MERDEKA AWARD LAUREATE, SUZANNE MOONEY
, is founder of The Lost Food Project (TLFP), Malaysia’s first sustainable food bank that feeds Malaysians in need, and fights food waste.
She founded the non-governmental organisation (NGO) in 2015 with other like-minded parents, rescuing quality nutritious food, preventing them from ending up in landfills, and diverting them to vulnerable and marginalised Malaysians. A rotation of 4-5 food pick-ups each week collects food from supermarkets and sends them to vetted and assigned charities.
To date, TLFP has collectively distributed over eight million meals and rescued over 2.5 million kg of food. 56 charities including orphanages, refugee groups and homeless shelters as well as thousands of B40 communities from the Projek Perumahan Rakyat (PPR) flats and low cost housing units, are the beneficiaries. They feed a whopping 40,000 mouths a week.
Mooney’s work with TLFP resulted in several victories, such as the Food Donor Protection Bill being approved by the Dewan Rakyat in October 2019; contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goal #2 which is to achieve Zero Hunger; The Best Social Impact SME Award at the Europa Award for Sustainability in 2019; and an Award for the SME with the Best Social Impact, in 2017.
Mooney was conferred the Merdeka Award in 2020 for Outstanding Contribution to the People of Malaysia.
This is a letter to her younger self (perhaps in her 20s):
To the girl who found that the unexpected nature of life is what makes life so interesting,
I am not sure you realise how lucky you are in life. But don’t worry, most people are the same. We are too busy rushing around, comparing ourselves to others - when actually we should just stop and be grateful. You will enjoy life to the full - but please remember to enjoy every special moment. Linger on the good times. Bad times may feel like they last longer, so just remember the saying “time heals all wounds’. It is more profound than you realise. It’s one of the absolute truths that applies to any form of grief. However you will probably only really understand when you go through the heartbreak of romantic love or the death of a loved one. Sadly some experiences need to be lived rather than read.
To live your best life, I would suggest you try and pay attention to these five pillars; 1. Self-Belief, 2. Controlling Insecurities, 3. Finding Purpose, 4. Family, 5. Love & Kindness
Please remain humble, because too much self-belief mutates into arrogance, an extremely unattractive trait. So perhaps we should reframe this as ‘self-assurance’. You will remember your tutor at Highbury Fields School who advised you not to try and become a journalist. He said it would be too difficult a career for a woman to navigate and succeed. He did not know your potential. So stick to your dream and you will make it!
You should always listen with care, to others
. Listening is a very undervalued skill. Most people do not listen properly. You’ll have a huge advantage in life if you pay attention. However, never ignore the voice from within
, and follow your dream - even if there are a few detours on the way. Nothing terrible happens if you try your best and don’t succeed
. We would not have any Olympic events or other sporting competitions if people were frightened of failing or coming second. Most successful people in life leave a trail of mini-failures on their ascent to the summit. It’s part of the human condition that we remember the success stories more than the near-misses. So please do not burden yourself with the quest for perfection and the fear of failure. You have to reach for the stars to hit the moon.
Unfortunately, attending a public school put you at a slight disadvantage in terms of confidence and self-belief. In the comprehensive school system in your era, people did not want to excel academically or be ‘showy’. Like every girl in the class, the priority was to ‘fit’ in. This strategy worked well at this stage, but later at University and in the workplace you came across many more privileged and entitled people. These individuals ooze confidence - which is gifted by the culture of many private fee-paying schools. Do not compare yourself to those peers whose self-importance makes you feel small. Do not stay silent. Believe in yourself, but remain humble.
Everyone has insecurities. Even the really rich, successful and most attractive people in the world have self-doubt. So please do not compare yourself to them. In your mind you will always come out worse. Whereas the reality may be the opposite. Insecurity is loudest and most intense when we are isolated. Lockdowns will happen in the future that will challenge our economic and mental health. However, it will show us the importance of human interaction and family. Insecurities will be heightened by social media. Remember the photos people post are not reflective of real life - they are aspirational. Do not live your life according to how many ‘likes' you receive. It is a hollow place and you will never find happiness there. Just see it for what it is, and the potential harm it can cause people as well as the good. Make sure you are present with friends and family - and not co-existing in a physical room with family and friends whilst engaging with a social media world somewhere else.
When you are younger, you are ambitious and will work very hard in order to be promoted and buy all the ‘things’ you think will make you happy. Of course having disposable income makes the quality of life much better, but you will hit a certain point in life when you realise you actually have too many ‘things’ and you will spend even more of your precious time decluttering. You will realise that money cannot buy happiness. Laughter, the love of family and true friendships is what really makes us content.
When it comes to our work motivation - the same principle applies. Earning a decent salary will give you self-worth, but is this enough? How can you live your best life and feel ‘alive’? It is simple - find a purpose
. Sometimes you cannot find what you are looking for - and it will come to you. However when you carve out a role that allows you to make a positive impact (that would not have happened without you) this is the feeling that will give you motivation and boundless energy. The power of being able to help others is an unexpected journey with the highest rewards. You will not need to go to any mindfulness classes as you will be living a mindful life. You will find your schedule will suddenly have a new clarity and focus.
Relish the time with your loved ones. Do not take them for granted. They have helped form you as the person you are today. It is never a waste of time if you phone them rather than send them a text or email. When you have the privilege of having your own family - enjoy your children as the time will pass quickly. The biggest problem you will face as a working mother is lack of time. Trying to balance so many roles is probably the most difficult and exhausting. Be kind to yourself. You will be your biggest critic. Just do the best you can.
LOVE & KINDNESS
You will not appreciate the beauty of nature until you can see the delicate fragility of Earth. Please do find the beauty in our natural world, whether it be a sunset, a waterfall or the fact 2.3 million species on our planet depend on a single tree. It’s sad that we sometimes appreciate a view more when we have to pay an admission ticket… nature is free and yet, essential.
Apart from the planet, our most precious resources are love and kindness. When you are younger you will appreciate assertive and domineering behaviour as strengths of a leader. Of course strength of character and the ability to execute a judgement is important but please never stray from the understanding that love and kindness are only found in the very best leaders. A good leader will know (and want to) apologise when they are wrong. For they will understand this is a sign of strength not weakness.
You will live in turbulent times, and it will get more complicated as the population grows and climate change affects so many more people in the world. You will have to learn to be adaptable and wise. I wish you were good at telling jokes - because humour can be a tonic. Your life will have many chapters, you will follow different career paths so always be open-minded to new opportunities. Most of the jobs available in 20 years have not even been created today.
Over the years you will encounter bad times as well as good times. You will face hate and judgements from those that want to damage you. The only way to fight hate is through love, kindness and tolerance. Do not absorb anyone’s negative energy - life is too short. Visually think of it like someone giving you a present. If they came to you holding their outstretched hands trying to pass you a gift. What would happen if you walked away without taking the present? They would be left holding the gift. Think of negative energy in the same way.
Life will be over in the blink of an eye, Suzanne. So with your new found purpose and love, set forth and enjoy. Your destiny was to be born under a unique constellation of stars. How lucky you are.
For the first 18 months after TLFP was founded, Mooney bore the expenses, but the project now receives grants, donations and fundraising activities. The NGO recently expanded operations to Johor Bahru and Sabah.
The Lost Food Project is a strategic partner of Yayasan Food Bank, Malaysia’s first national government-led food bank, set up in 2018, under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs.
Prior to setting up TLFP, Mooney founded The Lost Towel Project, a workshop to help Chin refugees in Malaysia generate an income, and live in dignity. She also mentored and set up an education team which actively conducts projects in schools and universities, engaging young minds to change their behaviour about food waste and sustainability.
In 2018, Mooney relocated to Zurich, where her husband was posted, but she remains active with the day-to-day operations of the organisation, remotely.