5Qs with Elisa Djuhar, MBA Candidate at Harvard Business School

Our 5Qs series is a chance for the SGN members to know more about folks in the community, where we pose 5 questions to exciting individuals to find out more about what they do.

5 July 2021 / By SGN

Singaporeans love food, but Elisa Djuhar loves everything about food – eating, cooking, baking, and even working directly in the industry to learn about its systemic issues. With three years of food industry experience, her passion for addressing food inequity and insecurity motivated her to pursue a Harvard MBA.

Tell us a bit about yourself – what brought you from Singapore to the U.S.?

I was born and raised in Singapore and went to local schools until junior college (JC). Most of my family were educated in the U.S., so I always had the mindset that I was going to the U.S. for college from a young age. As a kid, I was always looking forward to the time of going abroad.

After JC, I did my bachelor’s at Cornell University, majoring in Food Science. Growing up in a tropical metropolis, I found Cornell’s freezing weather and rural location at times difficult to bear. Yet, my undergraduate experience was nothing less than amazing. It was the first time I met so many passionate students. The first time I learned about such wide-ranging fields of study, from entomology and atmospheric sciences to fiber science and apparel design. More importantly, Cornell allowed me to explore my passion for food at a level more profound than the mere enjoyments I receive from eating.

Elisa (right) graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Food Science.

From working in the food industry to pursuing a Harvard MBA, what motivates you?

Ultimately my long-term goal is to help address food insecurity. As someone who is so passionate about food, it saddens me to see so many people live without enough to eat. Food is a necessity and is one of the most basic human rights. What’s so mind-boggling is that the world already produces enough food to feed the entire human population. Yet, there is still hunger. The problem lies not because we have insufficient resources but because we use them inefficiently. Our food system generates too much waste, fails to distribute food to where it is needed the most, and is slow to adapt, as seen with the COVID-19 pandemic. I am thus motivated to improve the resilience and sustainability of our food systems, which can address the food insecurity crisis.

During COVID-19, Elisa raised funds to feed New Yorkers facing food insecurity.

My work in the food industry ranges from sustainable product innovation to overseeing the quality and safety of food products from farm to fork. With my technical background and skillset, I see business school as a crucial next step in enabling me to round out my experience, build business acumen, and ultimately gain insights and support critical functions that can address food insecurity.

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your life?

Nike’s tagline “Just Do It” has always spoken to me. It’s not advice that I’ve received, but rather something that I’ve taken and really tried to internalise and use to motivate others as well.  Whenever I’m afraid, nervous or unmotivated, I always tell myself, “Just Do It”. Sometimes the more you think about something, the more hesitant you become, preventing you from moving forward. Telling myself to “Just Do It” has genuinely driven me to be more adventurous in life and take leaps of faith to choose paths less travelled. It has also helped me avoid procrastination and improve my time management.

Elisa (top) participated in her first CrossFit event, organised by HYROX, in 2019. Despite only four months of training and suffering from a back injury just a month before the competition, she came in 4th in her age group.

Ultimately, I think venturing outside of your comfort zone, gaining new experiences, and continuously pushing yourself to grow are extremely important in life.

What are your hobbies outside of work?

I’m a huge foodie. I love everything about food – eating, cooking, baking, talking about food, learning about food, visiting farmers’ markets, and even grocery stores. Food is a universal language, and eating is a universal human experience. Thus, I love sharing meals with others – be it through my baking and cooking, hosting potlucks (pre-COVID), or exploring distinct cuisines and unique restaurants. There is no better way to get to know an individual than over a meal or a drink, and I believe there is no better way to learn about a culture than through its food.

Strawberry picking in Austria.

Secondly, I am an avid traveller. Travelling has enabled me to broaden my horizon and learn about different ways of living and thinking. Even during the pandemic, I’ve taken the opportunity to explore various neighbourhoods within NYC and surrounding areas. NYC is America’s melting pot, and the massive diversity means that sometimes you don’t even have to travel that far to gain new experiences and exposure.

Elisa (right) and her friend Jen rented a camper van and explored the entire country of Iceland in 7 days!

Lastly, I work out often to keep my mind and body fit. I try to diversify my workouts to challenge my body so I don’t get bored too quickly.

Hiking in Zion National Park, Utah.

How do you stay connected to Singapore?

I stay connected by keeping in touch with friends and family in Singapore. Despite time zone differences, I invest time and effort to maintain core relationships that I’ve built back at home. Recently, I was also given a cookbook that offers authentic recipes for some of Singapore’s best-loved foods. I’ve yet to try the recipes, but it’s next on my to-do list!

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