As we conclude the year 2018, it is important to take a step back to see where we have come and express our gratitude, and to pen down our hopes and aspirations for the year ahead.
Spent the nights out during the Christmas period :)
2018 was our first full year of operations and the highlights were seeing the opening of 2 coffee kiosks at Civil Service College (CSC) and Centre for Healthcare Innovation (CHI) in July and October respectively. We wrapped up our business at NUS (National University of Singapore) in May 2018, ending our 9-months operations at the College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT). There, we gained the experience and confidence we needed to dream and grow big; there, we built many relationships not only with the student community in NUS, but also with several special education (SPED) schools when we provide work attachment for the students, and also explored collaborations with other organizations who are aligned with our missions.
NYE engagement between Foreword Coffee and the people at Civil Service College! :)
Each month, Foreword Coffee saw changes within; the most significant change was the incremental growth in our team size and maturity. We often tell the public that we hire differently-abled persons, including those with autism, cerebral palsy, the Deaf, and/or persons in-recovery from mental health issues. Beyond these labels, each person brings with them their dreams and aspirations, and Foreword Coffee is a place for our people to achieve their potential.
- Team strength as of 1 Jan 2019 = 17
- No. of directors = 2
- No. of people with special needs = 11
The hiring process is a tedious one, because we put in our 101% into every individual, from the first meeting to the creation of role, to the training and the integration into our existing team. We get walk-ins, requests from Instagram and Facebook, and referrals from job coaches. We assess the needs and strengths of every individual and aim to make employment meaningful and engaging for them. This is also true for the undergraduate interns that we engage. We place great emphasis on overall well-being and make sure the existing team engages every new employee and that they have positive relations beyond the work setting.
HAPPY 2019! Silly as this photo is, silly as we are sometimes =P (left: Wei Jie, right: Nadi)
I am also happy to announce that with effect from 1 January 2019, Nadi is officially joining Foreword Coffee as director. Nadi joined Foreword Coffee in February 2018 as a blank slate, assisting the company by helping us in financial analyses and operations during his final undergraduate year in NUS. During his time in Foreword Coffee, he fervently took up courses to hone his skills in barista and sensory. He also picked up sign language and exercised patience and sensitivity when dealing with our team of differently-abled persons. Through my time working with Nadi, I found him to be someone trustworthy, accountable, and easygoing. We have grown to know each other’s personal lives better — an important prerequisite for me to bring him/her into the company for the long-run. The team looks up to Nadi a lot; as a manager, a friend, a brother. As director, Nadi will be working alongside me to build the best version of Foreword Coffee that we can, and we certainly have high hopes for the year 2019 and beyond.
1. Deepening our coffee domain: Asian-sourced, locally roasted.
In 2019, we seek to further establish our reputation of sourcing specialty coffee in Asia. Besides continuing our partnership with Yuni Coffee Co. (Laos), Yunnan Coffee Traders (China) and Mr. Pong in Chiangmai (Thailand), we seek to explore a new origin — Vietnam. Inspired by my recent trip to Hanoi, we believe that there is something special waiting for us in Vietnam. Look forward to the new harvests coming from these origins, starting 2nd to 3rd quarter of 2019!
Asian-sourced, locally roasted. Freshly roasted coffee beans delivered to our cafe each week, with our in-house roasting skills. We do a lot of cupping and trials to get the profile that we want for each coffee!
2. Strengthening our people’s skills: to realize the potential of our people
As we grow in numbers, we also wish to grow in strength. The skillsets of our people are very important. Apart from the WSQ food handling certification, coffee training has been done in-house. Staff who have been with us for at least a year will be given the opportunities for sponsored certified courses to polish their barista skills.
Nadi will continue to pick up skills in green coffee and sensory through SCA (specialty coffee association) courses, and we will both be taking up the WSQ Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment (ACTA) to ground ourselves with the skills to effectively deliver training and assessment. It is important for us to keep our skills relevant to the industry’s needs, and we fill the gap between mainstream and the special needs community by making industry-relevant skills accessible to people with disabilities and special needs.
Our people have aspirations: to be Team Leader and Senior Barista. It starts with getting their foundations right. It is important for Nadi and I to consider our people’s aspirations and help them achieve it.
3. Extending our connections, building relations beyond our cafes
As with 2018, we seek to continue our strong relations and partnerships in the coffee, environmental, and social entrepreneurship scenes in 2019.
Events allow us to reach out to people beyond our regular customers in the cafes and this is important for us to expose more people to persons with disabilities and special needs. Meeting other like-minded social entrepreneurs provides us with the inspiration and motivation to continue doing what we are doing, and it also expands our horizons on what other people are doing for social good. Collaborating with other green groups allow us to spread our environmental message that we advocate at our cafes — no straws, no plastic policies.
Some of the notable events and collaborations include:
- Partnered with The Sustainability Project to sell metal straws as a sustainable alternative to single-use, plastic straws
- Supported Tingkat Heroes in their initiatives to raise awareness about going disposable-free in the NUS community
- Served coffee in reusable cups only, with soy or oat milk during the Ground Zero Market
- Participated in Wake Up Your Idea! festival, organized by UNFRAMED, with other changemakers in the movement to do social good
- Formal and informal collaborations and invitations from Russ, Social Collider!
- Getting to know Geri from My NoNNa’s and Daniel from Pope Jai Thai, who are both very generous with their knowledge and sharing of experiences in their entrepreneurial journey
- Participated in YSISEA’s Sustainability Showcase
- Being featured by Society Staples several times, for the fun of it :)
- Participated in Sonder Social’s inaugural socially conscious market, Sonder Soiree
- Working with Rickshaw Coffee, Bootstrap Coffee, and Ugly Food to bring convenience to our customers who seek bottled cold brews and fruit juices!
- Our first time at the Festival For Good 2018, organized by raiSE!
- And more…
As a young company, we always look forward to collaborations for new experiences and to gain new insights from what others are doing! :)
At UNFRAMED’s Wake Up Your Idea carnival, featuring Green Nudge and Society Staples at our booth as we meet like-minded changemakers, and have the opportunity to raise awareness about our cause.
Our recent sharing at Sonder Social’s event in December! We’re thankful for such opportunities to share about what we do and to raise awareness for our cause :)
Thank you YSISEA team for giving us the opportunity to speak to Minister Desmond Lee! We hope there will be chances to work with him at his constituency to create impact for the people there.
Thank you raiSE for giving us the opportunity to have Minister Grace Fu at our booth during the Festival For Good 2018!
4. Pushing beyond boundaries, staying ahead of the game
Foreword Coffee will continue to move forward; as we grow in numbers, we will seek to consolidate best practices, work on reducing inefficiencies, and improving our revenue. We take calculated risks towards improving ourselves by introducing new products and taking on new ventures that are aligned with our company’s missions.
Our signature Timeless Yuanyang (double ristretto shot of our Yunnan Ouyang Natural topped with milk and earl grey ice ball) is a Westernized “yuanyang” (coffee + tea) and is a huge success for Foreword Coffee, to have created a unique drink enjoyed by many customers. What other new drinks will we have on our menu in the new year?
Our signature Timeless Yuanyang. A pairing of earl grey tea and natural-processed Yunnan Ouyang espresso.
Towards the end of 2018, we ventured into the business of distribution — HuskeeCup. We LOVE the product; coffee cups, lids, and saucers made from coffee husks which would otherwise be discarded at the farms during coffee processing. These cups can be used in cafes for dine-in and takeaways. We envision a day where cafe-goers can exchange the HuskeeCup between cafes for their takeaway coffees, without the need for the cafe-goer to wash the used cups themselves.
Our latest venture — distribution for HuskeeCup in Singapore. These cups are made from coffee husks and can be used as dine-in or takeaway (with lids).
5. Continue to create impact with the special needs community
Apart from providing employment for the special needs community, we acknowledge that not everyone is suited for employment and therefore we commit ourselves to provide fun, coffee-related workshops for students in SPED schools.
Come 2019, we will continue to hold our Specialty Coffee Workshops for SPED schools for the third time. In 2018, we reached out to a total of 75 youth in 5 schools, involving some 35 facilitators over a total of 292.5 workshop hours. Thanks to the support from the National Youth Council, we were able to conduct the workshops at very subsidized costs for the schools.
Our workshops include 2 levels of difficulty. Students who are more able and keen to explore deep into coffee will learn how to be a barista and make espresso-based drinks. The basic workshop is highly sensory, for the students to smell, touch, and taste coffee in its different forms.
We are on the lookout for volunteers to form an executive team to plan and execute this project in 2019. If you wish to merge your passion for coffee with your burning desire to creative positive impact for youth with special needs, drop us a note!
What’s next in store?
It seems random for Foreword Coffee to be situated within a government building (i.e. CSC) and a hospital (i.e. CHI); the common denominator between the two is that we work very closely with the management in both organizations, and the people who frequent our cafes become our regular customers and friends. Relationships at the cafe naturally form due to familiarity. The initial shock and discomfort (if any) felt at the cafe, being served by service crew or managers who may be autistic or Deaf, becomes a routine and something customers look forward to when they grab a cuppa.
We observed the change in attitude from our customers towards our people when they realize that our people are different, and customers are generally more patient towards us upon realization.
In 2019, we are expecting our third outlet at Orchard Road. Do keep a look out for our updates and continue to support us there!
If I were to describe my 2018 with one word, that word is “growth”.
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Despite all the glamour entrepreneurs get at times on the media, there will be nights of self-doubts, helplessness, and the feeling that we are not doing enough. We could hit rock bottom in terms of emotional well-being, even when the company is perceived by others to be doing well. We learn to manage emotions, expectations, and our energy. Support from friends and family are always welcomed.
While the journey is tough and challenging, entrepreneurs seek to always challenge and outdo ourselves. The intrinsic motivation is what keeps entrepreneurs in our game when we meet tough times.
And if there’s one word I wish to remind myself for the year ahead, that word will be “balance”.