35-year-old Pamela Chng has set out to empower disadvantaged women in Singapore. She is the founder of Bettr Barista Coffee Academy, a social enterprise that has a triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profit. Central to Bettr Barista’s mission is a 12-‐week program that adopts a whole-‐person approach towards improving the lives of disadvantaged women, by combining professional barista training, life and emotional management training and multi-‐dimension physical training. The Academy aims to train up to ten women in each of the four semesters that it runs annually.
“Bettr Barista is not just another specialty coffee kid on the block and, as far as I know, we’re the first and only folks to apply a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of being a more successful, productive person. Incorporating emotional and physical skills training in our program is a proactive strategy that uses rational effective methodologies and tools to build up resilience, self confidence and other social skills that are the ‘heartware’ to the hardware of world-‐class barista skills,” says Ms Chng.
The coffee-‐loving entrepreneur, who is also a US-‐ and Australia-‐trained barista and roaster herself, is passionate about social businesses being the best avenue for bringing about social change. She spent the last eight years building up a successful web consultancy before founding Bettr Barista in November 2011. She adds: “I firmly believe that when you empower women in this all-‐rounded way, they have a tremendous capacity to change the lives of people around them in turn. The women we’re reaching out to have more intricate needs than your average person and it is not enough to just teach them a job skill. In addition to helping them find permanent employment within our group and with our partners in the specialty coffee industry, we want to equip them with the emotional resilience and confidence to progress in their work and continually better themselves.”
During the first four weeks of Bettr Barista’s program, its students undergo intensive barista training conducted in part by David Seng, one of Melbourne’s leading professional barista trainers and an accredited Australian Barista Championship judge. The remaining eight weeks are devoted to a paid internship with specialty café partners including Forty Hands, Smitten Coffee & Tea and Jimmy Monkey Café. Underscoring the entire 12 weeks are an emotional empowerment component managed by Saima Salman, a New York-‐trained emotional coach and clinical fellow at the renowned Albert Ellis Institute, as well as a physical component comprising KAPAP self-‐defense, yoga and outrigger canoeing with the Singapore Paddle Club.
Euan Beer, president of the Singapore Paddle Club says: “We’re more than happy to help the Academy by waiving rookie session fees for its students in the program. Having these women join our regular members is an important part of their training as it will expose them to teamwork, discipline and endurance in a fun environment.”
Owner of Smitten Coffee & Tea Bar, Darren Chang, adds: “Singapore’s specialty coffee industry is growing and there is always demand for professional local baristas who are well-‐trained and motivated. And that is a gap that Bettr Barista Coffee Academy’s comprehensive training will fill, whilst also fulfilling a very meaningful mission of providing employment for underprivileged women. It is a win-‐win situation for all stakeholders, and we give our full support to the program.”
The Academy is also teaming up with volunteers to incorporate practical workshops on topics such as job interviewing and computer and financial literacy training. To maintain involvement and engagement, program graduates will also be invited to return as alumni as part of an ongoing mentoring initiative for new students.
The Academy currently works with social service organizations such as Beyond Social Services, various family service centers and community development councils to identify and reach out to potential students for its program. These students might include single mothers, women from low-‐income families or youth at risk. The program, which targets women aged 17 to 50, costs $3,500 per student to run but is subsidized for qualified individuals who are accessed via an application process that includes two rounds of rigorous interviews to ascertain their emotional readiness and motivation. These students pay only $300 of the total fee, which can come out of their internship stipend. The Academy is supported in part by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports’ (MCYS) Comcare Enterprise Fund.
All additional funding is undertaken by the Academy, which conducts regular coffee appreciation and professional barista training classes for the public at its 1,000-‐square-‐foot multi-‐function space at Burn Road. The Academy also provides customizable coffee sessions for corporates, an interactive brew bar experience for events, and sells coffee accessories and top-‐grade Arabica beans that it roasts fresh on-‐site to support its program. In February this year, Bettr Barista will launch a specialty coffee subscription service, where members of the public can sign up to have a different variety of freshly roasted beans delivered to their doorsteps once every two weeks.
Ms Chng says: “These women are our reason for being and we’re fully committed to helping them. Everyone we talk to responds very positively to what we’re doing but our student numbers are still not as high as they can be. We therefore need the support of more social service organizations to help identify and put forward potential students, as well as corporate sponsorships to keep the program running.”