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In Singapore, a cutting-edge approach to fighting hunger

By Nicol Ng, Co-Founder, The Food Bank Singapore 

Our family has been running a food distribution business in Singapore since 1934. 

We have been through plenty of ups and downs. My father was bankrupt at one point during the Asian financial crisis in 1997. I was called back to the business in the early 2000s to help clean it up, and it was then that I made a promise to myself: if we ever restored our business, we would give back to charity. 

Since then, we have grown our business 20 times larger than it was. 

A foodbank is born 

Singapore has one of the world’s highest gross domestic products, yet we still have people who go hungry. In fact, our country throws away 30% of the food it imports. This does not sit right with me. 

So, we founded The Food Bank Singapore in 2012 and, in 2020, released Singapore’s first-ever report on hunger. That was big. Singapore is a unique place – there isn’t a lot of poverty, so food insecurity has traditionally been overlooked. 

When we started our journey in 2012, fundraising was difficult. We were a food bank, not a money bank. So, when we went to companies such as Kellanova and asked for excess food instead of cash, it was a small step in the right direction for our movement. 

In year two, we were already part of Global FoodBanking Network, which was important because we got to meet and learn from bigger food banks. We now have more than 300 food-focused charities in our network and are not supported by the government. 

Embracing digital 

In 2019, we rolled out the world’s first high-tech vending machines for food insecure citizens. 

Social workers give people who qualify for food assistance a credit card that they can use at the 60 vending machines we have around the island. They can select whatever they want, be it a snack or beverage. They just tap the card and go. 

That was a breakthrough in how food is distributed. Our peers around the world are looking into how to deploy these machines, too, including frozen food with a microwave component. 

We also discovered an interesting development after COVID-19: a lot of residents who struggle with food insecurity were craving more food choices. They wanted to go out to eat. 

Now, we’ve helped make it so they can use their vending machine credit card at restaurants, too. We wanted to empower them to be able to not only choose their meals, but also have more flexibility around when they eat. 

In 2022, we opened our food bank in the metaverse. We rolled out our first Non-Fungible Token (NFT) last April, too. The idea isn’t so much around fundraising. We want to rally people 30 years old and under to join us in our movement. 

We plan to do a lot more in the metaverse space. If we can make gaming meaningful – such as going into our Meta shop and farming for, then donating a bundle of carrots – we want to keep moving into this space. 

We’ve chosen to be creative and always reinvent ourselves, and we will continue to look for new ways to collaborate with other food banks and generous companies such as Kellanova.                                           

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