A Shot of Espresso, A Second Shot at Life

A Shot of Espresso, A Second Shot at Life

Minute Read 1 views

What can cups of coffee do for marginalised youths and women in Singapore? A lot more than you think, says Bettr Barista founder Pamela Chng.

Sustainability is at the core of everything we do at Temasek. This article is part of Generational Investing, an ongoing series featuring individuals and activities that create a better world for future generations, through creativity, innovation and sustainable practices.

Pamela Chng, founder of Bettr Barista

The cup of coffee in your hands could change lives for the better. Pamela Chng, founder of for-profit social enterprise Bettr Barista Coffee Academy, explains how.

A Shot At Success

What do we live for if not to make the world less difficult for each other? For Pamela, this old saying takes on a fresh flavour in the form of coffee-making.

In November 2011, she started Bettr Barista, a social enterprise that empowers at-risk youths and disadvantaged women to lead better lives by learning to brew coffee.

The youths are mostly school dropouts from underprivileged families while the women come from broken marriages, abusive relationships and single-parent households.

But Pamela wasn’t always in the business of coffee-making, starting out as a co-founder of web consultancy group Digital Boomerang. For eight years, she worked hard to build her web business into a flourishing success but soon found herself burnt out and losing sight of where she was headed in life.

The plucky 41-year-old decided to divest her stake in Digital Boomerang and took a year out to learn about her two passions in life — specialty coffee and social businesses.

She travelled to Australia, US, UK and Italy to learn from the masters themselves. There she saw that a social enterprise could both do well commercially and do good by helping the financially and socially disadvantaged.
Pamela ploughed her savings into starting Bettr Barista — its misspelt name a nod to broken lives that can be made better.

Brewing Social Change

Bettr Barista works with social service organisations in Singapore such as the Lakeside Family Service Centre and the Malay Youth Literary Association to identify women and youths in need.

These individuals undergo a free six-month Bettr Holistic Training Programme as trainees. They spend the first three months learning to roast coffee beans, brew coffee with espresso machines and craft latte art at the academy and on-site roastery.

Graduates of the Bettr Holistic Training Programme at Bettr Barista’s academy on Harrison Road. Clockwise from left: Celine Oh; Nurul Nabilah Ernawati Osman; Muhammad Suzaini Bin Suboh; Nina Mallare and twin daughters Janice and Isabella

The next three months are spent in transitional employment, with the trainees seconded to Bettr Barista’s coffee carts and bars across Singapore. 
But it goes beyond beverage-making, trainees also go through mental, emotional and physical training, including self-defense, yoga and canoeing to build discipline and teamwork skills.

On top of that, the organisation collaborates with a clinical psychologist to help trainees manage their emotions in difficult situations.


WATCH: Bettr Barista — Making the world a Bettr place, one barista at a time.

One such individual that the programme has helped is Siti Nurfarressah. The 26-year-old lost her parents when she was just 11 — her father suffered a stroke and her mother had lung cancer. She dropped out of secondary school and, later, a vocational institute when she had a baby in the first year. Siti now operates one of Bettr Barista’s coffee carts, which are run by full-time baristas and interns who are still undergoing training.

“These coffee carts started out as a dream to create a model where disadvantaged individuals would be inspired to take control of their lives,” Pamela says.


She adds, “Not only will these individuals be able to contribute to the economy once they start working as full-time baristas, but they will also be able to help future generations of youths and women who are in the same difficult position they were once in.”

Enjoy good coffee while doing good at the DBS x Bettr Barista coffee bar

There are currently three Bettr Barista coffee carts at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, the Ministry of Social and Family Development building and NTUC Income Centre in Bras Basah. Bettr Barista also has two coffee bars located within the DBS branches at *SCAPE and Plaza Singapura. The revenue from these bars goes towards supporting the organisation’s programmes.

This partnership extends beyond coffee bars. Bettr Barista is currently a customer of DBS’ Social Enterprise Package, a corporate account that champions social entrepreneurship. With this package, Bettr Barista enjoys preferential transaction rates without having to upkeep a minimum monthly balance.

Doing Good and Doing Well

Making a social impact does not have to come at the expense of industry excellence.

Earlier this year, Celine Oh, 19, a graduate of the Bettr Holistic Training Programme took part in the Singapore Latte Art Championship and finished in the top six.

Celine Oh, 19, competing at the Singapore Latte Art Championship 2017

Celine joined the training programme when she was just 15, after dropping out of secondary school. She initially faced anxiety and confidence issues and a slew of health problems.

After graduating from the programme, she took up the role of a coffee technician at the Bettr Barista academy while taking her O Levels part-time.

“It was a significant win for us. Celine was highly introverted and shy. But after undergoing our programme, she was able to compete nationally and perform well,” Pamela says.

To date, the academy has accepted 65 applicants into their training programme. 90 percent of trainees have successfully completed the programme and gone on to be employed by Bettr Barista and its partner cafés, accumulating one million dollars in salaries and supporting a total of 160 dependents.

Bettr Barista serves a whole latte love to marginalised groups in Singapore

“People tell us all the time that we’re not training millions of people, and not impacting society on a large scale. But for us, with every life we turn around, we can impact generations down the road. That’s what it’s really about,” Pamela points out.


The next time you want to get your caffeine fix, look no further than Bettr Barista. With a perfect blend of coffee and social consciousness, their cup of java will do more than cure your midweek blues.

Here at Temasek, we place sustainability at the core of everything we do. We strive to build a better world, always with tomorrow in mind.

DBS is a portfolio company of Temasek.


News & Insights

Select a type of content
    Please select Stories you are interested in.
    Please give us your consent.
    Please confirm that you are not a robot.

    Subscribe to our newsletter

    Stay up to date with our latest news, insights and stories

    Select a type of content
      Please select Stories you are interested in.
      Please give us your consent.
      Please confirm that you are not a robot.