By Low Yi Ern
Yi Ern is a Yale-NUS student who is currently volunteering at Skillseed.
Foreword Coffee is not your ordinary coffee joint. Quite the opposite, in fact, it is an extraordinary cafe inspired by the vision of creating a world unprejudiced to the differences between people.
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Lim Wei Jie, the founder and director of Foreword Coffee (and a Skillseed course alumni and former intern). Foreword’s social mission is to realise the potential of differently-abled persons in Singapore.
Wei Jie noticed during his student exchange in Europe that customers frequently chatted with the baristas while waiting for their coffee to be prepared. Wei Jie realised that this 3-5 minutes of waiting time not only encouraged social interaction, but also had the potential to create more public visibility for differently-abled persons.
Upon returning to Singapore, he started a coffee interest group at the College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT), his residential college at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Along with other coffee enthusiasts, Wei Jie familiarised himself with Singapore’s local coffee scene and learned different brewing techniques from various baristas and coffee roasters. He then made use of NUS events to test the public’s reception to his coffee before opening Foreword Coffee’s first outlet at CAPT. Today, Foreword has 2 outlets in Buona Vista and Novena, with a third outlet underway.
“You have to be creative, patient and
able to empathise.”
Despite not having much prior experience working with differently-abled persons, Wei Jie dove headfirst into the challenge. He joined focus group discussions to learn how to meet the needs of differently-abled persons, and learned how to be flexible in tailoring his training style for each employee. Wei Jie also employed creative methods to help employees familiarise themselves with the work, for example giving employees a challenge like recalling the recipes for drinks ordered on old receipts.
Reflecting on his time interning at Skillseed, Wei Jie recalled how Hui Jia (the founder of Skillseed) managed to strike a rare balance between being a boss and a friend, and was able to build a homely team whilst enforcing discipline and expectations. This leadership style influenced the way Wei Jie built his own working culture at Foreword Coffee and the emphasis that he places on cultivating strong relationships within his team.
“It has always been about the people.”
Wei Jie believes in creating holistic, multidimensional jobs – which promote the personal development of employees, while encouraging them to find meaning in their work. He shared that “it is important to look at the strengths of the people that you are working with, and understand that they too have their own aspirations. You have to believe they can do it. This belief gives them a sense of fulfilment and they take pride in their work.”
Currently, Foreword Coffee partners with job coaches from SG Enable and Serving People with Disabilities (SPD) in providing training to their employees. Foreword hopes to employ persons recovering from mental health issues at in the near future as well.
Foreword Coffee’s dedication to realising their employees’ human potential is especially heartening, and its unique practice of patience, empathy, and creativity in empowering their team is a model to be emulated by other businesses.
*If you love the work that Foreword Coffee is doing and are interested in joining them, they are currently looking for a marketing intern this summer! Commitment periods are between May to July, and interested individuals may email Wei Jie directly to apply for the role. Moreover, Foreword Coffee is also recruiting volunteers for their annual coffee workshops for youths with special needs. Prior training in coffee-making is not required and all volunteers will undergo a basic training course in preparation for the workshops. Sign-ups for regular volunteers will end on 30 April, and more information can be found via this link!