ISP Mumbai Bureau
Cafe Arpan is today a name associated with inclusive livelihood experience. The co-founder of the place Ashaita Mahajan is a person to reckon with to understand the urgency of making our world more compassionate and accommodative to everyone.
Ashaita left her comfortable corporate position six years ago and plunged herself into the Cafe Arpan venture along with her aunt Dr. Sushma Nagarkar, a support and guide to Ashaita in all times. She was having a blooming career with musical events and management when she took the risky proposition to create a livelihood space for people irrespective of their physical conditions. She wanted to erect a platform in which diversity was the core value and it should be a place where diversity is not just the buzzword but also a mantra put into action. Thus was born Cafe Arpan.
Ashaita’s social entrepreneurship was ably supported by her aunt Sushma who had just moved in from the United States. The suburbs of Mumbai thus saw Cafe Arpan launched in the year 2018 with Ashaita’s cousin Aarti, a person suffering from Autism becoming the first staff of the place.
Ashaita and Dr Sushama onboarded a venture full of hope to give the differently-abled an opportunity to integrate themselves into the community and find dignified employment. The venture took wings under the Yash Charitable Trust set up for the purpose in 2014.
Social activism to Ashaita was part of her heritage. She was born to a social activist mother. Her mother worked with suicide helplines and organisations dealing with intellectual disabilities. As an air hostess with Air India, her mother challenged its company policies and won it in court.
As a kid Ashaita has been part of various social campaigns in and around Mumbai. Studying in St Xavier’s, Mumbai gave her further impetus as she volunteered at the institute’s resource centre for the visually challenged. Her love for music overpowered her career choices and after graduating she headed off to the University of Sheffield to do a master’s in music management. She worked with big banners like Sony Music and the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) before returning back to India.
Once back in India she teamed with her aunt to work for the Yash Charitable Trust of the family. They first started with the Arpan Dabba Service, a supported tiffin service employment initiative that only employs Persons with Disabilities. After successfully running the tiffin service for two years, they reached maximum capacity and therefore needed to expand. That is how the idea of Cafe Arpan was launched. Today, the Cafe experiment is undoubtedly a lamp in the darkness for people seeking inclusive employment opportunities.