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Entrepreneurship on Wheels: The Story of a Café for Disabled Albanian Youths

By Teddy Sun

On a Saturday morning, Suela, like every other young twenty-something Albanian, has plans for the weekend. In a nation addicted to coffee, one of her favorite pastimes is having a drink with a friend in one of Tirana’s hundreds of cafes.

However, getting there is challenging for a young woman in a wheelchair.

Around 137,000 people in Albania are affected by disability, which amounts to approximately 4.3 percent of the country’s population. Young people with disabilities in Albania face many problems including mobility, stigmatization and isolation.

Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. While economic growth over the last decade has markedly improved the quality of life in urban areas, provisions for people with disabilities still lag behind.

According to the World Bank, disabled people in Albania face serious problems accessing quality services with trained staff. They also suffer from isolation and solitude, stigmatization, unemployment and poverty. The public system simply fails to accommodate for the unique needs of the disabled people; accessibility is difficult in public places and the education system still uses obsolete methods.

Suela and her friends decided to do something about it. They want to create a café in Tirana where young people with disabilities can also enjoy opportunities to work, easily and comfortably socialize with friends, and enjoy cultural activities.

Furthermore, the café should foster the spirit of inclusion and to create an opportunity for non-disabled people to appreciate how joyful, inspiring and unique the life of a disabled person can be.

The business concept for E Jona Café was born.

The café will serve cakes, cookies, sandwiches and other light snacks, as well as a range of barista coffees, teas and soft drinks.E Jona will be built purposely in order to be accessible for both disabled and non-disabled young people, offering a range of attractions such as the display of artwork and craftwork, musical performances, theatre evenings, jewelry-making trainings, sign language and braille courses, to name a few.

Furthermore, the shop will employ six young people with disabilities to work as managers, bartenders, waiters and helpers. The profits earned by E Jona will be reinvested into improving the program of events at the café.

Armed with a business plan, Suela and her friends applied to the National Social Business Competition hosted by Yunus Social Business Albania, the local office of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus’ social business incubator fund. The business plan beat off tough competition from more than 50 other contestants to win the competition. The final was even featured on Albanian national TV.

E Jona has been approved for investment from YSB. It is currently fundraising for $45,950 start-up capital on Kiva. Kiva is a platform where anyone from around the world can lend to social entrepreneurs and microfinance borrowers with amounts as little as $25. Each loan has a schedule detailing the dates when the entrepreneur will pay back the loan in installments. Lenders can receive repayments into their online account, which they can use to invest in other entrepreneurs.

In the meantime, an airy premise on a trendy street in Tirana has been rented and renovations are going full speed ahead.

Suela is looking forward to the day the café opens. It will be a place open for all young people, wheels or no wheels.

Lend to E Jona here.

Follow E Jona here.

Find out more about Yunus Social Business here.


3p Contributor

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