Bettr Barista: A Shot at Better Lives

Launched as a coffee academy in 2011 by co-founder and CEO, Pamela Chng, Bettr Barista offers a large menu of internationally certified speciality coffee education and training workshops. The award-winning Singapore-based coffee company also offers disadvantaged women and youth in Singapore a holistic programme providing barista skills for employability, emotional and physical training for psychological wellbeing, and an internship for learning on the job.

Despite being hailed as one of the world’s richest countries, data shows that 14% of Singapore’s citizens face severe financial constraints, where they are unable to afford their basic needs. In 2015, the country had one of the largest inequality gaps in advanced Asian countries.

According to Chng, people with challenging backgrounds often struggle in Singapore’s highly competitive education system. She explained, “If you fall behind, you stay behind. It is very difficult to catch up.” To alleviate poverty for the long term, it was important for the government, industry and society to ensure that the young and working poor were better employed, and help them remain employable by providing them with skilling and reskilling opportunities.

Commenting on her motivation for establishing a socially responsible venture, Chng shared, “We all spend more than half of our life in a workplace; thus, a workplace cannot exist aloof from society’s challenges. Companies need to be accountable for their contribution to society by creating work places and businesses that make peoples’ lives better. I wanted to create a new business that went beyond pure profit motive.”

Bettr Barista ran two programmes at the academy in the professional coffee education space: a regular one for full-paying customers; and a social one that was highly subsidised. The regular programme offered professional courses of varying lengths, from a day to a week, across a range of functions along the coffee supply chain, such as barista, roasting and sensory training. The courses were globally recognised with international certification, and were meant for people who wanted to make a career in the coffee industry, or for those who had a passion for coffee and wanted to learn more about it.

The social programme was a holistic and comprehensive training course for the marginalised section of the society, especially youth and women. It was developed based on the insights Chng drew from her interactions with a number of social service organisations in Singapore, and aimed at ensuring the trainees’ physical and emotional well-being, besides providing them barista and roasting skills. The objective was to help them acquire a sense of self-worth and dignity, become fully job ready, and be economically independent.

By end-2018, Bettr Barista had served 397,000 cups of coffee to 212,000 consumers through its cafés and mobile bars, and held more than 430 corporate events. However, in order to be truly sustainable, Bettr Barista needed to expand internationally as the Singapore market was small and offered limited growth potential. Would the company have the expertise and resources to change or tweak its approach according to each country’s market dynamics? Additionally, executing the expansion plans would require a comprehensive management structure to be put in place. Could all of this be done without affecting the core values the company stood for?

This case, written by Heli Wang, Dean, Postgraduate Research Programmes, Sheetal Mittal from The Centre for Management Practice (CMP) at SMU, and Adeline Natalia LAI Sue Yi, a student at SMU, examines how a social enterprise differs from for-profit and charity organisations, and how social positioning can help create sustainable competitive advantage. The case compares different analytical tools in assessing a company’s performance and its future prospects and highlights how specific resources and capabilities contribute to the company’s ability to deliver the desired value proposition.

To read the case in full, please visit the CMP website by clicking here.