but a combination of their entrepreneurial backgrounds and individual professional experience would give them the right base to seize the contract opportunity when it was announced.
Their journey – though fruitful so far – hasn’t been without obstacles that have tested their resourcefulness. From cosmetics to oil and gas, this is the story of how four sisters secured their first BSP contract.
The four sisters were raised in Belait along with their three elder brothers, and lived comfortably until their father passed in 1997, leaving their mother, who worked as a cleaner, as the sole breadwinner until their brothers began working.
Their initial struggle fostered their eagerness to gain work and run their own businesses, starting by selling nasi lemak and kueh door-to-door in their kampong. School holidays were then another opportunity for the siblings to earn by working for local shops including supermarkets, mobile phone retailers and fast-food restaurants.
“The four of us have been like this since we were young. Working for Sugarbun, Soon Lee, boutiques; we were happy, never ashamed to be working and earning our own income early on,” said Siti Rohaya. “Even when we got married we told ourselves that we wanted to have our own business somewhere down the line.”
That time would come in 2017 with the oil and gas downturn. Stories of companies downsizing called into question the long-term employment for the sisters who worked in the industry.
Siti Rozima, a former stewardess, roped the sisters in to start the retail business that began with one Malaysian brand and has since expanded to six, earning them master stockist status for brands such as Amyera Beauty.
They named the business after Rozima’s daughter, and through an extensive network of agents and re-sellers – who have since used the hashtag #TeamKhaylaZalzi used over 33,000 times on social media – Khayla Zalzi has been able to consistently generate $10,000 in sales monthly.
A platform to encourage local business development
Recognising the barriers for wholly Bruneian-owned businesses to enter the competitive and lucrative oil and gas industry, the Ministry of Energy introduced the i-Usahawan initiative in 2018 to give new local businesses the opportunity to earn their first contract with Brunei Shell Joint Venture companies (BSJV), the government or government-linked companies (GLCs).
BSP were the first to award three-year contracts under the programme with potential extensions. Participating business owners need to be between 18 to 35-years-old and go through a tender process. Those shortlisted are invited to BSP’s Energy Business Academy (EBA) for training before their submission is made.
Siti Rohaya, who had experience working for a waste management company in the oil and gas industry, noticed the opportunity and attended the initial market engagement at Brunei Shell Recreational Club, which over 300 aspiring and existing companies signed up for.
To maximize their chances, the sisters submitted three tenders for landscaping, grass-cutting and waste management – the first they ever tried.
A stuttering start
“We looked at that letter over and over again. Is it real? Is it real?” recalls Siti Rohaya after being awarded in May 2019. But after the highs had settled in, the sisters would have grapple with the challenges of executing the contract for more than a year before being able to start in September 2020.
The awarding first meant they had to branch into two companies; their cosmetics business was renamed as Khayla Zalzi Sparkle Company while Khayla Zalzi Company was now focused on recycling.
Under the contract, they were required to collect three types of recyclable general waste: aluminum cans, plastic bottles, paper and cardboard. These are typically already separated at BSP sites, but upon collection, Khayla Zalzi is required to check through the waste to ensure they are in their appropriate categories before sending them off to the appointed recycling centres.
They required three vehicles – which reached six figures. Another six figures were needed to set up the recycling bins and shelters. An additional five figures needed to be spent on office renovation and equipment, and finally, three months in staff salary needed to be set aside in advance.
“We attempted to secure financing (personally and from the cosmetics business) but it wasn’t enough (for the scope of work needed),” said Siti Rohaya. “We approached the different banks, but initially our proposals were rejected, then after that we were only able to get 60% of the amount we applied for.”
A critical element according to the sisters, was the role of their assigned i-Usahawan mentor by BSP, Pg Abd Aziz, who encouraged them to re-work and re-submit their proposals with more specificity on cash flow, ability to pay back and projected income.
“There were feelings of wanting to give up. Because we could not secure the finance (initially) we thought that it would better to for them to give the contract to someone else (that could finance it),” said Siti Royaha. ” Alhamdulillah with the support of the In-Country Value (ICV) team, even the contract holder, even though we didn’t start the contract right away, they continued to be encouraging: don’t give up.”
After a year of rejection from banks, they were eventually approved for the full amount applied. They next secured an affordable site at DARe’s Pekan Belait Industrial Park for $700 a month.
Today, Khayla Zalzi collects anywhere from a tonne of waste a month, increasing up to three tonnes during the Hari Raya period. Both Siti Rohaya and Siti Rozima are working full-time for the business, while the remaining two continue to counsel.
The company has nine staff, who have grown from servicing five to 20 locations in KB, Seria and Muara. Their contract requires a minimum of five trips per week, and Khayla Zalzi now makes 10 trips on average.
The staff are split into three teams, two who manage collecting and sorting and another who delivers to the specialist recycling centres.
i-Usahawan: a launchpad for future success?
BSP is currently the front runner in offering i-Usahawan contracts, with seven already awarded according to their ICV Manager Hjh Rosita Hj Hassan.
BSP is planning to award more contracts under the programme by the year’s end in the areas of IT and digitisation. Hjh Rosita said that i-Usahawan contracts are part of BSP’s wider commitment to develop local businesses partners across their value chain.
Since i-Usahawan contracts can currently only be awarded to businesses who have yet to secure a contract with the government or GLCs, vendors already part of the programme such as Khayla Zalzi will have to strategically plan their next move as they will not be able to earn the same contract when it expires. Participants can generally progress up their current market vertical or diversify into new areas.
Hjh Rosita said a revamped version of their EBA is open for those vying for bigger or more complex contracts under BSP’s four quadrants. More specifically for recyclable waste collection, BSP is planning to expand the number sites with recycle bins, and Hjh Rosita is encouraging Khayla Zalzi to look into extending their current service to BSP to the wider community as a potential progression.
“There will be a continuation under EBA for the i-Usahawan companies under EBA 2.0, targeted to develop and grow (smaller) businesses into bigger and more complex contacts,” said Hjh Rosita. “The pilot was last year with three companies; they were all successful. Last November, we launched EBA 2.0 with six local companies.”
The founding sisters are committed to earn a potential extension on their current contract, and agree with Hjh Rosita’s suggestion of expanding their current service to more vendors while also looking into other areas such as transportation and supply in line with their current resources and expertise.
“The i-Usahawan opportunity has been a great learning opportunity: we learned all the ins and outs needed to secure and operate a contract successfully; how we need to approach the banks; how to source for materials and operate logistics,” added Siti Rohaya.
“From this experience we learn that starting and running a business isn’t easy. Sometimes from the outside it seems that those who are successful have it easy, but the truth is in the beginning it is a struggle for all of us. Without the personal support from family and guidance from BSP, I don’t think we would be in this position.
“We are proud that through i-Usahawan we were able to train and hire an all-local team and hopefully as we expand in the future we can also continue employing more Bruneians.”
Information for this story was sourced in June 2021.