We The People is a column commemorating Singapore’s independence and the people who are working towards making our country an even better place. In it, we speak to a diverse slate of personalities, from environmentalists and entrepreneurs to trailblazing creatives for their vision of society. These are the voices that make Singapore home.
Nichol Ng is a woman of many roles. Apart from being the CEO of X-Inc Pte Ltd, she’s also co-founder of The Food Bank Singapore and a member of YPO — a global leadership community of extraordinary chief executives — among others. Despite being stretched with responsibilities, including being a mother of four, her goal is simple: to change the Singaporean conversation around food.
We speak with Nichol on the issues surrounding food insecurity in a country like Singapore, how The Food Bank adapted to help the beneficiaries and F&B industries during the COVID-19 crisis, and how she thinks Singapore can do better to when it comes to helping those in need.
Hi Nichol! Could you share a little more about yourself and your role at Food Bank?
I am a mother to four kids between nine and two years old. I am also the CEO of X-Inc Pte Ltd,a group of companies in food distribution. It is an extension of a family business 80 odd years in the making. On the side, I am co-founder of The Food Bank Singapore along with other roles that I play in other NGOs.
How did The Food Bank come about?
The Food Bank Singapore was established in 2012 together with my brother after we witnessed the level of food waste prevalent in our industry.
Over and above that, the cost of food has been escalating and yet in a nation that does not have a minimum wage nor poverty line, we knew that hidden hunger was also an issue to be dealt with on a societal level. Therefore, we decided to start a charity to marry the excess foods to the hungry.
In our second year of operations, we were invited to be a member of the Global FoodBanking Network which is a powerful network of feeding champions who are here to redefine what food security should stand for and how it should be a basic right for all humans.
What does term “food security” mean to you?
Food security to me means having frequent access to nutritious food in order to lead a healthy life. This is how food security is defined in first world countries like ours. However, I feel that food security should also be about nourishing your body and your soul too. It’s not just about filling someone’s tummies.
In terms of your career as the co-founder of The Food Bank, what achievements are you proudest of?
We started The Food Bank when little was known about both food waste and the hunger situation in Singapore. I think throughout the years we’ve challenged both the authorities and society at large to review their understanding of both issues.
We released Singapore’s first Food Insecurity Report in Oct 2020 and shed some light on real issues on the ground, including statistics like how 10.4 percent of resident households are having issues feeding themselves.
I am proud of the fact that we have set a goal with a deadline to work towards which is to “End Food Insecurity in All Forms in Singapore by 2025” because every NGO sets out on a journey to make a change and The Food Bank hopes to achieve this goal.
From my personal perspective, I think another achievement is that we’ve been able to attract young talents fresh out of school to fight this battle against food insecurity alongside with us. Our strive to continuously improve what we do through creativity and innovation is something that often amazes me. The dynamic ideas within the team ensure there is never a dull moment at The Food Bank.
What are the biggest concerns surrounding food security and food waste in Singapore?
Singapore is too efficient in most things — so much so that that it makes hunger and waste hidden issues. Hunger and poverty is hidden behind our efficient housing system and in our pursuit for a clean and green Garden City, waste is often out of sight with our state-of-the-art incineration plants. Whilst I appreciate everything that we are, this has also caused a lot of complacency and we take plenty for granted. Over and above that, when things are out of sight, they tend to be out of mind.
As I am also in the food business, I am championing the ecosystem to support local produce from fish and prawns to greens and by supporting a robust industry to look at alternative proteins. Singapore may just have an opportunity to be the new high tech food basin of the world, creating not just food security for ourselves but maybe to also have an impact on the world as well.
All locals should be proud to support our local farms as we should be delighted to have food grown in our own backyard instead of always thinking that imported is best.
COVID-19 has changed the way many of us work and live, and sharing meals and resources for beneficiaries is a quite a social affair. How has The Food Bank adapted to the situation?
We have started embracing technology since 2018 when we first started working on our virtual food banking app which is still being fine-tuned today. The idea is to push everything onto a single platform for transparency and efficiency. As donors demand for more transparency as to where their products end up, beneficiaries also want a peace of mind knowing where the donations come from. Somewhat like block chain for donations.
In addition to that, we’ve rolled out close to 50 vending machines island-wide to act as emergency food aid distribution points where the under privileged can get access to food 24/7.
We’ve also supported the F&B industry in 2020 during the circuit breaker and brought the restaurants to those in need in a time when they cannot dine out. It was impactful and powerful as we supported small hawkers and caterers, and the huge variety of tasty food made many recipients so happy. We gave out close to one million meals from May to end September as well.
For World Food Day 2020, we also rolled out DRIVE HUNGER AWAY, a contactless food drive where drivers can put their donations in their boots, drive by, drop off and go. It was a fun and safe way to conduct a food drive.
And in Q3 this year, we are pleased to announce that we will be rolling out Feed The City 3.0 where our food bank cards can be used to redeem meals at F&B outlets across the island. This is in response to the feedback received from our beneficiaries who wanted more variety of cooked food and also to have a choice of when they wish to consume their meals.
Are there any institutional measures you think could be implemented or improved on to aid with the cause that you work for?
I feel that communication between the various social agencies can be increased so that each of us can minimise duplicates and ensure that more people in need gets the help that they need. The Good Samaritan Act which is in the midst of being passed will be helpful in getting more corporations to donate when liability is their biggest cause for concern.
COVID-19 has been challenging for us. What to you, are the silver linings?
I told my children that we are the chosen ones to be living through this pandemic and we should feel blessed. Just imagine the stories and lessons that we have to share in the coming years.
It’s not just a time for us to pause and reflect but it’s a moment for us to question our identity and purpose. I am extremely heartened to see a lot of ground up initiatives where small and large charities work with corporates or on their own to deliver help and happiness to different segments of the population. This will be a true test of our resilience.
What is your personal vision for Singapore?
My personal vision for Singapore is to be a continuously evolving giant jigsaw puzzle where each of us have a part to play. And like a jigsaw puzzle, not every piece will fit. The joy is in the journey of figuring that puzzle out together.
I hope that Singapore can truly be a passionate melting pot of cultures and talents from all over the world regardless of race, language or religion, where humility, compassion and empathy are the building blocks for all that we do. We can all do with some extra love right now.
Learn how you can do your part to end Singapore’s food insecurity here.