Impacting Communities, Improving Lives

There is more to Starbucks Malaysia than meets the eye. While they have been making waves throughout the country as a popular coffee chain, this corporation also doubles as a platform that strengthens the bond with the community and encourages good deeds for the environment. Recently, CSR Malaysia speaks to Sydney Quays, the Managing Director of Starbucks Malaysia along with Rina Siew, its Corporate Social Responsibility Manager on their noble efforts aimed to benefit the people and the planet.

Starbucks Malaysia has long established its reputation for the extensive range of wonderful coffee, yummy treats and cozy coffeehouses they have to offer. Ever since their first outlet in Malaysia opened its doors back in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, the brand has continued to expand its wings, reaching out not only to major cities in various states but also, small towns in many parts of the nation.

According to Sydney, Starbucks Malaysia is all about its coffee and its people. “These are the two main areas that we are very passionate about as a company and a business.” They say that charity begins at home. Applying that concept, Starbucks Malaysia’s employees are addressed as “partners”, giving them a greater sense of belonging in the company.

Since its inception, Starbucks Malaysia has made it a point to be part of the community where they do business – whether on a small scale that mainly takes place within individual outlets or a bigger one that involves all of them together as a company. In many projects, Starbucks customers from all walks of life are also welcomed to hop on board to carry out the activities planned. The response has been positive indeed.

“We have seen over time that whenever we do any of our projects that involve their area, we get a lot of customers lining up,’ says Sydney. “I believe the reason for that is there are many people like us who want to do good community work but there is very little avenue through which we can do it. So, when I say that we are part of the community, it is because we also want to be a part of something bigger in the sense that we can provide an opportunity for you to get involved in your community in a bigger way. Starbucks is the catalyst for that.”

April is the Global Month of Good (formerly known as the Global Month of Service) in Starbucks all over the world. Last year, over at PPR Ikan Emas in Cheras, Starbucks Malaysia launched its collaboration with the not-for-profit environmental organisation, EcoKnights, to run their Green Outreach Programme.

“What we did was we sold the limited edition Starbucks reusable cup,” says Rina who has eight years under her belt as the lead person of Starbucks Malaysia CSR department. For every tumbler sold, RM1 was channeled to EcoKnights. They managed to raise RM15,000 which was then used to build the Community Edible Garden in PPR Ikan Emas Cheras and run environmental awareness programmes for the community. Various types of workshops were conducted for the people – from educational workshops on how one could reduce his/her contribution to the landfills to DIY workshops on how to make your own soap from used cooking oil.

In an effort to upcycle, Starbucks Malaysia had their FlavorLock™ coffee bags made into pouches. “From May 1st onwards, coffee customers can bring their used FlavorLock™ coffee bags to our stores for us to upcycle and process it into pouches,” says Rina. “This will provide sustainable income to the girls and the B40 community we engage with because these pouches will be sold in all Starbucks stores next year.”This year, Starbucks Malaysia collaborated with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) Kuala Lumpur for a venture that empowers the girls and pulls off an eco-friendly feat. YWCA KL recruits girls from the B40 community to their Vocational Training Opportunity Centre (VTOC) where they are able to develop their skills in various fields. “They have a few courses such as Culinary & Baking, Hairdressing & Beauty Care, Kindergarten Teacher Training, Certificate in Commerce and Sewing & Tailoring. So, after one year, the girls can graduate and find jobs,” reveals Rina.

On their world-famous Signing Store in Bangsar Village II, Sydney explains that it was initiated when they came to realize how their partners with a hearing disability who have been working for them for many years were not able to move up the career ladder. “Their jobs were very menial jobs. There was very little opportunity for them to progress. They could never work behind the bar because of their disability.”

Establishing a community edible garden at Perumahan Awam Ikan Emas

In fact, this “Silent Store” almost never happened. “When we spoke to our principal in the U.S., their take was that we should not attempt it because it was not done in the U.S.,” says Sydney. It gets even more fragile as this matter would largely involve human emotions. “It is a sensitive issue to us. But to somebody with the disability and their family, it is even more sensitive – extremely sensitive. So, we needed to be very careful in what we did.”Envisioning a store designed specifically to cater to the needs of their Deaf partners and customers, they managed to make it a reality within three years of hard work. “At that time, we didn’t even know the term, signing,” recalls Sydney. “We initially started by calling it a Silent Store.”

Despite the brickbats hurled at their unique initiative during the early days, they rose to the challenge and proved their worth until this very day. “We are honoured to be a corporate voice for the Deaf community,” says Rina. The impact made was so significant that the Signing Store in the U.S. was actually modeled after the Malaysian one.Rina is one of the individuals responsible for the project. “We wanted to make it like a community store where the Deaf can come in and feel comfortable to order. They don’t have to go through writing. They just sign. We want a place where they can bring their friends and family like how we, ‘the hearing ones’ meet with friends. We wanted to create a third place for them – a place where they could hang out, chill and relax.” And so, they did.

While they are very proud of their Signing Store, over the last 3 years, Starbucks Malaysia has also embarked on a journey that puts local trades in the limelight.

First Starbucks community edible garden in Malaysia located at the Starbuks Drive-Thru in Kota Kemuning

Traditionally hand-woven mengkuang in the form of cup sleeves and coasters that come from FELDA Chini Timur 01, Kuantan, Pahang have made their appearance at Starbucks outlets at the airports and tourist attraction stores. Bananas sourced from 3 villages: Kampung Lubuk Jaya, Kampung Parit Serong and Kampung Sungai Gulang – Gulang, Kuala Selangor have ended up in Starbucks Malaysia stores as finished products like banana cakes and muffins. “All these projects are not just about us being recognised but whosoever that comes on board with us as well,” says Rina, adding that the sources of such products are clearly stated.

The list of CSR projects conducted by Starbucks Malaysia is simply unending. It ranges from the beach cleanups in Kuantan to the community edible garden they work on at the Kota Kemuning Drive-Thru store to their collaboration with Silent Teddies Bakery for their Starbucks Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies, and more.

“As an individual, obviously, you will feel good when you do good but the impact is also on the company,” says Sydney. “It helps us with retention of staff. A lot of people would want to work for a company that has a caring soul. It also sets the tone for the younger generation to join us and to be able to understand what CSR means. I believe that putting your time and effort into something worthwhile could yield better results than just by giving a cheque.”

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