Social enterprises show us how cajón-playing and coffee-making can make a creative difference in spreading yuletide joy and cheer this Christmas.
How would you like to spread some joy this festive season and do something different and meaningful, while learn a new skill along the way? You could try your hand at playing the cajón* or sign up for a coffee appreciation class with friends. For two social enterprises, cajón-playing and coffee-making are the means which enable them to create social value and solve social challenges in innovative and sustainable ways.
Bettr Barista Coffee Academy
For founder, Ms Pamela Chng, Bettr Barista Coffee Academy is a means to empower disadvantaged women and youth through coffee. It does this by adopting a holistic model for supporting people at its core. “Whether it’s our staff and students, or the way we develop our courses, workshops, and events for our clients, everything we do at Bettr Barista as a social business involves maximising potential and bettering ourselves and the people around us.”
Mainstream industry professionals often have access to team building workshops, leadership courses, or other non-skill-based learning opportunities. Unfortunately, these types of resources are not always available (or directly applicable) to those who need it most. “Disadvantaged individuals who have huge life challenges to deal with do not always have the tools or strategies to cope and rise above those challenges. Our goal is not to address the symptoms, but to understand the cause of the issues, and address them from that perspective. This is where our holistic training programme for women and youth-at-risk goes beyond vocational barista skills training to include developing emotional resilience, life skills, self-defense skills, and physical endurance.”
Bettr Barista works with social service organisations and social workers who refer potential students to them—many of whom face a more intricate cycle of challenges beyond just job skills, placement, or retention. “It became clear that breaking this cycle would require more than job training. Job skills are not the issue, but staying in the job and thriving are”, says Ms Chng. “For anyone to remain employed and to thrive, it takes emotional intelligence and the ability to apply and exercise it in order to remain resilient and progress. It takes confidence and the ability to deal with conflict. All of these intangible aspects had to be addressed.”
Ms Pamela Chng says that the Holistic Training programme targets the cause(s) for students’ underlying issues, and addresses them from that perspective. (BETTR BARISTA)
To remain sustainable, Bettr Barista has a full service mobile brew bar, a micro-roastery, and offers professional coffee certifications for both the Specialty Coffee Associations of America and Europe (SCAA and SCAE). Corporate clients engage their services at events, while the courses the academy offers are modular and multi-levelled for anyone pursuing (or already in) careers in the coffee industry. These courses, workshops, and masterclasses are run all year-round. Having their own micro-roastery enables Bettr Barista to roast their signature blend of fresh coffees every week for retail and wholesale clients.
This festive season, Bettr Barista looks to turn their alumni activity #baristasgiveback into a bigger, quarterly affair by reaching out to new social service organisations as well as the growing number of communities they have engaged with in the past. They work with social service organisation partners in identifying community-based events and why they would like to have #baristasgiveback at their next event. Programme graduates from various intakes then run and staff the mobile brew bar and barista services as a way of giving back to the community and as a chance to showcase their skills.
“This is a simple yet impactful example of a public-private sector partnership. Working with non-profits enable us to build greater community collaboration, while working with corporations in funding/sponsoring #baristasgiveback to support a community event of their choice could work with any corporate entity and cause that they wish to support as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative.”
Mr Arthur Choo uses the cajón as a musical tool to engage, empower, and bring joy to others. (BEAT'ABOX)
What is Christmas without carols? For Mr Arthur Choo, founder and managing director of the BEAT’ABOX Group (BEAT’ABOX), the humble cajón can be a core instrument in carolling. “Music is a universal language which brings people together”, he says. “Through creating a musical culture, we seek to engage people from all walks of life and the cajón helps us do that. During the Christmas season, we usually have carolling and outdoor acoustic jams. The cajón is versatile: it can create multiple tones (even though it only has six sides), is portable, a great conversation starter, brings out creativity, and gives plenty of space for experimentation and improvisation. The traditional way of playing it only allows you to play it from the front, but innovation and creativity has enabled us to invent new tones by tapping different sides of the cajón. With a guitar and a few singers, you can have quite the performance!”
Despite its simplicity, the cajón was chosen because people were enthusiastic and came together wanting to learn to play it and share tips. Its ability to connect people fosters unity, teamwork, trust, listening skills, accountability, and coordination. “When it comes to rhythm and performing as a group, we must keep ourselves as one. This means producing one sound and one beat. We need to trust everyone to play their parts especially when we break out into multiple roles within a musical item. A cajón player is also accountable to others,
because he/she is not just playing for him/herself but listening to his/her friends as well.”
BEAT’ABOX began as an interest group playing at community centres and *SCAPE. It became a social enterprise in 2011—branching into three pillars of education, art, and community.
The first pillar, education, entails conducting cajón staff team bonding/building sessions as well as in-house and external cajón workshops for the public. BEAT’ABOX already has a two-year curriculum and is working to get their syllabus accredited.
The second pillar is art. BEAT’ABOX adds to the vibrancy of Singapore’s art scene by creating and retailing their own unique brand of cajóns (like LED and transparent cajóns). “A cajón does not always have to be a box-shaped and we can’t just be keeping wooden cajóns too, so we look into different makes, premiums, and material compositions for it. Research and development allows us to do this and create new music using the cajón in Singapore”, says Mr Choo.
Doing public performances and organising the annual Box’Out cajón festival are a large part of what BEAT’ABOX does in enlivening Singapore’s art scene. Today, BEAT’ABOX has trained a large following of cajón players playing in almost every community centre island wide as part of a community engagement project. They perform on television shows, corporate dinner and dance functions, school/campus openings, and business launches; and have created waves too in the local music scene by playing and recording alongside local artistes and acoustic bands.
“The annual Box’Out festival allows us to showcase our talents and cajóns, and visitors from the region add to the scale and appeal of the event. This gives our performers a chance to perform on a larger stage and serves as a great confidence booster. The sale of our cajóns and performance engagements help us to remain sustainable while enabling us to fulfil our third pillar of giving back to society.”
* A six-sided, box-shaped percussion instrument that originated from Peru.
Copyright © 2015 Singapore Institute of Management