Every year, The Singapore Women’s Weekly shines a spotlight on inspiring and influential women who are shaping our world. We call them the Great Women of Our Time. This year’s list for 2022 includes Fion Fong, the head of business development at WhyQ, a hawker food delivery service, and digital ecosystem that adopts a zero-commission model.
Singapore is undeniably a nation of foodies, with hawker culture very much a part of our national identity (we’re home to the world’s most affordable Michelin-starred meal, after all), and ubiquitous hawker centres dotted across the island. Yet at the same time, in the era of digitisation and food delivery, less digitally-savvy hawkers are at a considerable disadvantage.
Enter WhyQ, a food delivery platform that employs a business model to help hawkers hop on the bandwagon, without being charged a commission or onboarding fees, and without having to fiddle with a device. It is also part of the SG Together Alliance for Action – Online Ordering for Hawkers.
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Fion Fong, who is WhyQ’s head of business development and strategic partnerships, is happy to be a part of it. Previously in the travel industry, she witnessed her colleagues encountering situations like getting furloughed and getting pay cuts during the Covid-19 pandemic. Another group of people who were taking a serious hit also came to her mind — hawkers. So when the opportunity to join WhyQ came along, the 29-year-old jumped at the chance.
“Many Singaporeans, including myself, grew up eating hawker food and have fond memories at the food centres. There is a duty to ensure that in the age of food delivery and convenience food, our local hawker culture is protected and can continue to be reimagined with every new generation.” She continues, “I’ve always feared spending my days on something I don’t enjoy just to make a living, and wanted to find a sense of purpose in my career choice. I’m thankful for the role I have now that gives me exactly that.”
Getting stall owners, especially those of an older generation, onboard the platform was initially an uphill battle. She shares, “During the earlier days, there were some hesitancies simply because of the lack of awareness and their fear of digitisation.”
However, the team refined a model that was tailored to the needs of local hawkers and it proved to be the winning formula to convince them to go online. She adds, “I’m thankful to have a strong team so we can motivate and lean on each other. It also taught me the importance of building our own trusted pillars of support to get through difficult situations, whether in work or in our personal lives.” Apart from the support of her family and team, Fion reveals that she’s also part of a Lean In Circle, where a group of women get together regularly to help each other navigate through career, life, and everything else in between.
For Fion, the highlight of her career is WhyQ’s growth to become Singapore’s largest zero-commission hawker food delivery platform. “We have become very recognisable among hawkers, and are proud to be able to help them access larger pools of customers so that their food can be enjoyed by more people,” she adds. Another would be when the team helped deliver over 500 meals from Bedok Food Centre to seniors’ homes around the area in celebration of National Day.
She considers empathy as one of her biggest strengths, which guides the way she trains and motivates her team in the way they pitch ideas to hawkers and small business owners, especially those fearful of change. “I encourage them to not simply view their jobs in terms of acquisition targets, but empathise and see themselves as partners who are helping hawkers navigate the digitisation journey.”
Another attribute that helps her succeed: having discipline in her daily habits. She says, “I am particular that I don’t neglect little things like getting enough sleep, having my meals on time, getting regular exercise, and regular check-ins with friends and family, even when things get busy. These seem simple enough but in reality, can be hard to accomplish.”
Her love for local food stems from her parents, especially her father, who often jokes about not considering something as “real food” unless it’s a plate of hawker fare like chicken rice or Hokkien noodles. “They taught me to feel proud about the food we have in Singapore, because nowhere else in the world can we savour these same delicious tastes and at such affordable prices.”
So what’s Fion’s favourite local delights? She counts Famous Amoy Street Lor Mee, Maxwell Fuzhou Oyster Cake, and Ji Ji Wanton Noodle Specialist as some of her go-tos.
When she’s not working on taking WhyQ’s platform to the next level, you can likely find Fion exploring the lush greenery and parks of Kembangan, where she recently moved to with her partner, who works in a big tech company. “We also bought mountain bikes and have been exploring the cycling paths in the East. On a typical weekend, we would cycle from our home to East Coast Park, sometimes continuing towards Marina Bay or the airport.”
“Of course, we’ll end the day with a good hawker meal, usually at East Coast Lagoon food centre.”
Photography: Kathy Lim
Videography: Stacey Rodrigues
Hair: Christine Lim
Makeup: Ginger Linette Leong
Location: Conrad Centennial Singapore