Co-founder of The Food Bank Singapore
One impact I hope to make is to inspire a generation of women that we can always strive to break glass ceilings for ourselves.
Tell us your story, how did you get here?
My grandfather established our family-related food distribution business in 1934, pre-WWII, after escaping China to Singapore with his second daughter after his first wife passed on. He married my grandma and had 9 children in Singapore. Our family business went through plenty of ups and downs including a bankruptcy during the 1997 Asian Currency Crisis.
I studied in NUS as my dad had to use his CPF money to pay for my school fees. After graduation, I started working at MediaCorp Radio’s Marketing department. It was only in 2002 that my dad asked me to join the family business to digitise and modernise it.
In 2007, I set up FoodXervices Inc and acquired the family business. Currently, we serve 5,000 F&B establishments with a basket of more than 5,000 products. In 2012, my brother and I noticed that there was a lot of food being wasted and thrown. We thought we needed to give these excess foods a new lease of life by distributing them to charities.
That was when The Food Bank Singapore was established as an NGO focusing on redistributing excess foods and ending food insecurity in Singapore. We currently serve 370 charities, reaching out to 300,000 underprivileged. We celebrate our 10th anniversary this year, and we redistributed 1,600 tons of food in 2020, during the peak of the pandemic.
What impact have you made in Singapore?
I’m still in the early stages of creating the impact I hope to make.
One thing I’ve done on a few fronts is being true to myself and leading the way in my own way. For example, I’ve brought a breath of fresh air and pink hair to the stuffy traditional food distribution industry we’re in. Bringing in locals farms and being an early adopter of alternative protein has also helped us to create different niches.
Starting The Food Bank in 2012 with my brother grew from a passion project between us to a real pro-bono full-time job for both of us. Speaking up on difficult topics like ultra inflation and the lack of use of the words “poverty” and “hunger” in Singapore, we’ve touched on a few raw nerves in the industry. Although we had a slow start in 2012, we managed to grow from distributing 2 tons of food in 2012 to 1,600 tons in 2020. We also started The Food Bank Asia last year to spread our knowledge and excess food to the region.
One impact I hope to make is to inspire a generation of women that we can always strive to break glass ceilings for ourselves. Whether it’s to give other women a chance to be a better version of themselves or simply leading by example that you can indeed be a mum, career woman and NGO activist at the same time.
What does 2022 look like for you?
Challenging on the business front. The uncertainty on the F&B front is really causing a lot of undue stress to the ecosystem. The inflation that hit food prices significantly has caused worries for us.
On the Food Bank side, it’s also these unusual challenging times that keep me up at night. I’m not sure how the regular joe on the street is going to make ends meet. Global shortages, a pandemic and wars don’t mix well together.
Personally, I’m hoping to contribute even more to the food industry and food insecurity issues globally. Can we put Singapore on the map by developing more interesting tech and innovation to feed the world?
What do you love most about Singapore?
The cosmopolitan vibe, the second nature in which we embrace all cultures, and the world-class security and education that are often taken for granted by most.
What’s the one change in the world you’d like to see?
More humility, compassion and inclusivity for all. Hopefully, as mankind, we can all be more respectful and embrace our differences.
Who is your Local Legend, and why?
My hero is my late maternal grandma, my dear popo. She was the one who spotted my internal talent to be very empathetic and she taught me it was a big blessing to be able to give than to take. I carried that with me throughout my growing up years and being the busy body has defined the person I am today.
As a personal story, she also started working at age 8 during World War II to put food on the table for her 2 younger sisters. Despite not having any education, she became one of the biggest educators to me. That’s why she’s my local legend.