Bringing people together for individual & community transformation

Jayne Kennedy, COO and Co-Founder, EPIC Homes

Jayne Kennedy embarked on this journey with an opportunity to bring ordinary people together, to do one extraordinary thing: to build a home with a man who didn’t have one. Armed with an interest in personal development and social impact, a background in advertising and training, Jayne has spent the last 8 years focusing on projects that bring people together for individual and community transformation namely through their flagship initiative EPIC Homes.

She has worked closely with over 50 corporations to realise their CSR and team building efforts and has grown their tribe of volunteers to 5000 contributors.

“In the first build, and in every single build I’ve ever been to, I’m constantly struck by the authenticity of the people around me; how united we were despite being so different, how much we learn from each other and how much we ‘unlearn’ in the process. There has been a lot of learning in this process, from really understanding what contributes to poverty and how our own decisions can affect this cycle even though you might not be directly linked to the issue, to admiring the resilience and strength that can come from someone who seems have limited access to things that more privileged people may have – there is so much to learn from one another,” she adds.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Advertising and Graphic Design from Curtin University, she developed a deep interest in personal growth and development through exposure to advertising and experiential training. She seeks to unlock, harness and connect like-minded individuals through worthwhile causes, building a community of change-makers along the way. Here are some more insights from her entrepreneurial journey, as shared with team ABT.

Tell us about the Journey & Evolution of Epic Homes.
It began with a Facebook post in 2010, calling for volunteers to build toilets and paint homes for a village in Jawa Kerling (Malaysia). Through this experience and the warm welcome of the village, we found that there was an opportunity to break stereotypes, build bonds and foster relationships between groups that otherwise wouldn’t normally meet but who could create a better, stronger Malaysia together.

In another village we had encountered a dilapidated shack that turned out to be a person’s home. We knew that we didn’t want to just build a home, but wanted to include the family and people in the process. And that’s when EPIC Homes was born. Our mission is to build trust and relationships with marginalised communities in order to create cooperative, resilient and sustainable communities through the act of building homes. We seek to connect people to the communities they are impacting, to learn about their lives, and with that, we seek to work together in understanding the problems and challenges that they face.

Our work revolves around people — bringing forward the strengths of their communities while facilitating opportunities for them to shape the places and spaces around them. We focus on a cross-sectoral and inclusive approach, where volunteers and targeted communities lead and organise projects together. The projects bring together the public and private sector and government to form ecosystem that supports one another. Over 50 organisations have helped to deliver this project due to our social enterprise model of targeting corporate involvement, where groups assist in facilitating home-owner’s build, while undergoing an immersive team-building experience. We raise funds through crowd funding and private corporations who want to sponsor homes as part of their corporate social responsibility or team building activity. We have worked with companies such as Prudence Foundation, General Electric Inc (Malaysia), Tetrapak,  PEMANDU (the Prime Minister’s Department for Performance Management & Delivery), the Ministry of Youth & Sports Malaysia, ARUP, Gamuda, Energizer, Real Estate & Housing Developer’s Association amongst others.

Who has been your biggest inspiration and why?
We could not be where we are today without the help, guidance and knowledge of others. People have been very generous in giving their time, skills and resources in making this happen. Some of these mentors include Jasmine Ng, Benjamin Ong, Ooi Piek See, Loh Lee Soon, Omar Giri, Rizwan Tayabali, Ellynita Lamin, Terrance Leung, Ronny To, and members our own families.

I am constantly inspired by my own husband, John-Son Oei. We started this journey together, and his dedication and genuine love for the people around him keeps me grounded and grateful on a daily basis.

What has been your biggest challenge as a women entrepreneur?
There are perceptions that women can’t be as involved because they are seen to be physically weaker, or perhapshave a lower tolerance for working outdoors or ‘getting dirty’ but we find that in our projects, we usually have 60% women and 40% men involved! The community I am in encourages as much equality as possible between men and women – but I do believe it is more difficult for women to see, feel and know their value in a wider context.

I read that women experience a far bigger “confidence” gap than men, meaning that a woman needs to be much more self-assured that she can get the job done when compared to a man. When faced with external infrastructures that limit women’s growth (i.e. salary gaps, women in leadership roles) and the internal pressure of what a woman is expected to be like or do, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and it contributes to the confidence gap.

If you were to re-live or change any one moment of your life, what would that be?
I would have spent more time with my father before he passed away. At the end of the day, I believe that the relationships you have are worth more than the empires you build, or the things you collect.

Tell us about your most cherished project.
We rebuild homes for flood victims in Kelantan. We held different builds of varying scales with Rakan Mudah, Prudence Foundation and Azman Hashim Foundation. The larger builds lasted over a month, mobilising over 380 volunteers and setting up camps in sites that had been devastated by the floods. The sheer amount of love that was felt, the dedication to each other, the resilience of the communities despite facing such destruction, it was an incredible experience that was honestly life-changing.

What would you like to achieve in the next coming years?
I hope that social causes such as EPIC Homes can become a nation building programmes, literally and figuratively! Our work requires a certain level of faith that goes beyond what we see today. We believe in the power of people and that together we can make a difference. We have a very supportive culture, from our internal team to the communities we work with, we’re very intentional about being encouraging and supportive.

Here is the short video of Jayne Kennedy at the Women Icons Malaysia 2o18 Summit & Awards.