Candy Pencil Project is a social enterprise with a difference

Lauren Peng, standing at rear, with some of the recipients of her uplifting enterprise. Peng launched the Candy Pencil Project in 2015, and now it operates in seven countries. As a social enterprise business, the project employs marginalised women to sew bags and autistic artists to paint them.

Lauren Peng’s career break has turned into a social enterprise that is brightening the lives of disadvantaged communities in seven countries.

Lauren Peng FCPA had her “light bulb moment” one morning in January this year, and now she’s racing ahead with the Candy Pencil Project, her very own international children’s charity. 

“I woke up early and started to design my own charity – just like that,” says Peng.

“I decided to develop a charity to educate underprivileged children; I believe that if you educate a child, you make the world a better place.”

Her idea: instead of soliciting cash for art education, why not sell bags to provide coloured pencils for children to “write, draw and colour their dreams”.

After nearly three decades of corporate accounting, Peng was in the midst of a career break. She had enrolled in a life-coaching course and volunteered with disability charities in Kuala Lumpur, but now she wanted to pursue her own life purpose.

To fund her venture, in April Peng bought a sewing machine and fabric to sew cotton bags. She invited her friends and network of global accounting contacts to buy them on Facebook.

“I don’t sell the bags themselves, but their story,” she says.

To Peng’s amazement, the Candy Pencil Project found an instant following – and to fill demand, she created a social enterprise. In Malaysia, the project now employs 12 disadvantaged women to sew bags and five autistic young people to paint each one individually.

Over the past few months, Peng has established five recipient projects in Malaysia, including three in Kelantan state that assist 50 children in a village, 21 special-needs children in an army camp and 100 in a hospital paediatric unit. In Kedah state, Peng inspired university students to volunteer with 120 mentally challenged children.

Soon the project will head to the Perhentian Islands, off Malaysia’s north-east coast, where local women will sew Candy Pencil Project bags and primary school children will paint them and benefit from the bag sales in their school.

These bags are sold at universities, conferences, resorts and online to fund projects that provide disabled and underprivileged children and those in hospital with their own set of coloured pencils, drawing books and, in some cases, access to art tutors and special events. 

“I started very small but it has had a domino effect,” says Peng.

“The best thing is when I visit the children’s projects and see the joy that coloured pencils and drawing books bring them. We have impromptu art competitions, and we play and sing together. It is beautiful.”

With such positive growth, very little investment and no paid staff, Peng is now replicating her project with 40 street children in the Philippines and 100 children with disabilities in earthquake-ravaged Nepal.

Assisting others through education has featured prominently throughout much of Peng’s 28-year career. After originally receiving CPA certification in Australia in 1986, she focused on accountancy education. This included a stint as CPA Australia Malaysia education manager from 2003 and then divisional director until 2005, followed by a role as global head of learning development at the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) for eight years.

Now the disadvantaged are reaping the rewards of her skills.

“This is my new chapter,” says Peng. “My advice to others is: have the courage to do it and make it happen!”

This article is from the December issue of INTHEBLACK

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