Alina Alam, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mitti Cafe has been recognised in the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs list for her work in providing people with disabilities a space to be productive and showcase their potential. Mitti is a non-profit organisation that runs a chain of cafes which are completely managed by adults with physical, intellectual and psychiatric disability. Mitti’s aim is to create awareness for the cause of economic independence and dignity for all.
Alina participated in Griffith University’s Indian Women Innovators program led by Dr Dhara Shah and Professor Michelle Barker from the Department of Business Strategy and Innovation. The two-phase program was co-funded with the support of the Queensland Government’s International Education and Training Partnership Fund, which is managed by Study Queensland within Trade and Investment Queensland. Phase One of the program involved two Masterclasses for social entrepreneurs held in India, from which 10 women were chosen to participate in Phase Two – a week-long Bootcamp in Queensland where they were joined by entrepreneurs in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and Cairns. Some of the main highlights of the Bootcamp were meetings with Queensland’s social entrepreneurs, Queensland Government officials, the Social Business session with Alex Hannant, Professor of Practice and Co-director of the Yunus Centre, Griffith University, and interacting with Indigenous women entrepreneurs in Cairns which was hosted by Associate Professor Henrietta Marie of CQUniversity’s First People’s Think Tank. Alina spoke about the positive impact that the Bootcamp program had on her as an individual, and on her business as a social entrepreneur.
For Alina, the Griffith University-led Bootcamp built on an earlier internship opportunity at Bengaluru’s Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled where she first learnt about the untapped potential that people with disabilities often possess. Alina said:
“I always wanted to build a social enterprise that engages these people in an empowered setup, outside the scope of charity. And that’s how I envisaged the concept of Mitti café.”
The majority of the candidates with a disability, trained and employed by Mitti, come from lower socio-economic backgrounds who have either dropped out of, or never attended school. Their work at Mitti helps to bridge the significant gaps that adults with a disability face while transitioning into an environment that provides them with a gainful livelihood opportunity, along with dignity and self-worth. Additionally, these cafes operate in spaces provided by large corporate organisations which contributes to changing perceptions about disability and making spaces inclusive.
Each cafe also provides experiential training to persons with disability and entrepreneurship opportunities for mothers of adults with mental disabilities coming from low-income backgrounds. Today, there are nine cafes run by more than 71 adults with physical, intellectual or psychiatric disabilities.
With social responsibility being at the core of Mitti cafes’ principles, they have also undertaken a ‘COVID-19 No Hunger Campaign’ providing 2000 financially vulnerable members of the community with food and drinking water every day. They have served more than 30,000 meals and counting!
In addition to participating in Griffith University’s Indian Women Innovators program and being recognised on the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs list, Alina has also received the Rotary Exemplar Award, NCPEDP Mindtree Hellen Keller Award, and the Times-She Unlimited Award. She has delivered two Tedx talks, yet humbly states:
“None of these accolades hold meaning if we are unable to take responsibility to ensure that none of our frontline heroes—the daily wage earners—go hungry and additionally protect the interest of our staff with disability. We are doing our best with our strong team of adults with disability, but need your prayers and best wishes to fight on.”