Stories > Roll Model
The vice-president of strategy at Ericsson Telecommunications, who wheeled about Singapore as a delivery rider for a good cause, is fascinated by the country’s multiple facets.
BY CARA YAP
ILLUSTRATION KEN LEE
he sight of a middle-aged Caucasian delivery rider tearing down the streets on his bicycle laden with bulky orders is an anomaly in Singapore.
But Welsh native Anthony Houlahan, who chalked up more than 2,000km as a delivery rider over Singapore’s Circuit Breaker period to raise funds for the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF), donned his shocking pink Foodpanda uniform with pride.
Blistering heat, rainy day spills and tedious waits at restaurants were all in a day’s work for the vice-president of strategy at Ericsson Telecommunications during his 10-week-long stint delivering orders via Grabfood and, later, Foodpanda.
Besides garnering $120,000 in donations and pledges, he says the charity campaign also exposed him to the quotidian struggles of individuals from different socio-economic backgrounds.
“I have the utmost respect for delivery riders, who work hard at an honest job to provide for their families. I got a glimpse of their challenges, and realised how much drive and effort it takes for them to earn money,” he muses.
Perhaps even more eye-opening for Houlahan were the public’s reactions to his project, which drew widespread attention from both local and international media, including the BBC.
“I’ve witnessed Singaporeans’ gratitude at seeing a foreigner contributing to society. I was thanked a lot in person, which was really touching,” says the 49-year-old, who despite having lived in Singapore for 18 years, was pleasantly surprised by the effusiveness of locals.
The Singapore Permanent Resident adds that he received complimentary meals from restaurants, and was also gifted a new two-wheeler from his go-to bicycle shop.
This fulsome approval was echoed by his fellow riders, many of whom he says he has become friends with. “I told a few riders about what I was doing, and they offered me tips to maximise my earnings towards charity,” he recounts.
“WHAT I LIKE ABOUT SINGAPORE IS HOW OPEN AND FRIENDLY THE PEOPLE ARE. I’VE ALWAYS ENJOYED HOW MULTICULTURAL SINGAPORE IS, WITH VARIOUS CULTURES UNITED THROUGH THEIR NATIONAL IDENTITY.”
CAUSE AND EFFECT
While acts of altruism are not new to Houlahan, who coached football to troubled adolescents at a local home for girls a decade ago, he admits that his project was not initially conceived with philanthropy in mind. “The idea came to me spontaneously when I was struggling with social isolation during the Circuit Breaker. I did food delivery as there was a demand for it at the time. It could provide me with a degree of social interaction while allowing me to contribute to society,” shares the Briton, whose wife and daughters are based in the UK, where his kids are schooling.
Houlahan’s mother passed away from cancer, and he says he honed in on CCF as young cancer patients who benefit from the charity “have their whole lives ahead of them”. Within days of registering online to be a delivery rider – a process, he reveals, was straightforward, given his PR status – he had successfully canvassed for thousands of dollars in pledges.
The father of two also set up his own blog, crafted social media posts with help from his family, and roped in a friend to photograph him in action. Balancing his full-time job with his delivery gig was not complicated either, as he scheduled his deliveries outside of working hours.
f Houlahan’s entire charity drive seems serendipitous, it may be ascribed to his jaunty disposition, which belies his hard work. This is evinced by his ability to laugh at his falling off the bike and into the bushes at night with bubble tea in tow, as well as his tendency to describe things as “all great”.
The latter pronouncement is also how he sums up his journey in Singapore, which began in 1996. Back then, he stayed for a year working on projects as a management consultant.
As a 25-year-old at the start of his career, the avid traveller gravitated to the region for its rapid economic growth. After a six-year stint in Hong Kong, he returned to settle down in Singapore in 2003. The decision was not solely underscored by career prospects.
“What I like about Singapore is how open and friendly the people are. I know it is a cliche but I really appreciate the warmth and hospitality of Asians. I’ve always enjoyed how multicultural Singapore is, with various cultures united through their national identity,” he reveals.
So keen was the young man’s affinity for Singapore’s diverse cultural fabric that he immersed himself in it, becoming fluent in conversational Bahasa Melayu and Mandarin – which, at one point, he was literate in. He laid down his roots in the Lion City, with both his daughters schooled under the local education system.
Though his kids have since moved back to the UK – accompanied by their mother – to pursue their higher education, he visits them often and is based there for a couple of months a year.
With the same alacrity he describes his campaign, Houlahan insists that he did not experience challenges when he first moved to the country – simply because “it has been such an accommodating place”, both in terms of its foreigner-friendly policies and its welcoming citizens.
With that being said, he is cognisant of the ongoing debate over Singapore’s immigration policies, with some arguing for lessening reliance on foreign labour.
Rather than bemoan the shifting narrative, the long-term resident enjoys discussing such topics with his Singaporean friends. “Singapore is a unique country in terms of its rapid growth in economy, education system and infrastructure. Now that we have achieved all these things, the country is transitioning to having a greater plurality of voices,” he notes.
“Singapore is a unique country in terms of its rapid growth in economy, education system and infrastructure. Singaporeans are diligent and hardworking, and I see an increasing amount of creativity among the younger people.”
Nonetheless, the sanguine interlocutor is convinced that living in Singapore has benefitted him both socially and professionally. Over the years, he has worked at building his professional network, working as a management consultant for Internet companies before moving into the telecommunications space. According to him, the country – which is generally viewed as a business-friendly environment – is a good place for career advancement.
Taking centre stage in his portfolio is his role at Ericsson Telecommunications, which was awarded Singtel’s contract to roll out nationwide 5G coverage.
Working with Singaporeans, he asserts, has shed insights on the local culture. “Singaporeans are diligent and hardworking, and I see an increasing amount of creativity among the younger people. For instance, relating our products and features to our customers’ needs – and demonstrating their tangible benefits – is an important skill that my team has displayed,” he explains.
Outside of the professional setting, Houlahan – who before the pandemic travelled on a weekly basis – enjoys keeping busy through yoga, social gatherings and zipping around on his bike.
Interestingly, he reveals that he did not own a bicycle before the Circuit Breaker, but now enjoys exploring park connectors and eateries as an avid cyclist and foodie with a predilection for toast and eggs from Tong Ah Eating House. “Being a delivery rider has showed me what Singaporeans are eating, and taught me how to find good food,” he says, laughing.