All his staff call him the "kampung chief", and he certainly looks the part.
Mr Tay Lai Hock, the grizzled, grey-haired founder of Ground-Up Initiative (GUI), prefers to go barefoot when walking around the group's base at the former Bottle Tree Park in Khatib.
But the energetic 51-year-old has a more alien past. He was a successful sales and marketing executive for 11 years, working for a Silicon Valley-based employer in the United States and earning a five-figure monthly salary.
He gave it all up in the early 2000s to travel the world for four years. Enroute, he lived in organic farms and eco-villages in Spain, Morocco and New Zealand, and was inspired to begin something similar in Singapore.
GUI started in 2008 with just a handful of members. Over time, its "village" base at the former Bottle Tree Park - granted rent-free by the supportive management - grew into 7ha of farming plots, fruit trees and a workshop.
Today, the ragtag outfit is no more. It has expanded quickly as schools and firms were attracted to its educational programmes that emphasise connecting with nature, the earth and people.
It now has an innovation arm, a social enterprise called Sustainable Living Lab, to add to its educational arm known as Wow Kampung.
Its volunteers hail from Singapore and around the world, and include civil servants, social workers, chefs and bank executives.
Last year, Mr Tay was given an Inspiration Of The Year award from global think-tank Challenge:Future.
This article was first published on Nov 09, 2014.
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