Alumna Pitches Good Health (and Delicious Ice Cream)

January 15, 2020

Chen Deah Chien, MPH ’05, has studied, lived, and worked in no fewer than seven countries: Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Singapore, Switzerland, the United States, and the United Kingdom. This international background gives her a broad-based perspective that informs her lifelong dedication to public health—even when it comes to her current passion project, an ice cream company.

When Chen founded Joyful Heart Avocado Ice Cream, she had a vision to craft a natural health supplement in the form of a delicious, nutritious frozen dessert from the world-renowned superfood. The effort was no small undertaking: After sampling fruit from South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, Chen identified a variety of avocado grown in Mexico with the optimal texture and nutritional profile for a health-conscious frozen dessert. On travels around the world, the ice-cream loving entrepreneur explored regional preferences in frozen desserts, ultimately settling on a firm, yet creamy texture for her product and three flavors: matcha green tea, pistachio, and macadamia.

Chen launched Harvest Prime Corporation in 2011 and devoted the next three years to recipe development with Singapore Polytechnic's Food Innovation and Resource Center. The final version of Joyful Heart contains both cold-pressed avocado oil and creamy fruit puree, and not more than 3 percent of the sugar in conventional offerings. “I cannot accept synthetic ingredients and preservatives,” Chen told Singapore’s Business Times. “It was so difficult to produce. No wonder there is no such product in the market.”

Joyful Heart was launched at a Red Cross charity event in July 2015 as part of Singapore’s Golden Jubilee celebration and went on sale locally in 2016. Today, Harvest Prime Corporation is looking for licensees to produce it in Australia, the European Union, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the United States.

Development of the world’s first premium avocado ice cream was only the first step in Chen’s vision for Joyful Heart. A lifelong philanthropist and global health advocate, the Singapore native has committed to donating up to 50 percent of sales to global charities dedicated to health and education.

Chen traces her interest in food as medicine to her youthful ambition to work as a medical missionary and a series of chaplaincy internships at Boston Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Boston’s Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for the Aged. While her own career trajectory took a different tack—the entrepreneur and philanthropist has also worked as an accountant, banker, and lawyer—she attributes her own plant-based diet to a diagnosis with breast cancer in her early 30s. Since then, as her career permitted, Chen has dug ever deeper into scholarship on how determinants of health affect our well-being; she studied nutrition at Tufts, biostatistics and epidemiology at Harvard, and earned an MPH at Columbia Mailman, followed by a PhD in integrated water resource management at Imperial College, London.

In 2019, Chen established a bequest to honor her late parents. The Mr. and Mrs. Chen Sing Wu Scholarship will provide financial support for Columbia Mailman School graduate students. The scholarship is the second Chen established to honor her parents; the first was at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

The author of Super Health, Super Wealth: How to Age Gracefully with Youth and Vigor, Chen sees both the scholarships for students of public health and her philanthropy through Joyful Heart as part of a lifelong commitment to worldwide health promotion.

“From an early age, I have believed that each of us should give back to society when we are in a financial position to do so,” she says. “As a Columbia graduate, I am delighted to support the education and training of future generations of healthcare professionals to develop and promote preventive medicine for the betterment of the world at large.”