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A work-integration model for social inclusion

Social enterprise Foreword Coffee Roasters builds a sustainable business model employing PWDs through multi-stakeholder engagement.
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Foreword Coffee Roasters exists to fill the employment and engagement gap for persons with disabilities (PWDs) upon graduation from special education schools. Specifically, the firm caters to PWDs who do not qualify for open employment due to their support needs, but who are also excluded from many support services because they perform above the minimum level required to qualify for sheltered workshops. Foreword provides training and employment opportunities for those with special needs, disabilities and mental health conditions, giving them a safer and longer runway to acquire workplace and social skills.


Unique stakeholder-centric engagement

While the social enterprise work-integration model is not new, Foreword’s stakeholder engagement model is unique. It operates in an interdependent system of stakeholders involving partners, the community and the company’s committed leadership.


Foreword's engagement model

An inclusive workplace culture is built through the practice of Foreword’s six company values: Improving the self, Meaningful engagement, Person-centred, Action-oriented, Courage to try, and Trusted relationships. These values spell “IMPACT.” By placing its people at the core of everything the organisation does, Foreword creates functional teams from individuals with diverse needs and strengths.

Foreword's fifth anniversary get-together for its employees and family members, held at Temasek Shophouse

Partnerships are Foreword’s main revenue source, where organisations engage its services and purchase its products. This includes the spaces where Foreword operates its cafes, supported by landlords who stand with its social cause. Through such partnerships, Foreword brings greater visibility to PWDs.

Community support is the “heart work” of Foreword in developing its employees. The successful placement of an employee often requires a family member, a job coach, a case worker, other nurturing agents such as former teachers who continue to support the employees, or a combination of them.

Cafe Manager, Leena, at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music outlet, guiding a new cafe staff on operating the coffee grinder. Although Leena is deaf, she has been a reliable and trustworthy leader within the organisation who has trained many employees with special needs.

Committed leadership steers the company’s growth while balancing profit and purpose. As a certified B Corporation, Foreword’s mission is protected in its constitution, ensuring it practises stakeholder governance even with leadership changes. B Corporation certification is a designation that an organisation met high standards of accountability and transparency on factors of employee benefits and charitable giving. The growth of Foreword depends on the growth of its people, and its leadership team places great emphasis on people development.


Achieving a sustainable social business model

As Foreword emerges from the business pressure due to Covid-19, the goal in the next two years is to achieve sustainability in its social business model. In other words, Foreword endeavours to achieve sustained profitability while growing its social impact.

In its Enabling Masterplan 2030, Singapore has set a target to increase the employment rate of PWDs from 30 per cent to 40 per cent by 2030. This is equivalent to 10,000 PWDs entering the workforce. This can only be achieved through a concerted effort with the private and public sectors and the public.

Social inclusion for those with disabilities and mental health needs is a complex issue that will grow in importance over the years. Although Foreword is currently in the food services industry, its future trajectory is not limited to this line of work. While Foreword stays focused on its mission, it recognises that collaboration is key and hopes to see more actors joining the movement towards a more inclusive society.

Posted 08 February 2023

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