Migrant workers are people who travel outside their home countries to find work. Singapore has more than a million migrant or foreign workers who come from all over the world, including South and East Asian countries like India and China. They often work long hours in manual labor jobs and live together in dormitories. Human rights groups have been focused on improving migrant worker living and working conditions.
That’s where this month’s podcast guest comes in. Jiaheng Yin (pictured above at Singapore’s Marina Bay Promenade) is a teenage social entrepreneur from Singapore with a mission to help the migrant worker community through sustainability and social equity. Grains for Migrants, his brand of human-centered problem solving, recently took second place in the NFTE World Series of Innovation competition. His project provides a window into everything from collaboration to cosmetic filtering, with the ultimate goal of strengthening communities.
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Wharton Global Youth Program: Welcome to Future of the Business World, the podcast that brings you innovation and inspiration through the stories of teenage entrepreneurs.
I’m Diana Drake of the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Each month, I have the pleasure of interviewing tomorrow’s business leaders—youth from across the U.S. and beyond who are eager to share their energy and their ideas.
Today’s conversation takes us to Southeast Asia. Jiaheng Yin is a social entrepreneur from Singapore with a mission to help the migrant worker community through sustainability and social equity. We caught up with Jiaheng, a recent high school grad, during a brief break from his mandatory military service, which lasts a couple years in Singapore.
Jiaheng, so glad you could join us on Future of the Business World!
Your project, Grains for Migrants, focuses on improving access to nutritious food among the migrant worker community in Singapore. Can you help us understand that migrant community? Who are they and what challenges they face?
Jiaheng: The demographic that we’re looking at are low-wage migrant workers who come from South and East Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China. Typically, they work at construction, marine shipyards, and process industries in Singapore. There are about 300,000 of them in Singapore, which is quite substantial considering that Singapore only has a population of around 5.5 million. A bit about their financial background: most of them earn monthly salaries of 800USD or less. And they work 12-hour shifts from dawn till dusk doing intense manual labor. One of the main challenges that these migrant workers face is that their nutritional needs are often neglected and they are limited to poor-quality catered meals that are delivered to constructions sites and dormitories. These meals are supplied by low-cost catering services that prepared thousands of meals often hours in advance with little regard to the nutritional content of the meals. This hampers migrant workers’ long-term well-being. But despite such substandard food, migrant workers lack the economic means to afford alternative meals that are nutritious and tasty and also fall within their budget.
Wharton Global Youth: Another key piece of your equation is the process of cosmetic filtering with produce. What is that exactly?
Jiaheng: Cosmetic filtering occurs at every stage of the food-production process – in farms, wholesale wet markets, supermarkets, to homes. It’s where food that looks ugly, damaged, or less-than-perfect according to the market or personal standards are discarded, even those that are edible. In Singapore, this is a really prevalent problem. Wholesalers of fresh produce spend dusk to dawn trimming, preening and discarding ugly fruits and vegetables in order to present to hawkers and wet-market sellers the most pristine and aesthetic fruits and vegetables. And the criteria is really stringent. Fruits and vegetables must be free of pest marks, in the right shade of color and shape. It’s no wonder that more than 30,000 kilograms (more than 66,000 pounds) of blemished fruits and vegetables are thrown away each day at such wholesale markets because they’re not meeting the mark. In 2019 alone, more than 744,000 tons of food was wasted in Singapore, of which more than 30% was discarded through the process of cosmetic filtering.
Wharton Global Youth: And yet the food is totally edible. Your plan with Grains for Migrants is to repurpose fresh produce rejected by cosmetic filtering. How did you come up with this idea and what is your vision for this socially driven venture?
Jiaheng: Most people would see food waste through cosmetic filtering as an environmental issue and the welfare of migrant workers as a socio-economic issue. And never the twain shall meet. But I see differently. Singapore is consistently ranked as one of the most food-secure nations in the world, but paradoxically, the underserved migrant worker community continues to face numerous obstacles in impeding the access to nutritious foods and other resources to live healthy, active lives. I really believe that such inequity is not only a reflection of systemic weaknesses, but also a manifestation of social injustices that must be addressed. Therefore, I see Grains for Migrants as an avenue to integrate sustainability and social equity through entrepreneurial efforts. And creating social impact through entrepreneurship is just one of the many ways that we can do to help in this effort. And I believe that discovering innovative solutions can have an outsized influence on our ability to solve our pressing problems today.
Wharton Global Youth: How does Grains for Migrants work?
Jiaheng: We have a three-stage process. The first one, as I mentioned earlier, is that we’re taking these ugly, discarded foods from wholesalers and we move these foods into a central kitchen, where we have professional nutritionists and chefs designing creative menus for our migrant workers. Once these meals are created, we then send them to the migrant workers’ dormitories and construction sites for their consumption. Throughout this process, there is no additional cost because the food is going to be thrown away anyway. We are simply taking these discarded foods and turning them into nutritious meals for migrant workers.
Wharton Global Youth: Though you have this comprehensive vision, Covid has interfered with implementation. Still, you’ve been doing your market research by volunteering with migrant non-profit groups. How have these experiences helped to shape your awareness of the issues and helped you become more empathetic to the plight of migrant workers?
Jiaheng: The migrant worker community in Singapore are rather disadvantaged. Because they are non-citizens, they do not qualify for various financial schemes, even though their income technically falls in the bottom 5 to 10% of all Singapore households. And I think what struck me most was when I volunteered as a food assistant at a market bazaar. So, I was in charge of the fresh-produce booth, where I handed out apples, bananas and oranges. And what I realized, among all the things that the bazaar had to offer, from clothes to pots and pans to tidbits, they were the most interested in the fresh-produce section. I met one such migrant worker, Arjun. He shyly asked me if he could have more apples and oranges so he could save for the next day. He explained to me that they do not get much fruits and vegetables as part of their meals and he doesn’t have the means to fork out extra money to buy them at markets. And, of course I obliged and gave him extra apples and oranges – and he beamed with joy. This experience also broke my heart. I felt very sad that he had to ask me in such a shy and timid way, when I believe that having excess nutritious fruits and vegetables are an inalienable right to anybody (everyone should have access to them). Just because he’s a migrant worker, he shouldn’t deserve less. This also opened my eyes to the realities faced by the migrant-worker community in that they do not have sufficient access to nutritious food and I was determined to change that. That’s why I started Grains for Migrants.
Wharton Global Youth: Grains for Migrants will have an app technological aspect to it. One thing you learned while immersed in the migrant community was about digital inclusion. Can you talk about that and how you’re thinking about it as you develop your technology.
Jiaheng: I think an important part of any project is to really look at how we can harness the power of technology to enhance our solution. One of the biggest qualms that migrants have is that they have no outlet for feedback on the quality of their food. That is also the reason why these caterers get away with providing such sub-standard food, simply because they have no avenue to actually give feedback and provide the necessary comments about the poor quality. Grains for Migrants wants to make a mobile app so that our migrant workers can provide feedback on each meal they have, so if they don’t like the taste or the ingredients used, they can provide feedback. This will go directly to the chefs and nutritionists who plan these menus. This is a great process that enhances the current system in which the migrant workers don’t have any say in what they eat. I really hope that this will enable a bidirectional flow of information where it’s not just the kitchen who are preparing the food, but also migrant workers having a say in what they see.
Wharton Global Youth: Can you tell me about the startup ecosystem in Singapore and how you feel it can advance your Grains for Migrants project?
Jiaheng: There are many meaningful startups that deal with migrant worker welfare. For example, TWC2 (Transient Workers Count Too), It’s Raining Raincoats and Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics. I’ve volunteered with these organizations and they are really meaningful interactions that I hold dear to my heart. At the same time, there are also many organizations that use sustainability initiatives. For example, Food Bank Singapore and SG Food Rescue. And while these organizations are really great at their individual domains, there are lapses in organization that connect these two domains together. For migrant workers to enjoy improved access to delicious food, we need organizations that are able to bridge both aspects. That is the reason why Grains for Migrants emphasizes leveraging partnerships. Firstly, it will be important to tap the migrant worker networks that many of these startups in the migrant worker welfare space share. On the other hand, the logistical expertise of food banks will be important in order to have a successful implementation in later stages. That is the reason why Grains for Migrants focuses on leveraging partnerships.
“A few years back, I always wanted to rush into the process of implementation without working out the why and the how. That has really caused a lot of chaos and trouble afterwards.”
Wharton Global Youth: So, I was struck by your story because you clearly have passion and purpose for your social enterprise, and at the same time Covid, as well as your personal obligations are impeding your ability to move quickly. Professor Angela Duckworth here at Penn would say you need major grit to persevere and push through obstacles. Have you been able to do that? How have you been able to sustain your interest?
Jiaheng: [Being] in the military for National Service has definitely been very challenging. A big part of becoming a soldier is physical training. So, it could really go from Mondays through Fridays rolling in the mud, go five days without showering in tropical heat, to the weekends where I’m working on the social enterprises that I’m passionate about. The scheduling is also really challenging because usually we only get the weekends off, so it’s most likely really difficult to do things on the weekdays. But I think the whole experience of being a soldier and enlisting in the military has allowed me to recognize my privilege. I’m so fortunate in so many different ways. When working with the migrant-worker community, I see them making personal sacrifices: leaving their hometowns in order to create a better future for themselves and their families. And for myself, I’ve had the privilege to go through education and I will be attending university in the next few years after I finish my military service. That is moment where I realized that I must take all that I’ve been given by society or the resources that I’ve received or the education that I’ve had and turn it into something that can create tangible, social impact that helps the communities who are not so fortunate. The process has also emphasized making the most of what you have. The weekdays we spend serving as a dutiful soldier and the weekends working on social enterprises and seeing it through to its implementation.
Wharton Global Youth: You won’t go on to university until 2024. What do you see for the future of Grains for Migrants? Will you continue to pursue it?
Jiaheng: In the short-term, Covid-19 restrictions have loosened up in recent months. I’ll definitely be prioritizing implementation in the next 6 to 12 months. I think one of the things I’ll be pushing for in the next 6 to 12 months will be collaboration with other NGOs and nonprofits I’ve mentioned earlier. And also to really establish partnerships with key government agencies that oversee local food systems, such as the Singapore Food Agency as well as the Ministry of Manpower who look after migrant worker welfare. There’s also an abundance of sustainability [initiatives] in Singapore right now where the government is encouraging youths and entrepreneurs to come up with innovative ideas that can transform food waste, reduce food waste and create social good. That will be the short-term plan. In the long-term, I really hope that we can expand into other migrant-worker groups, because as I mentioned the group we’re focusing on right now work in construction, the shipyard and process industries. There are other groups of migrant workers, such as foreign-domestic workers, who are also facing similar troubles with regards to access to nutritious foods, although not on the same scale as the group that we are targeting right now. Eventually, I hope that we are able to expand to a team where we are large enough and well-established enough to expand to serving other migrant-worker groups. Hopefully, when I enter university I’ll be able to get a step further. If I go overseas, I’ll be able to bring this project and this concept to the college community I am part of. That would be great to involve all of my peers who will then be finished with their military service and we can all go on this venture together.
Wharton Global Youth: One of the questions I like to ask all the guests on our show is if you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Jiaheng: One thing that I would change would be to change the mindset that building businesses is about maximizing profits. I believe that businesses should be used in a way that creates social good through sustained impact on a community. I really hope that youths of tomorrow will be more aware of needs in our community and be able to rise up to the challenge and tackle it as we can.
Wharton Global Youth: Let’s wrap up with our lightning round. Try to answer these questions as quickly as you can:
What is the best advice you’ve received as an entrepreneur?
Jiaheng: My mentor taught me: there will be obstacles, there will be doubters, there will be mistakes, but with hard work there are no limits.
Wharton Global Youth: The biggest mistake you’ve ever made and what you learned?
Jiaheng: That would be prioritizing short-term results over long-term growth. I think a few years back, I always wanted to rush into the process of implementation without working out the why and the how. That has really caused a lot of chaos and trouble afterwards. I really learned from those lessons, and especially the importance of consistent effort and patience to create something that’s truly valuable.
Wharton Global Youth: What is the next thing you’re excited to learn that you don’t yet understand?
Jiaheng: The metaverse and its impact on political, economic and social institutions.
Wharton Global Youth: Finish this sentence: High school prepared me for…
Jiaheng: an interdisciplinary approach in bridging differences to find common ground for collaborations.
Wharton Global Youth: Something about you that would surprise us?
Jiaheng: I’m fluent in both English and Mandarin, and bilingualism and biculturalism is a huge part of my identity. I’m also actively involved in the arts and culture scene and I’ve served as an exhibition curator and play director.
Wharton Global Youth: If you could take one businessperson to lunch, who would it be and why?
Jiaheng: Bill Drayton, one of the founding fathers of social entrepreneurship. I think he’s really dedicated to finding and fostering social entrepreneurs worldwide, with a particular focus on youth leadership and empowerment. I really believe that the youth are the future of the business world, so I hope to meet him and learn from his experiences.
Wharton Global Youth: Jiaheng, I wish you luck with Grains for Migrants. Thank you for joining us on Future of the Business World.
Jiaheng: Thank you for having me.
Who are migrant workers and why and how are nonprofits, NGOs and potentially Grains for Migrants helping them?
Grains for Migrants has not yet been implemented. How would you help Jiaheng improve it? How would you make his innovative idea better? What flaws do you spot in his business plan?
Jiaheng says he would like to change the mindset that building businesses is about maximizing profits. How do you respond to this? Do you agree? Why or why not?
Grains for migrants is a great social work done by Jiaheng as it provides the standard basic need of living to those who can’t afford it. But I think that it’s a social work. It’s wrong to say it a business as the word itself says buying and selling of goods and services with the purpose of earning money and maximize profit.
I wish all the best to jiaheng for doing this nice work.
Hi Anjali! Thank you so much for taking time to listen to this episode, and providing your feedback! There are many types of businesses, with the majority of existing ones being for-profit entities. I strongly believe and advocate for youths of our generation to look beyond economic profits, and instead explore other branches such as social enterprises, as they can be equally if not more meaningful to create social impact. A common misconception is that social entrepreneurship is equivalent to social work. Social enterprises apply commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being, while ensuring fiscal sustainability. Their primary objective is to maximise social impact, while maximising profits could be a secondary goal depending on organizational goals. There is so much untapped potential in this sphere, and I hope more youths will join in on this movement 🙂 Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn at Jiaheng Yin!
Migrant workers form a substantial part of working class in many countries, they are key stakeholders on human resources employed by companies. They are called migrant as they leave their home country and move to a new place to find work. I believe not every business runs for profit making. People like Jiaheng Yin, social entreprenuer, are doing amazing job by running a social enterprise. It (social enterprise) is having three bottom goals, first, social, then environment and last economic, that too to reinvest profits in improving services to benefit society. Such social enterprises are really necessary in today’s world.
When he will start Grains for migrants or as other NGO’s do, it will help the workers to get proper food to eat and not just full stomach but get sense of satisfaction and joy of eating tasty and nutritious food.
But there are flaws in his model. When he says that he is going to take discarded fruits and vegetables, it may leave an negative impression in minds of migrants that it is still a low-quality ingredient being used for making food for them. This may keep some migrants away from the scheme, as they may think that the catered food is better than this rejected food. Also, some migrants may not be that much tech savvy to use phones and provide an informative feedback on food. In fact some may face language barrier while some may not be able to afford a smartphone. On top of that some may be barred from using smartphones on premises. So all this factors need to be taken into consideration. If he goes ahead with this, the user interface needs to be very simple to use. But I would prefer not using this technology, rather using in-person meets or some other form of taking feedback. I don’t think he has taken logistical challenges still in consideration, he needs to rectify that like how he will transport the food to dormitories or how it can be fresh and on time.
Changing the mindset of businesses to not maximize profit is very tough. Also, businesses earn money from selling goods and services. They keep some of it for reinvesting in other projects or paying bills and expenses. But other is left to pay salaries. The whole economy surrounds this money. After all it is from these salaries that the employees, who are also end consumers, satisfies their needs. So profit motive is important for business improvement and other things. But yes it can be done while not putting society and environment at disadvantage.
Hey Yash! Thank you so much for taking time to provide detailed comments, I really appreciate it! Indeed, migrant workers form a significant part of many communities around the world, especially so for my home country Singapore.
On the point about the “negative impression” surrounding repurposing ugly fruits and vegetables, I believe that changing this negative impression is also one of the core missions of Grains for Migrants. Our perception of fresh produce that is desirable and nutritious is purely based off the aesthetic exterior, but the nutritional value of fresh produce is unaffected by the shape, colour and size of them. This ongoing stigma against UglyFood results in hundreds of tonnes of fresh produce discarded simply they do not fit within aesthetic standards. When utilised as ingredients in meals, these UglyFood are as tasty and nutritious as their aesthetic counterparts, and we should not let such arbitrary standards of hold us back. Furthermore, the current food situation from these low-cost caterers is truly disappointing, with no regard for taste and nutrition (Search: Rancid US$1 curry: should Singapore swallow cost of migrant workers’ meals?) Hence, the greater mission of Grains for Migrants is to integrate sustainability and social equity through repurposing UglyFood as ingredients for nutritious meals.
With regards to the tech savviness of migrant workers, from my numerous interactions with them via volunteering, I have discovered that the vast majority own smartphones, and are active users of social media applications like Facebook. Therefore, an application seemed like a reasonable enhancement to connect with migrant workers. I definitely do agree on the need to make the app interface simple and easy, as well as logistical process efficient. All these are work in progress, and I hope to continually improve on existing offerings 🙂
Hi Jiaheng Yin, that’s good to hear that the migrants have smartphones and are able to use it. Also, I am really thankful for you taking time to read my thoughts. That’s great if you could change their ‘perception’ and provide them nutritious food. All the best for your venture!
His entrepreneurial spirit is saluted, but it seems that
he still lacks potential business knowledge. Thus, if he gains some skills by going to university and some knowledge on enterprise running then his initiative is more likely to succeed.
Hey Yash! I’m definitely looking forward to university, where I can learn more about business fundamentals from esteemed faculty and boost my theoretical knowledge. With my current commitments for National Service, I have sought to build up my real-world experience through connecting with other industry players and NGOs, and I hope to consistently improve in the spheres of product development and operations!
Grains for migrants is a great social work done by Jiaheng as it provides the nutritious food which is the basic need of living to the low paid migrants who can’t afford it. It’s a work done for social welfare. But I think it’s wrong to say it a business project as the word business itself says buying and selling of goods and services with the purpose of earning money and maximize profit. It doesn’t cost extra anything but also not increasing our revenue. It may be successful in achieving future goals but it doesn’t mean that it will be successful in achieving the business goals also.
Reading about how Jiheng Yin is trying to provide healthy meals to migrant workers provided me with a new perspective on how businesses can contribute societal good. I found it quite inspiring how Yin created a business focused not on profit but on providing healthy meals to migrant workers.
It was devastating to learn that so much food is wasted during “cosmetic filtration” while the migrant community suffers from a lack of healthy eating options.
I found the project’s purpose very interesting, which is because it revolves around not strictly profits, but also prioritizes making a strong impact on the community surrounding it, and as well as leaving a virtuous legacy on the world.
The business, Grains for Migrants, was interesting because the business revolves around making a positive change in the migrant community, instead of profits. Nowadays many companies do not worry about leaving a good impact on the community. They strictly care only for filling their coffers and whenever they try to make a good impact on the community, it is usually cursory gestures for their “image”. For example, what societal good are big companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Google contributing to besides providing employment and tools of convenience?
Although these companies donate on a sporadic basis, the amount is nowhere near as how much they make. In contrast to these big name companies, Grains for Migrants devotes itself to serving some of the under-served members of the community. I found this to be inspiring because the pure motive of the business shows the desire to leave the community a better place.
I have recently been involved in a non-profit event run by a organaztion that was very similar to Jiheng’s business. Similar to Grains for Migrants, the organization had one sole purpose and statement, leave a positive impact on the world. This organaztion did not care about earning money and making profits, it just had one motive, which was to provide food to people who did not have access to healthy foods. Before I volunteered, I didn’t think it meant much and didn’t really believe that this singular day of volunteering with the organization would make an impact on anybody’s lives, but I thought it was a good way to give back and get involved in the community, so I volunteered anyways.
The event consisted of putting together ingredients and packaging them to be shipped out to villages in Africa that did not have access to healthy food. Each volunteer was assigned different tasks such as filling the bags with a certain ingredient, sealing the bags, and sealing the boxes once they were full of the packaged food bags, which ensured efficiently filling each bag with the perfect amount of each ingredient. While making the food packages with the other volunteers, I did not really anticipate this act to make some sort of impact on anybody — it was such a small gesture and there was no way we had enough time or resources to reduce even a thousandth of the percentage of world hunger, which went against my mentality at the time. If I cant completely change it, why help at all?
After reaching the goal amount of food bags made, I went home and did not really think about the event much. It simply felt like I had to do what I had to do and I simply moved on with my life. A few months had passed and the event organizers created a video that was sent to all of the volunteers. By this point, I had completely forgotten about the event.
The video displayed families smiling and thanking us for the food that we made and put together. Everyone in the video seemed so joyous and blessed with this simple act we had done. It was so eye-opening seeing all these different people rejoicing over what I thought was just a simple act, which really changed my thoughts on the meaning of volunteering.
Even if the food was just enough to satisfy a couple people, seeing those few people smile and knowing that they aren’t starving because of what seemed like a small act, made it all worth it.
The Grains for Migrants business reminded me of this event and how Jiheng Yin vocalized the morals of his organization and their overall mission. Even if the business is not certain to make a large dent in World Hunger, I admire how Yin is willing to sacrifice his time and efforts into this business to change lives, even if it may only feed a few people, he is willing to do as much as he can and take the risk.
Brilliant work, Jiaheng, and the Wharton Global Youth Team! This is one of the most engaging student podcasts I have come across.
I think the particular issue of migrant workers taken up by Jiaheng is of great importance, and brings notice to a part of the global economy that’s often overlooked – the migrant workers.
Jiaheng very rightly pointed out the sizeable number of migrant workers in Southeast Asia, particularly in my country – India. In India, the blue-collar workforce comprises almost 40% of the total labor force, with 90% being employed in the informal labor sector. In countries like mine, where labour is inexpensive, the immeasurable contributions made by these workers at the grassroots level keep the wheels of the economy running, and keep a nation where inequality is rife, on its feet.
However, on 25th March 2020, everything changed. The Indian government, in a pre-emptive move, declared a nationwide lockdown to be effected within the next 6 hours. Millions of migrant workers, temporarily living in cities due to the active employment season, were left stranded in urban areas, with no clarity as to when things would return to normalcy. Therefore, amidst the uncertainty and confusion, these migrant laborers returned to their towns and villages to continue the one occupation they knew would sustain them – agriculture.
This proved to be devastating for the economy in the short-run, with no labor available for intensive industries like real estate and manufacturing. Numerous migrant workers were also stuck in cities, with the Indian Railway services on pause, and all modes of transportation being restricted by the lockdown. Although economic relief schemes were announced by the government, none of the benefits seemed to filter down to the ones who actually needed them – the workers.
My helper, Shanti, confirmed my suspicions as she sorrowfully narrated her visit to the local rations store, “ek rupee ke ration ke liye bhi sau rupee le rahe the bhaiya” (they were demanding Rs. 100 for the subsidized rations worth Rs. 1, brother).
Thus, I took up the onus of helping these migrant workers, who came to my city and hundreds of other cities in India, far away from their hometowns, and built the towers and institutions that India has today. Researching thoroughly on the tranches of economic stimulus and subsidies provided by the government, and interviewing migrant laborers in my locality, I authored a comprehensive economic policy critique and research paper titled “Survival to Revival: COVID-19 & The Migrant Workers of India”, that was subsequently published in The International Journal of Scientific Research Publications. This paper involved a thorough analysis of the policy measures by the government, alongside a statement of reasons discussing their flaws, and providing suitable recommendations to alleviate the struggles of the migrant workers. I was subsequently invited to present my paper at The University of Delhi, a major economics college in India, where I explained the merits and demerits of the current labor laws and regulations in the nation.
I believe Prof Duckworth perfectly encapsulates the mindset the migrant workers have, one which I respect them massively for – “You need major grit to persevere and push through your obstacles.” I’m delighted to proclaim, that India’s migrant workers perfectly espouse that. Within months of the economy opening up in 2021, the migrant labor population once again flocked to India’s cities, kickstarting the rusted wheels of the economy, and bringing financial prosperity back to the world’s fastest-growing developing economy.
Further, the government also introduced the One Nation, One Ration scheme, making the procurement of food rations at subsidized prices extremely accessible to all those who needed it – all through the prowess of innovation and technology. I applaud Jiaheng’s bold spirit and share his belief – “discovering innovative solutions can have an outsized influence on our ability to solve our pressing problems today.”
Whilst reading the article, I found a number of parallels between migrant workers in Singapore and migrant workers in China. However, it is important to note that migrant workers in China are mostly domestic, often being those leaving less-developed provinces to industrial and commercial centers, one of the more notable destinations being Shanghai. As of June 2022, the population of Shanghai is reported as 24.89 million, with 10.31 million being migrant workers. Most individuals yield from the province of Anhui, a rural province located in the east of China, followed by Jiangsu and Henan. Similar to migrant workers in Singapore, many of the men take jobs on construction sites, while women take jobs as domestic cleaning ladies, or “ayis.” They have quite a low income, making a little over 2000 RMB monthly, but still attaining better opportunities than they would have back home.
As someone who lived in Shanghai for almost my whole life, the struggles of migrant workers have always been talked about around me, especially regarding their healthcare and the education provided for their children.
Schools are provided for the children of these migrant workers, but only up until middle school. After that, in order to give their children an education, they would have to make the decision to either send their children back home alone or move back home as a family. This unideal situation frequently strikes up conflict. Obviously, most parents would rather not be separated from their kids, only being able to see them once a year. However, this would be the case if the children of Chinese migrant workers were sent back to their province to attend the available boarding schools while their parents stay to make money. This increases resentment from the children to their parents, who feel as if they’ve been abandoned, as well as anger the parents, who believe their children are ungrateful for their sacrifices. The other option would be to move back as a family. This is a more unorthodox route, as migrant workers would be making a lot more money in said cities, thus being able to provide for their family and relatives.
As for healthcare, health insurance is not available for these migrant workers while they live outside their province. Thus, to avoid high fees, they often resort to “black market doctors,” or unlicensed doctors. This could cause major health issues for migrant workers, as these self-taught doctors may more likely give a less accurate diagnosis, and would not have as much of the needed medical resources as a licensed doctor would have.
The government has started taking notice of these problems, taking actions to at least somewhat resolve them. Such methods include opening up more job opportunities in the previously more rural provinces, convincing the younger generation to stay put as to end these problems to healthcare and education for migrant families. Nevertheless, a lot for action would still need to be taken in order to help migrant workers sustain good health and a future for their children.
When I first saw the title of this article, I was amazed how someone else had a similar business proposal that aimed at audiences located in demographics similar to mine. But as I read more and more of this article I was surprised how much more similar our visions were similar in bringing solutions to these problems.
Starting two years ago, after me and my friends started our own subscriptions to newspapers (because we thought it would be a good habit to develop), I came across an interesting article regarding soil degradation. Soil degradation usually occurs when soil is polluted through wastes and becomes wasted land – no longer arable. In my case, I found out that soil degradation was especially a bigger problem in Hunan, China. According to the Economist, most of the farmers there were having neighboring powerful corporations throw away their wastes toward the farmlands near them. For a long, a lot of these farmers were unable to advocate for their problems for two main reasons. First, their enemies were way more powerful than they were. Second, the Chinese government itself has not released enough information about this incident. This got me hooked up and wanted to find out more, something about soil degradation being secretive in China made me more inclined to learn more about this crisis. Soon, I found out how devastating this issue was. How a lot of the citizens in China were in dangerous situations as the crops mostly grown in the Hunan region have been in severely bad condition and more.
These were the main incentives behind my adventure in learning more about soil degradation but also starting on my own projects to counter it. Similar to you, I also believed in the two solutions you proposed. First is how we should purify the environment around us such as the Cosmetic filtering you mentioned. And second, using technology to our advantage. For the first solution you mentioned, to purify our environment, I researched and found an effective solution to soil degradation, which was the usage of hyperaccumulators. Cheap, affordable plant seeds that could help absorb the harmful ions within degraded soil. Fun fact, this was how Japanese farmers countered soil degradation after receiving two nukes from the US during WWII (science direct). But there was one problem remaining. The people themselves could not plant these seeds in degraded soil as the degraded soil emitted harmful radiations, too harmful for humans to handle. This is where my second solution comes in which was the usage of technology. For a few months, I developed a robot using VEX tools at our school that was programmed to help plant hyperaccumulator seeds on its own.
It’s been roughly a year since then and now I have moved towards conducting my own lab research to find out which hyperaccumulator is the most efficient in absorbing lead nitrate ions. For the time being, I wanted to say how I was glad to read stories of others like you who had the same goals and visions as me. It was truly inspiring to read every detail of your journey from where you started.
If you are still reading this I hope you can contact me if you have any further questions as I am more than inclined to talk with you in the future. For example, knowing more about how you even started researching this topic and if there were any mistakes you had. Thank you!
Thinking About Grains for Migrants’ Future
America suffers from a food waste problem. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 30-40% of the entire food supply gets disposed.
Jiaheng Yin’s project aims to help alleviate such food waste crisis by turning cosmetically unsound food as valuable sources of nutrients for migrant workers.
Singapore’s food goes through a process known as cosmetic filtration, which filters out visually unappealing foods.
Grains for Migrants is a non-profit organization that Yin has founded with the purpose of providing food to migrant workers in Singapore, who otherwise lack the means to nutritious food. Yin does this by using the food that would have been disposed due to cosmetic filtration.
While Grains for Migrants is a non-profit organization, Yin explains ideas he will implement into the company, but will most likely pose a big obstacle in the near future. It will be very difficult for Yin to execute his future plans because of the high cost required in hiring chefs/nutritionists and development of his application. Hiring one, singular nutritionist costs around $60-90 an hour and adding a chef would cost around $40 dollars an hour and on top of that, development of the app would cost around $60k-150k. The app would also be required to have updates every now and then to keep up with the feedback from the customers/migrants. With that being said, the average non-profit organization in America makes around $51k a year, so how will that pay keep up with Yin’s future plans?
Although being a non-profit organization (NPO) might help portray the company as being selfless, there are many problems that come with it. Yin explains that he will create an online application and hire food chefs to make the foods healthy, nutritious, and delicious.
But as the company grows and the organization gathers more participants, will Yin have enough funding to pay for the chefs and app development? Converting into a profit organization could indisputably lead to more benefits for the company. If the company earns money, they could use that profit to improve their food quality and could also expand their business throughout the Singapore migrant community.
There is most likely a very large percentage of migrants in Singapore who have not heard of the Grains for Migrants organization. With possible profits, the organization could advertise in order to reach as many migrants as possible.
Although Grains for Migrants has a good method of fighting food waste, I think Yin could do additional things that could lead to a significantly more effective reduction in overall food waste. In the article, Yin explains that more than 30% of food is discarded due to food waste. Yin could use this jaw-droping statistic and he could start activist movements. Yin, himself, cannot change Singapore’s actions on foodwaste, but he can rally up people that stand against foodwaste and open the world’s eyes to this insane food waste issue that is currently taking place. Jiaheng could use his organization, Grains for Migrants, to advertise this activist movement to help more migrant workers gain access to nutritious food.
Grains for migrants is a great social work done by Jiaheng. But I think we should not make profit from it and do it willingly.