Coffee and Social Awareness: The Winning Blend of Bettr Barista

by - 1/07/2020

AFP Daniel Hakim / E-Learn Magazine

Reportagem sobre a Bettr Barista Coffee Academy, publicada na E-Learn Magazine. Esta matéria está disponível apenas em inglês e espanhol.

SINGAPORE - Having a successful business means more than just offering a great product, satisfying customers and making a good profit – at least this is true for Bettr Barista Coffee Academy, in Singapore. For the 6-year-old company, success also means promoting social equality and skills development of at-risk youth and marginalized women in the country, so they can successfully enter the job market and build a better life for themselves. Learn about this Blackboard customer’s award-winning initiative and how they are getting ready to use Blackboard’s digital learning environment.

Since 2011, Bettr Barista has been a leading provider of specialty coffee education in Singapore, offering local Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) certifications as well as international qualifications certified by the global Specialty Coffee Association.  

But more than a successful business, the company founded by Pamela Chng is a socially driven entity, with a core mission of creating and amplifying positive impact across all of its business units. This started with an initial goal of improving the lives of marginalized women and at-risk youngsters in Singapore through its coffee academy. “I don’t think we would have started the company if we didn’t have a social purpose,” shares Chng.  

While Bettr Barista Coffee Academy caters to coffee professionals, the Food & Beverage sector and coffee enthusiasts amongst the general public – with over 15 different courses available – there is also an adapted Holistic Training Program exclusively dedicated to the minorities mentioned above. 

In the program, students not only learn everything related to becoming a coffee barista – details about the coffee brewing and roasting processes, customer service, among other skills – they are also introduced to psychological and physical training, by attending well-being workshops and yoga classes, for example.  

“We prepare them to be productive, get a job, stay in that job, and in the process, start to create financial opportunities and independence to build a life for themselves,” Chng explains, adding that the idea is to use the entire coffee business to fund the program. The company also employs baristas in their five retail coffee bars in Singapore. 


Holistic Training Program: 3 Levels 

Mental: Professional barista education, paid apprenticeship at Bettr Barista’s partner specialty cafes, as well as opportunities for international certifications through continued education. 

Emotional: Emotional empowerment and life management skills to help with conflict management/resolution and confidence building. 

Physical: Multi-dimension physical training including self-defense, yoga, outrigger canoeing and rock climbing to encourage socialization, teamwork and foster camaraderie. 

This is how the Bettr concept – as well as the company name – came about: the idea of betterness, of nobody being perfect and constantly looking for ways to improve oneself. “To create a better life for ourselves and for other people,” Chng adds. 

Empowering Women to Their Own Strength  

Although the world is inhabited by 50% of women – 49.5% to be precisei –, gender equality still has a long way to go. In the workplace, among other areas of life, women have suffered continuous marginalization. The recent sexual harassment accusations in Hollywood are just one example of how powerful men have been getting away with crimes against women. But the reality in less glamorous places is even worse, considering living arrangements, low salaries, and social discrimination women third world countries go through.  

Concerned over women’s struggles in Singapore, where there is a huge inequality scenario building up, Chng decided to take an approach that was focused on working emotional resilience as a solution to the problems faced by women today. “Women have tremendous emotional strength and power, but a lot of times they don’t use it in the right way. So I think it was something we needed to address, to change those emotions and behaviors to help themselves. And that goes for young people as well,” Chng says.  

In a video available on Bettr Barista’s website, Shirley Ng, a Holistic Training Program graduate, recalls questioning her presence at the courses. “Because I didn’t love coffee,” she said. But as the six-month program went on, she realized it was not just about coffee – it was more than that. “I thought, since people are helping me, why not give myself a chance?” 

Bettr Barista’s inclusive politics have been recognized beyond the women the company has helped. The company achieved its B Corporation certification – the first in Singapore – in 2013 and has held a “Best For The World (Community)” standing for two consecutive years since 2016. In 2017, the coffee academy received the President’s Challenge Social Enterprise of the Year award, one of the country’s most important recognitions. Along with the award, the company also received a US$ 37,600 cash prize by Singapore President Halimah Yacob. 

How E-Learning Will Help Bettr Barista Train More People 

Since 2011, over 4,000 people have been trained in specialty coffee through Bettr Barista’s 1,000 courses and workshops. Students have travelled from countries like Australia and Zimbabwe for their training, and Bettr Barista has also taken its expertise beyond Singapore to markets including Taiwan and Myanmar. Now, they want to expand to more countries in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, and e-learning will be a big ally in trying to achieve this goal. 

The idea is to provide the more theoretical content about coffee making through distance classes, making it easier for people from other countries to learn the Bettr Barista techniques. 

“This way, we can reach out to more people in the same amount of time, so that we can focus our face-to-face time on more practical, ‘hands on’ work,” says Chng. “With Blackboard’s products, we can do it in a more sustainable and cost-effective way, especially for farmers and young people. Bettr Barista’s e-learning courses will be available to students soon,” she adds. 


Bettr Barista Is a B Corp – What Does That Mean?

B Corps are for-profit companies that are not exclusively focused on profits, but care about social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency as well. There are over 2,100 of these companies in the world today – and Bettr Barista is one of them.  

B Corps values: 

1 - Good for Workers  

2 - Good for the Community  

3 - Good for the Environment  

4 - Good for the Long Term 

5 - Good to the Core  

Learn more about them at

Moving Towards Sustainability in Every Step 

“The thing we really love about working with coffee is it gives us the ability to try to be sustainable in every step,” Chng says. And that includes where their coffee comes from. Having direct relationships with farmers, Bettr Barista buys a great percentage of their coffee from them, ensuring they are being paid fairly so they can invest back into their business and further improve the quality of their offering. Bettr Barista also works with other B Corps that provide assistance to small farmers. However, when it is not possible to work directly with farmers, Bettr Barista partners up with some of the big coffee suppliers. “We are still not working 100% with truly sustainable coffees,” Chng admits. “But we sure are moving towards that.” 


Bettr Barista Results Since 2011 – Some Highlights: 

Holistic Training Program 

133 applications (66 accepted) across 17 completed intakes 

43 students graduated (70%) 

38 employed upon graduation (92%) 

36 have remained employed (96%) 

Accumulated salaries of over US$ 828,000 for graduates of its Holistic Training Program, supporting over 150 dependents 

Professional Coffee Courses and Corporate Coffee Appreciation Workshops 

More than 4,000 people from over 30 countries trained in professional (certified) coffee courses serving the food & beverage and specialty coffee industries, as well as secondary and tertiary schools, including special needs education institutions. 

Over 3,500 people trained in external corporate coffee appreciation workshops 

Conducted over 1,000 courses and workshops to date 

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