AWE alumna advances organic farming in Malaysia

Women making flower arrangements (© Irene Mositol/AWE)
An Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) alumna’s business trains women in Malaysia to grow organic flowers. (© Irene Mositol/AWE)

In 2020, Irene Mositol often stayed up until the early hours of the morning to complete training for her participation in the U.S. Department of State’s Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE).

Living in the rural community of Kampung Bundu Tuhan, Malaysia, Mositol lacked consistent internet service and studied when her connection was strongest.

Woman standing by banners (© Nina Othman/AWE)
Irene Mositol attends the 2023 AWE Summit in Malaysia in March. (© Nina Othman/AWE)

She was balancing DumoWongi, the business she started in 2019 supplying herbs grown without chemicals to restaurants and hotels on Borneo, while raising her young daughter.

AWE’s training modules, developed in partnership with Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation, helped Mositol create a business plan and expand her company.

“The big lesson and what I got from the [AWE] program is to focus,” said Mositol, who recently won the 2022 Shell LiveWIRE Global Entrepreneurship Award in the social impact category. “The step-by-step program helped me to plan my business and taught me about the marketing and financial aspects that make a company successful.”

Launched in 2019, AWE has given more than 25,000 women entrepreneurs in 100 countries the knowledge, networks and access they need to launch and expand successful businesses. In Malaysia, AWE has helped nearly 200 women follow their entrepreneurial dreams since the U.S. Department of State training program started there in 2020.

AWE also enabled Mositol to access a microloan that helped her continue and even expand her business during the COVID-19 pandemic. The loan supported her research into natural ways of preserving herbs, such as by drying plants with various salts or using a food dehydrator to preserve freshness and flavor.

Plate of rice paper rolls containing vegetables and edible flowers (© Irene Mositol/AWE)
DumoWongi’s edible flowers are used in food that combines Malaysian and Western styles. (© Irene Mositol/AWE)

During the pandemic Mositol quit her job with a nongovernmental organization to focus on her business full-time. DumoWongi now distributes to more than 20 hotels and restaurants, as well as a supermarket. Her edible flowers enhance cuisine that mixes Malaysian flavors with those that Western tourists have introduced to Borneo.

With her $20,000 Shell entrepreneurship prize and a $100,000 grant from a Malaysian foundation, Mositol is continuing to expand her business, while also offering opportunities for other women on Borneo to work toward financial independence.

Mositol, of the Malaysian Dusun tribe, trains other indigenous women to grow herbs and edible flowers without chemicals. While farming can be challenging in Borneo’s  mountainous terrain, DumoWongi agrees to purchase all viable products. So far, 45 women have completed the training, with another 30 planning to attend.

Group of people posing for photo (© Elcy/AWE)
DumoWongi trains women to organically farm herbs and flowers to sell to restaurants and hotels. (© Elcy/AWE)

“It’s not easy because [the women] normally use chemicals in their planting techniques, especially to control the weeds,” Mositol said. “So we teach them about dew monitoring and really encourage them to trust the alternative methods.”

Meanwhile, Mositol’s company continues to grow. DumoWongi has two full-time and six part-time employees. “We currently have eight dried products, six community greenhouses, and one show farm,” Mositol said. “And I cannot wait to keep expanding.”

This article was written by freelance writer Naomi Hampton. A longer version was previously published by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.