Alexander Avdevich is known to many as the guy who travels the world on a handcycle. He is also the creator of the school and coffee house “Inclusive Barista”.
“Not Today, Not Tomorrow, Not Yesterday” met with Alexander in Warsaw: we talked about social projects and plans for the future.
Hi, please tell us about yourself?
My name is Alexander Avdevich, I am a traveller from Belarus.
In Belarus I was engaged in various social projects. I worked in the UN development program. The last project was a chain of coffee shops “Inclusive Barista”.
Why did you emigrate from Belarus?
I originally left for travelling, travelled for a year on a hand bike. And then the war started, Lukashenko was an a-hole and that’s it, easy.
I know you have travelled a lot, can you tell me which country is better for living, for doing business?
I didn’t do business everywhere, I travelled. I don’t know where anyone likes it. I had a business in Belarus, now I am starting in Poland.
How did you come up with the idea to open a coffee shop “Inclusive Barista”? Tell us about the project?
We provide catering services at different events, events where people (with disabilities and not only) make professional coffee.
I came up with this idea a long time ago, since 2017 I have been working on it in Belarus.
The Belarusian establishments are still working, but without me. I had to change the form of ownership and give it to the guys who stayed there.
Tell us about the concept of “Inclusive Barista”?
The concept is simple: we adapt workplaces for people with disabilities. Right now we are in Warsaw, in the Molodziew Hub. Here you can drink and buy coffee.
My concept is based on the fact that we take staff with physical disabilities who are not accepted and adapt the workspace so that they do the necessary work on a given square, more conveniently and even cooler than people without disabilities. It’s like this thing, if you put on a Tony Stark costume and give a good bang, you get a bigger bang than a normal person. That’s the suit we’re making). It’s not your fault you’re disabled, but you put on a suit like that, that’s what happened. Now take it and do it.
While travelling, have you come across projects like this? Maybe some of them are memorable?
To be honest, there are no such projects. There are projects where people open a social cafe, where, in particular, they recruit guys with different mental disabilities to work. Guys with Down’s syndrome or other types of mental illnesses, so that they can work there in the form of rehabilitation. Some in the kitchen, some somewhere else.
What are the differences in the vision of business in Belarus and abroad? What difficulties?
Now I can’t position myself as a businessman. But I will say that my whole business is built on the fact that the workers, including the right holder himself, is a person with the first group of disability. For a long time the first group of people with disabilities was considered not to work in Belarus. It was impossible to work with such a disability group.
Due to the fact that I received such a disability group 12 years ago. I started to troll this whole story, to turn it into a farce: “Look! They’re all businessmen.” And everywhere, of course, because of the fact that this group was not a working group and nobody considered such people, there are a bunch of benefits that many people take use of. We wanted to collect all of that into these benefit cases and turn it into a franchise of a business. Which can open, get a loan, get a concessionary space in the centre of the city and feel good about itself.
It’s just that in different countries no one is putting it together. They collect separately social projects that exist for a little while at the expense of grants, they run out of funding and disappear. But we would like to do this: monetise it so that it pays off as a business.
This turns out to be social business, and what is the difference between social business and ordinary business?
It’s all the same, we don’t need any additional documents. We call “social” any phenomenon that affects society. I mean, a store? Is it a social phenomenon or not? It used to be social – society gathered and came to the shop. Now it’s no longer social. If you think of it that way, now the street is social and everything is social. But there are such nuances, with the adaptation of places, with the acquisition of some space for rent. And in Europe, I do not know much about the programme of such support, but I know that there are many such subsidies, which are given to people with the first group of disability to do something. And we would like to play on the fact that with some kind of research of all this, to maximise the use of these benefits.
In Belarus, as an individual entrepreneur with a disability, I did not pay the contribution to the Social Protection Fund, this is the maximum I used. The rest was basically the same.
Did you say that people with the first group were not allowed to work?
Yeah, they just wouldn’t let them. I mean, you come to me to get a job, and by law I have no right to hire you because your health book says – not working.
But apparently there was some precedent, someone really wanted to work and they added to this group working/not working. Even now, there is the first group of disability, where by default they do not give a working group, but if you want to work you will be redone.
There was just no sampling of people with disabilities, they are presented as people who suffer and need to be helped. There were no such opinions that these people can become successful business people. But why can’t a person with a physical disability be a director?
Now you have opened an “Inclusive Barista School”, tell us about it?
At first, the idea was to have a school for people with disabilities only. And we had a couple of cases: a girl in a wheelchair, a guy from Belarus. But there are a lot of emigrants and the barista profession is easy to enter, you can learn in two weeks. So we started to train emigrants, not only those with disabilities, but absolutely everyone and for free.
There are already a lot of people signing up, we are stopping them in measured doses. We are moving towards opening our own cafe on a permanent basis. Where we will help people to get jobs, get training and go further – to open their own cafes.
We don’t see it as a super business yet, a business to make money. It’s more a business for training, because it’s free. In Poland, such training costs 700 PLN for a week. You have to train for 3 weeks. But here they will buy milk for free, roast coffee, and tell you how latte differs from cappuccino.
What are your plans for the future?
We plan to open a franchise of socially inclusive coffee shops. So that we can open a turnkey business in other countries. Of course to check in with our brand “Inclusive Barista”, those are the plans.
We believe that we have an absolutely lucky, successful case, we understand how it can be monetised. But there is still a lot of work to be done.