DEI Voices: Alina Alam, Founder, Mitti Cafe

 DEI Voices: Alina Alam, Founder, Mitti Cafe

Mitti’s team of adults with disability have cooked and served over 11 million meals since 2017 through 35 cafes across India, and served over 4 million Karuna Meals to the economically less-privileged. The organization also provides experiential training to over 4000 persons with disabilities and those from vulnerable communities. Their outreach initiative helps create awareness about inclusion and disability rights.

I believe that compassion and courage are two weapons that could eradicate most problems that our world faces today. Development has to be inclusive and can only happen by embracing and empowering people from the most vulnerable parts of the society. An efficient way to do this is by enabling them with a means to livelihood that is both sustainable and allows them to lead a life with dignity. With this thought, I started Mitti Cafe while still at University, with the aim of creating a platform for adults with physical, intellectual and psychiatric disabilities. I also wanted to showcase their abundant potential for productive activity and create awareness for the cause of equal opportunities in employment.

Today, Mitti Café is empowering Persons with Disabilities towards self-reliance, financial independence, and, most importantly, a life of dignity, joy, and respect. Through this journey, I have also learnt some key lessons, which have been crucial for the success of the org.

1. Leverage the Community: The power of the community to grow exponentially is the key to success. I started Mitti with zero start-up capital and multiple rejections. Our first cafe was a small dilapidated shed. It was the community that helped me set it up. All our equipment - the second hand fridge, used oven, tissue papers, and even the spoons - were donated by the community. The local electrician even refused to charge me his fee to repair the fridge, saying it was his contribution! The community has enabled me to build, sustain, and scale Mitti Cafe. The ROI on kindness is very high.

2. 1% idea, 99% execution: I’ve learned to be ready for the unexpected: planning is great; so are strategies, action plans and timelines. But when you are trying to impact lives, be ready to face the unexpected as  ‘the only thing constant is change’. Adaptability, creativity, dedication, innovation, patience, perseverance, and resilience are among the many virtues that will come in handy.

3. Ask, and you shall receive: While it’s not as easy as it sounds, but learn to not take refusals personally. Learning from them is very beneficial. Every partnership takes time to build, to cultivate a symbiotic relationship, rather than a transactional one. However, be clear with your asks, and don’t shy away from dreaming big.

4. Value your team: The people who stick with you and your purpose through thick and thin – your family, friends, acquaintances, team members – should be treasured. Through them, you are empowered to do more for others. Compassion, empathy and respect are very important.

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