Brewing Social Impact: One Cup Of Coffee At A Time

Friday Aug 02,2019 | Programmes

Hello everyone, I'm Santhosh Watson, going into my third year at Singapore Management University studying Business Management, majoring in both Corporate Communications and Public Policy while trying hard to balance Christian Fellowship and my love for theatre. I've worked with social enterprises, charities and socially responsible organisations in the past and was determined to join one locally that was driven by good business practices and not just charity. As part of the DBS Business For Good Internship programme offered by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation, I embarked on a 10-week internship at Bettr Barista to see how a social cause, policy work, effective communications and business can come together.


Q. How was it like working for a social enterprise? Was it very different from what you expected?

In the socially driven firms I'd been in contact with before, fundraising was an almost endless process and being in a deficit was something to be expected. The only thing investors seemed to want, as a return on their investment, was social impact. However, with Bettr Barista the situation was drastically different. Being involved in many marketing and retail meetings during my time there, I could see the amount of thought that went into making sure the business was run in a way that it is financially sustainable, while still being accountable to its social mission.


This was not quite what I had expected, being slightly familiar with the coffee industry and knowing how hard it was to survive within it. Observing the team tackle complex retail challenges while constantly keeping their social mission at the forefront, really blew me away.



Q. What did you like most about the internship?

I'd be lying if I said the copious amounts of coffee from all over the world did not play a big part in my wonderful experience there. However, the one thing that kept me happy to come back daily was the environment that the founders, Pamela and Jean, had cultivated. Every team member was clearly handpicked and had a heart for the work Bettr was doing. When you're surrounded by people who are driven solely by the impact they create in the lives of those around them, the dreariness of the corporate world just becomes inconsequential.


The unique combination of being both profit and socially-driven made every interaction I had in the office a pleasant one. Every client or partner that walked through our doors left knowing a little bit more about what we did and why we did it, and as mushy as it sounds, that was my favourite part about working with Bettr.


Q. What did you learn during this internship?

The importance of open and honest communication. Though a reasonably small organisation, Bettr was made up of an eclectic team of individuals with very different ways of communicating and doing things. Pamela and Jean had also crafted a team with a lot of strong characters and cultivated a culture that encouraged them to voice their opinions out.


Through weekly meetings, the team had opportunities to share their concerns and feedback was always taken into consideration. Suggestions from the team were essential in the decision-making process because each team member had a unique insight into the matter at hand, coming in from a different perspective due to their own expertise or experience. By encouraging this, Bettr is able to handle all it's different functions without completely draining the management.


Q. Tell us more about a project you worked on during your internship.

As interns, we were given the privilege of initiating a project called the Bettr Experience. This was a way for the team to understand the current experience of any customer or client who came into contact with Bettr, how we can improve this experience and formalise it such that it can be replicated and standardised throughout the organisation.


When we first tackled the project we decided that the best way to do this was to study both the experiences of those working within the organisation and the customers. We believed every team member needed to be convicted of this experience if they wished to provide it to the customers consistently.


This led us to begin interviewing the various members of the team, trainees from the social program and include a little bit of what we had seen as interns about how the team treated each other, their work and the customers. We then processed the information, extracted key insights, aspects to work on and went on to present it to Pamela first and the functional heads after.


The project was eye-opening, giving us an insight into how Bettr was run that we believe very few people have ever gotten, including it's employees. I'm grateful they allowed us to take on this project as part of our internship.



Q. What advice do you have for your peers going on an internship?

Keep your eyes on the cause and go for it. Working with a social enterprise will always be a little more complicated than a corporate internship. Responsibilities might not always be clear due to the constant shortage of manpower, communication might be more complicated because of the unique individuals you get to work alongside and sometimes you'll be stuck with more work than initially planned. As you prepare for the internship or even once it begins, take the initiative to speak to your colleagues and find meaning in everything you do.



All photos in this article were taken by Santhosh Watson.