By Sehaj Sahni:
It is an undeniable fact that the transition from teenage to adulthood is the most important phase in all of our lives. This is the age where you find your passion and purpose, but also the age when you meet distractions and demotivation. This is the time when the most innovative ideas are born but also the time when most dreams succumb to the pressure of failure. Being a 28-years-old engineer-turned-entrepreneur from Patna, I understand the needs of young change-makers in this crucial point of life through my own personal experience. With an innovative idea of ‘Youth Cafes’, I wish to cater the same in my lifetime.
In an era where everyone is connected via the internet, I noticed an offline disconnect among the youth. It bothered me that physical spaces to meet like-minded people were diminishing. I observed that we don’t really speak about aspirations and ideas anymore; we are just trying to fit into stereotypical career paths like engineering and public services. The righteous system of schools, colleges, and coaching institutes has instilled a sense of competition and our youth is forced to confine to limits due to the fear of failure.
So, I decided to establish the Urban Desi House Café in order to facilitate the free exchange of ideas and a feeling of cohesion. The idea is to bring our youth to one safe-space place so that they can engage in productive activities and exchange ideas without judgment. By providing a cheap and affordable work environment, we provide a place to converse, connect and collaborate with people from different fields for productive outcomes and opportunities.
I had troublesome adolescence with the majority of my secondary education in the city of Patna – where I observed all of my friends having to choose between engineering and medicine. Just as I started working as a Mechanical Engineer in Chennai, I also witnessed firsthand, how one of my good friends succumbed to the pressure of working in a day job and not getting to do what he wanted – which was creating his own company.
This brutal experience inspired me to research extensively and create spaces that support the aspirations of young people. After requesting 18 State Governments for a small piece of land or old mill or even an unused garage to start this youth-endeavour and facing disappointment everywhere, I took a personal loan and added his savings to the pile to start Urban Desi House, in the latter half of 2015.
In 2017, Indian Youth Café was recognised by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) as one of the Top 3000 Startups in the country. But the cafe is much more than an average food joint, or co-working space. It provides a platform for budding artists to perform and a place for like-minded people to connect. It is now hosting events, jam sessions, photo galleries, art-exhibitions, meetups, workshops and open-mics on youth-related topics ranging from self-development to mental health to gender issues to start-up incubators. Since its inception, the café has served as a co-working space for more than 50,000 youth hosting over 200 events.
As a growing startup with the purpose of creating cheap safe spaces, not many organisations were interested in investing in this idea where major objective is not the profit but the people. Being applauded with the V-Awards by UN Volunteers India in 2018 gave this idea the validation required to attract investments and support. I believe that it was a great platform that not only gave my work some recognition in the circuit but also helped me meet and learn from various development leaders. Apart from the sense of jubilation, motivation and enriching experience, being a V-Awardee has opened up new avenues in terms of professional collaborations.
For us, this is just the beginning. There are over 730 districts in India. I aim to spread the idea of youth cafés to each and every one of them. With this idea, we have ignited the minds of people around us who are today leading the change in their respective communities. My only advice to the young people out there is to be kind and to motivate their fellows in their smallest endeavours. After all, we are all on this journey together!