IWD 2021: We Chat With Pamela Chng, Bettr Coffee

Always wondered about the story behind Bettr Coffee? This International Women's Day, co-founder Pamela Chng tells us about their social programmes to help disadvantaged women enter the coffee industry.

In honour of International Women's Day, we want to shine the spotlight on successful female entrepreneurs in the F&B spaces. Today, we chat with Pamela Chng, one of the founders behind Bettr Coffee and Bettr Barista!

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Why did you decide to found Bettr?

When we started Bettr Barista 10 years ago, we really wanted to use coffee as a vehicle to impact lives. So we use the entire value chain to do that. From working with marginalized women and youth and risk, to give them training opportunities to start a career in coffee. Through to working with farmers and producers in buying more sustainably sourced coffee, and making sure they’re paid fairly and that they are doing good things to the environment, as opposed to harmful things. So really using the whole business of coffee to create impact.

How many people have gone through your programmes?

Well, we’ve had over 5500 students come through our academy, learning all things about coffee. Specifically, with the women and young people we’ve worked with within our social programmes, about 160 of them have come through the programme. We’ve put them out into workplaces and internships. People like Starbucks, SP Group, many of them we hire in our own business as well. Really, it’s creating sustainable and inclusive work opportunities for each one of these individuals.

Any stories to share about those who've graduated?

A lot of them we have hired as full-time staff in our team, some of them have been with us for 7 to 8 years. Many have gone out to start work as baristas, some have gone back to school. So I think the main thing that everybody who graduates the programme and succeeds, is basically that they’ve been given opportunities where they weren’t before. And given the tools to bring their potential to life, whether it’s through work, or just better emotional management skills, so they can make better decisions and really cope with some of the challenging situations in their own lives.

It doesn’t matter where they go, as long as they stay on the right path, and can continue to contribute to their community. Also to impact other people, so we’ve got individuals here who have graduated from the programme and have become trainers, training the future generation, giving opportunities to others. So basically creating a community of change-makers, I think that’s one of the key things that has happened.

Do you find it difficult to be a woman in the F&B industry?

I think we’re very lucky in Singapore, in many senses, we’re lucky not to have to deal with the gender inequality issues that surround us in the rest of the world. So I don’t feel like being a woman has been disadvantageous or particularly challenging in F&B. And that’s also kind of what I love about the F&B and the coffee industry, it’s just people filled with passion and love for what they do. As long as you bring that to the table, you do it well, it shouldn’t matter, your gender.

Do you have any other female role models in the industry?

I was thinking about female role models in the industry, and I don’t have one in particular. I think just as a general, women… We play many roles. Especially if you have children, if you’re a mother or you’re a caregiver, we have a lot of caring roles in our life. So I always find that female entrepreneurs who have these additional responsibilities, especially children, I don’t know how they do it. I don’t have children, and already running a business is a full-time plus job. Much less having to care for children, or care for your parents, for example. That’s a full-time job plus plus plus. So I have great admiration for female entrepreneurs, who take on this challenge and do it day in, day out. So each one of them, in whatever they do, that’s kind of the inspiration for me. So that’s why I also want to be part of creating those opportunities for other women, especially the women that we work with, there are a lot of single mothers. Women with challenging family backgrounds, if we can give them opportunities to shine and grow, I think that’s great!

As a seasoned entrepreneur yourself, do you have any advice for other young women out there who want to start their own F&B business?

Well I think starting a business is a challenging endeavour not to be taken lightly. So I think you gotta be very clear on what problem you’re trying to solve, who your customer is and what do you uniquely bring to the table. What is your voice? And I think, for women especially, being kinda able to articulate who you are and what your voice is, so that you bring whatever is unique of yourself into your food, or into your drink, or whatever concept you have. So that you can truly stand out in a very crowded marketplace. And that alignment with your authentic self, I think, is very important. I guess, work through the challenging periods in F&B. Because F&B is a very challenging industry to be in. If you don’t love the work, you don’t love the people, it’s gonna be hard. So you have to connect it with your authentic self in order to weather the journey.

Do you have any upcoming plans for Bettr?

Yes, we have many plans. 2020 has been a very interesting year, especially for F&B. So I think we will see a lot more new concepts coming up. One of the things that we are launching in March, is something called Bettr Cloud Bar. It’s actually a subscription-based delivery first model, where basically people can subscribe to coffee delivery. Where freshly made speciality coffee, as well as local coffee, will be delivered regularly to you at your home or your office, with just one order. So expect coffee to be delivered every day at the same time to your home, and that’s the new service we’re rolling out from March onwards.

What’s your wish this IWD?

I think just for women to continue to believe in themselves and to stand up, and stand out and fight for other women.