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Articles > Gen Y Speaks: I Quit A Stable Job I Loved, Because The Pandemic Made Me Rethink My Purpose

Gen Y Speaks: I Quit A Stable Job I Loved, Because The Pandemic Made Me Rethink My Purpose

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An Jun Goh
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Ms Suzanna Tang is the co-founder of the social enterprise Urban Origins, a ground-up initiative connecting communities with local urban food.

It all started from an empty supermarket shelf in March 2020. 

At that time, I was four years into my job as a primary school teacher — a career I was not only passionate about, but had also prepared extensively for after getting a Ministry of Education scholarship during my university days. I felt strongly about making a difference in the young lives of my students and was determined to progress well in my career.

When I gave birth to my first son, I became more conscious of his nutrition and found myself compelled to find fresh, healthy, safe and traceable food for his growth and well-being. I became a self-taught expert in reading nutrition labels and hunting for locally-sourced fresh produce. 

Then came the pandemic — a time of major unease, uncertainty and fear. It was during this crisis that the issue of food security began to weigh on me. 

I vividly remember the weekend that I visited my neighbourhood supermarket in March 2020 for my routine grocery run. The sight of rows and rows of empty shelves devoid of staples like vegetables and fresh produce, and the sight of long snaking queues to get basic groceries that we had taken for granted for so long, struck me hard and stuck with me for a long time. 

After doing some desk research, I found that Singapore relies heavily on international supplies for our food. As an island nation with limited resources, we import over 90 per cent of our nutritional needs and only one per cent of our land is dedicated to farming. 

At that time, the world was closing up. Rampant food protectionism and a palpable tension from being on “survival mode” amidst an unknown virus made me aware of how crucial food security and sustainability are. I was concerned about our children’s food future both as a teacher and as a parent.  

I spent a long time thinking about this issue and could not shake the feeling that I needed to do something to make a change. 

Singapore is currently working towards strengthening our local agri-food industry, so that 30 per cent of our food can be grown locally by 2030. But we also had more immediate needs to ensure a steady supply of food.

UPHILL CLIMB OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP

So, with this in mind, the pandemic became a whirlwind of personal change. I left the safety of my government job in 2020 and ventured into extremely unfamiliar territory — entrepreneurship. 

The next year, I launched my company, Urban Origins, with my husband and a group of friends.

It is an urban food platform that connects residents, local farms and businesses with one another. It aims to raise the profile of local food producers and suppliers, make sustainable food sources more accessible and create food-secure communities. 

I was apprehensive about leaving a stable job and a reliable source of income during a crisis. 

In the first few months that Urban Origins became operational, I was also heavily pregnant with my second son while caring for my first, who is a very active toddler. It was incredibly taxing, both physically and mentally.

It was a constant juggling act amongst my many responsibilities as a mother, wife and business owner. 

Ms Suzanna Tang, co-founder and CEO of Urban Origins, holds a sample corporate gift box of products from sustainable local brands.

Contrary to the belief that working for myself would allow for greater flexibility of time, I found myself working longer hours and spending less time with my children. I also had to manage the family finances more carefully due to our reduced household income. 

On the business side of things, initially we found ourselves struggling to get necessary buy-ins from stakeholders, including local food producers who were unfamiliar with our company and our mission. 

It was hard not to take these rejections personally, or second-guess our efforts. 

PRESSING ON

Yet, as the saying goes, tough times don’t last but tough people do. 

I was fortunate enough to be supported by my parents and husband, who volunteered to help out. This was an offer I was all too happy to take up, leading him to “double hat” as our logistics and operations head. 

Our clients soon warmed up to us after continual engagement and now fully trust our mission and vision. I’m especially grateful to The FinLab’s Digital Mumpreneurs Programme, which I participated in earlier this year, for learning and gaining the resources to further digitise Urban Origins’ processes. 

Encouraged by my first experience, I jumped at the chance to join their Sustainability Innovation Programme, to gain insight from industry experts on available resources and ways to become more eco-friendly, as a growing business. 

All of this has led to where Urban Origins is today, with over 80 partner merchants, 10 local food suppliers (with a wide range of foods), four full-time staff and four interns!

Our survey tells us that over 60 per cent of Singaporeans are aware that local produce is fresher, more sustainable and that buying them contributes to the local economy. They are largely held back by the prices – local produce can cost up to 20 per cent more than imported produce. 

But the prices will come down with economies of scale and more of us supporting local food. So, my team and I worked to measure and quantify the impact of our sustainable actions and find ways to make local sustainable produce even more accessible, both in terms of pricing and reach. 

LESSONS LEARNT

What struck me was the fortune of meeting more like-minded people along the way.

I am extremely grateful to the Urban Origins community that has stood behind me and banded together to pull through. We did not have to walk this path alone. 

For example, I was thrilled to welcome our interns, who have given me the opportunity to work with a younger generation to make positive change. I learn something new from them every day. 

Looking back, starting my business has also brought my family closer together. 

As a bonus, my firstborn is now very aware of where our foods come from, having heard me and my husband discuss this topic countless times in the last year. He even offers to plant and harvest the vegetables from our little home garden! 

Spending so much time together as a family on a good cause in the last two years has made us pause, reflect, and focus on what truly matters. 

This journey has girded my resolve to sow the seeds of change, starting in my home, and through my business, for a better tomorrow.

About The Author

Suzanna Tang is the co-founder of the social enterprise Urban Origins, a ground-up initiative connecting communities with local urban food.

BY SUZANNA TANG

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