ST Singaporean of the Year 2020: She uses her coffee business as a force for good

These nominees made their mark in such diverse fields as social services, healthcare and gaming.

SPH Brightcove Video
In 2011, Pamela Chng started Bettr Barista, combining her passion for coffee and a desire to be part of the social good. Ms Chng’s work includes helping vulnerable women and youth at risk as well as pushing for fairer business practices.

SINGAPORE - When Ms Pamela Chng decided to take a year off work due to burnout, it made her wake up and smell the coffee.

Realising it was time to quit her job running a web consultancy, she had the idea of starting her own business - and using it as a force for good.

Ten years later, she has done just that. Bettr Barista, her coffee firm which champions socially responsible practices, has earned her a nomination for The Straits Times' Singaporean of the Year 2020 award.

"The social business model spoke to me," said Ms Chng, 44. "I felt that a business' role in society is not just to maximise profit, but think about how it can create a condition where people can work happily and healthily and impact others in a positive way."

Combining this philosophy with her passion for coffee, she founded Bettr Barista in 2011.

Ms Chng also wanted to tackle the systemic issues in the coffee value chain, down to the farmers who grow the beans, and ensure industry practices were more equal and inclusive.

Bettr Barista now has eight outlets across the island, a roasting facility and a coffee academy at Tai Seng.

It also runs a four-month programme for vulnerable women and at-risk youth, which teaches them vocational skills and in-depth life skills. The programme has had 27 intakes since it started in January 2012, and helped about 150 people.

While she is humbled to be nominated for Singaporean of the Year, Ms Chng said her work was a team effort including staff, corporate partners, social organisations and even the Government. She is grateful for their support and collaboration over the years.

"It's very important to recognise that change needs a collective group of changemakers. You can't do it alone," said Ms Chng.

The success of the current four-month programme has given Ms Chng and Bettr Barista courage to keep growing and expanding.

In January, a two-month accelerated scheme - a Bettr Work Training Programme - will be rolled out, aimed at 40 to 50 individuals with fewer support needs than those who attend the four-month programme.

Ms Chng founded Bettr Barista in 2011. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

They will be given general food and beverage sector and emotional health training.

Next year, the company will also revisit its plans to expand into Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines, which were put on hold due to the pandemic, and begin a subscription-based delivery model for its coffee.

Ms Chng advises others looking to set up social enterprises to understand their motivation for doing it.

"Running a social business is not for everyone," she added. "A normal business is hard, a social business is twice as hard because you have to also worry about the social and environmental bottom line, and cover the social costs.

"You have to be very clear as well as to what problem you are trying to solve."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.