Keywords: India, social business, café, inclusive employment

MITTI Café

MITTI Cafes, as part of its livelihood development initiative for the economic independence and dignity of persons with disability, provides training and employment opportunities for adults with physical and intellectual disability through the creation of cafes within institutional spaces. The aim is to create visible, tangible models of inclusion that the community is inspired to take part in, as well as a low cost-high impact livelihood model that can be emulated across the globe.

About the practice at a glance
Name of OrganisationMITTI Cafe
Type of organisationSocial business
Country
of Implementation
India
Year started2017
Funding modelWe have cafes in partnerships with corporate and educational institutions who give us the space and the one-time set-up cost as part of their CSR. We only open cafes within institutions with 2000+ people to ensure a captive audience and regular traction. Each cafe becomes operationally sustainable and does not require capital to run it in a month of operations, following the initial set-up cost.

IMPACT

Impact and growth 

Our successes are our stories. Lakshmi cannot hear or speak, single mother of 2 children, only earning member of the familyshe is our Assistant manager. In 3 years we went from a dilapidated tin shed, to today having 13 cafes completely managed by PwDs. We have 116 people working in our cafes, and have additionally provided experiential training and placed 318 adults with disability. 

Target group 

As a policy we prefer to hire and nurture PwDs who would find it difficult to get placed anywhere else. Majority of the candidates with disability engaged with Mitti come from low income households, who have dropped out of school or have been homeless. We hire persons with multiple disability. Their work at MITTI helps in bridging the significant gaps that PwDs face towards transitioning into an environment that provides them with a gainful livelihood opportunity along with dignity and self-worth. 

Other outcomes 

Mitti Karuna (Compassion) meals: an initiative taken during Covid-19 in which our employees have been cooking and serving meals to the poor. Half a million meals served in 2 months. 

THEORY OF CHANGE

We asked projects to outline their impact model (also called Theory of Change) – their main target groups, the key activities they offer these target groups, and what impact they want to achieve:

Target GroupActivityImpactIndicator
Persons with physical, intellectual and psychiatric disabilities1. Recruitment of adults with physical, intellectual and psychiatric disability
2. Training of persons with disabilities in the areas of F&B and Hospitality services along with their soft skills
3. Providing opportunities for growth within the organisation through increased responsibilities and compensation
4. Creating role models for the world and communities leading to changing perceptions about persons with disabilities
1. Empowerment for persons with disabilities
2. Inclusion and increased opportunities for employment for persons with disabilities
3. Improving perceptions about disabilities within the communities and family
4. Greater sense of pride and empowerment achieved by our trained PWDs
Number of adults with physical, intellectual and psychiatric disability trained and employed.
Income generation through sustainable livelihood opportunities.
Growth in careers: within and outside MITTI Cafe.
Number of Candidates taking positions of responsibilities, increase in salaries, opportunities to work independently and in other organisation.
Case studies that help us capture powerful stories of resilience and inclusion.
Mitti-Moms Mothers of persons with disabilitiesWork with mothers of persons with disabilities by providing them training in health & safety standards, procurement,preparation and packaging of snacks and sweets that are made at their homes. Provide a platform through MITTI Café to sell their savoury and sweet snacks that help compliment their household incomes.Work with them to set-up their own enterprise in their communities by promoting Women Entrepreneurship. Provide direct employment to mothers at Mitti Cafe.They can work with their children.Since most of our adults with disability come from low income backgrounds, it leads to an overall rise in household income. Through Mitti Moms, post training our mothers of adults with disability can become micro-entrepreneurs or get directly employed in our cafe, where they work with their children. This leads to added work satisfaction and happiness for adults with severe disability or intellectual disability engaged with us. The performance and work productivity is seen to increase in both the mother and child. High levels of confidence observed with economic independence of our employee with disability, along with his mother.Number of mothers economically empowered through employment and entrepreneurship.
Satisfaction Survey and performance assessment of mothers and their children with disability working together at our cafes.
Total rise in household income.
Community– Serving meals through Mitti Cafe. Every meal enables to generate verabal and non-verbal natural interactions that enables us to sensitise customers
– Sensitization drives and inclusion workshops in public spaces
– Karuna (Compassion) Meals:Outreach initiative that enables our team of adults with disability to cook and serve the poor and the needy. This helps us create awareness about inclusion to the last mile.The world gets to seethe magic of abilities and empowerment.
– Change in the disability in perception of the community, leading to an inclusive community and additional socio-economic opportunities for persons with disability .
– Positive behavioural change in their interactions with PwDs
– Alleviation of Hunger – Every $0.3 raised enables us to feed the economically underprivileged. A part of it goes towards the labor cost of our PwD employee. This enables them to earn with dignity, while being an agent of social impact.
– Number of meals served through our cafes. We serve thousands of customers every year. In the last 3 years our adults with disability have served over 5 million meals and beverages.Every sale allows us and our customers to engage in natural interactions and demonstrate the potential of our wonderful team.
– Number of sensitization workshops held, number of participants who attended and survey on the level of awareness that could be generated through the activity based workshops.
– Number of Karuna meals served to the poor and needy. Over 1 million Karuna meals cooked and served by our team during Covid 19. There is perception change about inclusion even in economically underprivileged communities, when our employees go and serve there. Wrong perceptions about disabilities due to a lack of education is changed when they view our team as warriors of change.

REPLICATION EXPERIENCE

We have already replicated our innovation 

We have created a blueprint of our business and organizational models that has helped us launch a cafe in 80 hours, once a MOU with a hosting organization has been signed. In our experience, the long pole in the process is typically getting the buyin from the management of the organization to start a Mitti Cafe. We work with various organizations – depending on what is needed, our approach involves sensitization meetings, multiple planning meetings with various stakeholders and co-creating a proposal that is best aligned with the organizational goals and criteria. We also provide them guidelines and sensitization meetings on getting their organizations ready for this initiative.  

The first few cafes played a pivotal role in our learning experience. I learnt to choose organizations that have a footfall of at least 2000 employees in their food court, simplify the menu options, carve out our niche while competing with other food vendors in the food courts and being able to offer wholesome healthy meals that are simple to put together for our employees.  

We have cafes within institution like Wells Fargo, Infosys, Wipro, Iqvia, ANZ Bank etc. Our menu is curated in a way which is easy for our employees with disability to pick up and for which the profit margins are high. Experiential training provided to additional employees with disability does not require additional infrastructural cost as training happens in the existing cafes. Long term funding can be sought through CSRs and foundations for the one-time set-up. In addition, partnerships and collaborations are extremely important to grow exponentially and optimise resources. 

The following are the kinds of partnerships we have created and been able to leverage, that has enabled us to grow and help our team of adults with disability serve over 5 million meals in less than 3 years: 

  • Community Partnerships: We sensitise the community to disabilities through natural interaction via the cafe. For us to be able to grow, the community has a big role to play in making this initiative a success.  
  • Disability NGOs alliance (DNA): We are a part of the Disability NGOs Alliance (DNA) network, an association of many disability NGOs across India. We offer practical experiential training to the participants of this network, and gain insights as well as exposure to a talent pool for our next cafe. 
  • Corporate and educational institutions: Our cafes are opened within institutions in partnership with them to foster inclusion. Many of these have a presence in other locations in India and therefore have given us the opportunity to expand to their other sites.  
  • Incubators and Accelerators: We have been mentored, received funding, networking and peer support by fantastic incubators in the country, including NSRCEL-IIM Bangalore, UnLtd India and N/Core. Social Venture Partners was the first organization to fund us when we were one cafe and 2 employees old. They provide ongoing mentorship support to us. Our passion is matched by the experience of people from the corporate and social sector, whose aim is to help social entrepreneurs like us to scale our impact sustainably. 
  • Media: Major media channels across India and overseas have showcased our impact, thereby helping us promote our cause and inspire other people to participate in our journey of inclusion. 
  • We have been featured in the Forbes Asia Social Entrepreneurs List of 30 under 30 and have received the Hellen Keller Award. This enables us to build credibility and promote our work.  
  • Global Associations: We were selected by the Government of Australia in partnership with Griffith University as part of their ‘Going Global Women Entrepreneurship’ program in Australia. This program gave us an opportunity to learn more about expanding our cafes into Australia. We also hosted senior visiting employees from Salesforce US, UK and Australia as part of the Emerging World’s Global NGO Connect Program and wonderful student interns from HEC, Paris.  

ORGANISATIONAL CAPACITY AND STRATEGY

Capacity 

Mitti Cafe has restricted and unrestricted grants to grow within India. Mitti Cafe has partners and contacts internationally who have shown keen interest in starting Mitti Cafes in their home countries, or who would be happy to connect us to organisations who work in the inclusion space, or to corporates who give us space to start cafes/fund us for the same. Additionally , our core team in India as well as our mentors have connections abroad that could be leveraged.  

We have the following connects in different countries who have shown interest to replicate our model/support us: 

  • Social Venture Partners: First organisation to fund us in India. They have chapters in 8 countries and would be willing to help us scale to other countries 
  • Australia-Griffith University 
  • Paris- HEC Paris Students 
  • Scotland-Scholar from Developmental Sector wants to partner 
  • Bangladesh – Recipient of Commonwealth Youth Awardee wants to partner
  • Dubai – An entrepreneur wants to partner with us to start a Mitti Cafe 

We have a project owner for this program, with the necessary skills and seniority: 

Alina is the Founder of Mitti Cafe and a strong believer in Economic Independence and Dignity for all. She started Mitti Café, while still studying at University with an aim to create platforms for adults with physical, intellectual and psychiatric disabilities to showcase their abundant potential for productive activity and create awareness for the cause of equal opportunities in employment.  

Alina is a passionate Tedx speaker and has been featured in the Forbes Asia list of 30 under 30. She has won the Hellen Keller Award, Times of India, She Unlimited Award, Rotary Exemplar award, Microsoft Nipman Award, Tiecon Female Entrepreneur of the Year award amongst others. Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/alinamitticafe  

Tedx talk by Alina: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdO8miPWfAE 

Strategy 

The three board members are completely aligned with our mission to create continuous sustainable employment for people with disabilities and additionally create awareness about inclusion through scaling our impact. We align our expertise and impact strategies to our values, and we believe that the organizational vision can be reached by sharing and gaining knowledge across geographical boundaries.  

Our additional strength comes from our board of advisors, each of whom are thought leaders in their social impact and strongly believe in creating impact at scale. They were instrumental in connecting us to new opportunities, offering time and resources to help us realize our dreams and have had a multiplier effect. Many of them have experience working with international organizations and will add tremendous value to our endeavours to expand.  

 Whether it is partnership through knowledge transfer or collaboration, we are ready to share Mitti Cafe’s model of inclusion, infrastructural research, inclusive policies and, additionally, mentor partner organisations on business development and resource mobilisation, on the basis of our experience. 

Over the last three years, we have documented our process and refined them with every new lesson we learnt starting a new cafe.  Here are some procedures we have standardized: 

  • Cafe Setup process: We can set up a cafe end to end in 80 hours. Equipment is standardized to ensure accessibility and safety of our employees with disabilities. For example, Point of Sale systems are designed for use by a person with visual impairment, menu and training instructions are in Braille/pictorial form, sign language placards for employees/customers with hearing and speech impairment. Further we have a buddy system within the cafe. 
  • Standardised recipes and training modules:  Recipes are researched and curated in a way that is easy for our adults with disability to cook and serve. Our recipes are standardized across cafes and represent the Mitti brand for healthy, diet inclusive options such as vegan, keto and gluten free. 
  • Standard Operating Procedures and checklists for all Cafe operations have been created. 
  • Human Resource Growth and Management policy, Supply Chain Management, Go-to-market strategy and fund-raising strategy are also documented 

In 5 years 

  • employing and creating 1000 stories of inclusion that could inspire and be replicated anywhere across the world 
  • Our employees with disability will serve 4 million meals to the poor and vulnerable 

MOTIVATION

I started Mitti Cafe at the age of 23 after graduating from university, with an aim to create platforms for persons with disability to showcase their abundant potential for productive activity & create awareness for the cause of equal opportunities in employment.                 

Our belief is that every individual with disability, anywhere in the world, has the potential to learn new skills, be self-reliant, contribute to society and the GDP. These individuals aspire to live with dignity and have a right to equal opportunities to realize their aspirations. Similarly food cafes are fundamental to the existence of any institution. By bringing these two together in the last 3 years, we have created a business model and organizational development blueprint.  

We are excited to be a part of the Zero Project Impact Transfer program because it gives us the opportunity to realize our dream of changing a million lives – one meal at a time! By being part of the Zero Project Impact Program, we look forward to connecting with organizations with similar vision and ethos, collaborate, co-create and adapt our model so that it can be replicated everywhere in the world.  

Such an opportunity will be a true endorsement of the resilience and commitment of every one of the Mitti employees in working against all odds to create Mitti Cafes. They have been demonstrating that PWDs have the ability to inspire thousands of ordinary individuals to believe in the extraordinary power of embracing and empowering vulnerable factions of society is a true evidence of development and inclusion. 

What is the organisation hoping to learn from taking part in the programme?

We are aware that we must be able to open up this model to the world through knowledge sharing and partnerships. Areas we would want to explore with the support of the Impact Transfer program, to name a few, are: 

  • Country specific regulations to start a food cafe inside an organization 
  • Partnership with like-minded and passionate individuals and organisations who would want to collaborate on replicating this model in their home-country  
  • CSR like programs which are country specific and other resource mobilisation models 

The Impact Transfer program could help us develop synergies through networking with brilliant entrepreneurs, activists and social workers working passionately in the inclusion space. This would enable us to exchange best practices and leverage global collaboration towards accelerating our joint vision. Leads could foster resource mobilization and regional/international business development opportunities, which could positively fuel our mission of equal opportunities and dignity for all.