Individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological, like Autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Intellectual Challenges, Learning Disabilities, and more are often looked down upon. They are shunned in a corner of society or kept away “for their own good”. With awareness and organisations that take up the noble cause of assisting and guiding special needs people towards their best lives, this stigma is slowly but surely getting erased.
Minu & Preeyam Budhia’s venture ICanFlyy is a testimony to how the right people can blossom the lives of others, especially those who are specially-abled. In conversation with TC46, this mother-daughter shares the inspiration behind this institute, the need for their special programmes and how social entrepreneurs can make a difference, successfully.
1. What are your educational and professional backgrounds?
The Founder & Director of Caring Minds, ICanFlyy, Cafe ICanFlyy, Minu Budhia is a Psychotherapist, Counsellor and Columnist. She is also the Director of Patton Group and AddLife Fitness & Spa. She holds a certificate in Advanced Cognitive Behavioural Skills from the British Psychological Society in London, UK and Child Brain Development Course from The Institute for The Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia, USA. She studied at the Girls High School and Assam Women’s College in Tinsukia, Assam. Her previous professional experience includes renowned institutions such as Belle Vue Clinic, St. Xavier’s College, and JD Birla Institute.
Preeyam Budhia, the co-founder of Cafe ICanFlyy is the President of Business Development of Patton Group. As an entrepreneur at Patton Group, she has launched ‘Embracing Green’, The Sustainability Vertical and the Innovation Vertical. Preeyam also heads new initiatives at Cafe ICanFlyy and is a Director at AddLife Fitness & Spa. She has studied Management from the University of Nottingham and has done Executive Management & Entrepreneurship at the London School of Economics & Political Sciences. An alumnus of the La Martiniere for Girls and Loreto House in Kolkata, she has also worked at illustrious institutions like Barclays Capital & Lehman Brothers in London, UK.
2. What is the story behind starting ‘Café ICanFlyy’? What makes the café truly ‘special’?
Prachi, Minu’s younger daughter and Preeyam’s sister, is the inspiration behind ICanFlyy and Café ICanFlyy. Minu was always worried about what Prachi – a special needs child with ADHD, Bipolar Disorder and Low IQ – would do after she grew up. Searching for answers to this question she realised most special needs children had no place to go to after they completed their schooling. This led to the establishment of ICanFlyy – an institute for special needs.
Café ICanFlyy took its first steps as the ICanFlyy Food Factory – the vocational training bakery unit at ICanFlyy. As the bakery products started gaining popularity, orders started pouring in. The next step was putting up pop-ups and stalls at exhibitions around the city where our handmade goodies, #madewithlove, always sold out. Founder Minu Budhia’s idea to launch another vocational training section (cafe customer service) and co-founder Preeyam’s interest in the F&B industry combined to create Café ICanFlyy.
This is not your ordinary café. Cosy, quirky, and a labour of love, Cafe ICanFlyy is a 50-seater café with a cause run by special needs individuals. The vision for the cafe is to show the world how truly gifted special needs individuals are. The goal is not only to empower and build the self-confidence of the special café crew but also to create a working space where they are treated with love and respect. And that is exactly what they are doing via their special needs customer service training behind the launch of café programme and subsequent employment opportunities at Café ICanFlyy.
3. What was your first milestone and how did you get there?
Opening a cafe run by special needs individuals is in itself a milestone. A one-of-a-kind social impact venture in not only our city Kolkata or state West Bengal, but also in India, we are happy to be one of the first to start the conversation and walk the talk about empowering special needs individuals.
“It was quite a journey to get to our opening day. We started with mock training where our special needs café crew trained for 6 months to learn how to walk with trays of food and beverages, serve food, hand over the menu, greet customers, answer questions, etc. After a few in-house trials with our staff and special educators, we held multiple tasting sessions for friends, family, well-wishers, and foodies – the menu was redesigned and items incorporated, removed, or modified as per the feedback,” said Minu.
“When we opened our doors, we were overwhelmed by the love and support from our city of joy! The café was welcomed with open arms and hearts by our “cheerleaders” – what we fondly call our customers – and our students found both self-confidence and self-esteem,” said Preeyam.
4. What roles do both of you play at Café ICanFlyy?
Founder Minu’s main focus is on student education, vocational training, and handpicking and leading the team in every department. She plays a hands-on role, every single day and she is there every step of the way to ensure the execution of her vision. From strategy to operations, she does it all.
Co-Founder Preeyam’s main focus is on spreading awareness about the cafe via digital/social media campaigns, events and collaborations, content and strategy, and much more. A creative entrepreneur, she is there each day to brainstorm with teams across departments and is creating a blueprint for a better tomorrow.
5. How do you balance the mother-daughter and co-founder relationship simultaneously?
With love, laughter and a healthy dose of agreeing to disagree! While we’re very similar personality-wise, our ways of working are as different as chalk and cheese. With one early bird and the other a night owl, we often meet in the middle – literally and metaphorically.
6. How do you define success at Cafe ICanFlyy? Tell us about some of your success stories.
“Success for us is measured by the impact we make in the lives of our students and their families. Our special needs cafe crew can proudly say they are working like many of their friends and family members. Most of them used to feel left out during conversations about work because they were only at home or school, but now they too can pitch in about how their day was at work,” said Minu.
“Our café with a cause is not only empowering special needs individuals by making their impossibles possible and the unachievable achievable but also acting as a 24×7 awareness tool that’s making society understand the capabilities of the special needs individuals,” said Preeyam.
Here’s one of Café ICanFlyy’s success stories.
Smart, sweet, and a perfectionist at heart, Prakriti is a young lady in her twenties who loves baking and serving desserts. She is also good at typing and data entry work and enjoys singing and dancing as hobbies. Her dream is to have and run a bakery of her own. She was a very shy, quiet, soft-spoken young girl with low self-confidence. Her academic and vocational training at ICanFlyy enabled her to find/establish self-esteem. She is part of the Special Needs Café Crew at Café ICanFlyy and has been training and working there for over 2 years. From a middle-income group family, she is a proud earning member of her family via the stipend she receives for her work at the café. She also travels independently and uses public transport.
7. What do you think is the future of social entrepreneurship? Do you think women make better social entrepreneurs?
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 45% of the world’s social entrepreneurs are female. Social entrepreneurship is a nascent, budding sector where gender role stereotypes haven’t made an established presence. These projects are driven by passion and compassion – profit is important but secondary.
We believe women can balance IQ, EQ, and hard work quite well. As women are also better at developing potential, nurturing teams, and are open to more perspectives, they make better leaders. At ICanFlyy and Café ICanFlyy, our leadership is 100% female and at the café, 90% of our special needs café crew is women.
8. What are your tips for women who are aspiring to be social intrapreneurs or entrepreneurs?
For someone to be a successful entrepreneur or intrapreneur, they must have certain qualities. We call this PEACE – Passion, Ambition, Execution, Communication, and Excellence.
- Tip 1: Support female coworkers, juniors, bosses – empowered women empower women
- Tip 2: Network, network, network
- Tip 3: Build a support system – even if you’re a solopreneur/mompreneur/womenpreneur, this is not a journey you can take alone
- Tip 4: Become a subject matter expert and embrace the role of being a lifelong learner
- Tip 5: Separate self and work when it comes to criticism – feedback of your work is not a personal affront
9. How do you as entrepreneurs unwind at the end of a long day?
“Work is always on our mind in a positive way – creative ideas don’t follow a schedule and inspiration strikes at any time, whether it’s at the breakfast table, or when chatting over coffee. We make sure to set aside some uninterrupted family time every single day.”
For Minu, catching up with her younger daughter, fitness, reading, listening to music, and watching a variety of web series is a good way to end the day. For Preeyam, de-stressing means badminton, swimming, karaoke, strategy board games, catching up over chai with friends and planning her next travel adventure.
To know more about this venture, you can visit the official website of Cafe ICanFlyy, email the cafe, Minu or Preeyam or drop in for a wholesome experience at 4B Valmikee Street, Kolkata. We are available on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. Twitter and Youtube.
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