[Editorial note: Eppie Lau, our staff, attended this year’s Global Social Entrepreneurs Network Conference in Mumbai in October. She met lots and lots of social entrepreneurs all over the world. They are determined to create social change. Read her first post here, and the second, and the third!]
Good Morning Mumbai!
Woke up today at 8:00am today to the sound of traffic, cars honking and drilling. Barely functioning with only a few hours of sleep from the night before, I rolled out of bed to get a peek finally of the city in daylight.
Peering out the window, I definitely could not believe that over the next few days, I would be in Mumbai, attending the Global Social Entrepreneurs Network Conference (GSEN), currently hosted by UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs in the UK. I learnt how to best empower Social Enterprises to grow & develop.
We spent the first afternoon visiting three Social Enterprises.
The first stop was Sampurn (e)arth– a startup focused on urban waste management, based at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
After a 45 minute bus ride (just enough time for a wonderful power nap!) from our hotel in Bandra, we reach the Tata Institute around 2pm. Looking around, the Tata Institute looked tremendously different from the universities here in Hong Kong, a refreshing change from the usual large and concrete structures seen usually in Hong Kong.
Determined not to look too ‘touristy’ however, I suppress all instinctive desires to take photos, firmly clamping my hand around my phone… until I see MONKEYS.
There are MONKEYS EVERYWHERE, and it’s absolutely glorious. Our entire GSEN group loses it immediately and within two seconds we are essentially all squealing with our phones out. We regret nothing, because here is a photo for you all.
Now, back to Sampurn (e)arth, a startup focused on urban waste disposal. Launched in 2012, Sampurn (e)arth began when founders Debartha, Jayanth and Ritvik realized that urban waste disposal was one of the most pressing social and environmental issues faced by Mumbai.
From an environmental aspect, the 9,400 tonnes of solid waste generated in Mumbai everyday is a biohazard, because much of this garbage is simply left unsegregated and untreated at the dumping grounds- leading to the formation of gases that easily catch fire. From a social perspective, the garbage collectors, who play a very important role in keeping Mumbai clean, are seen as ‘waste- pickers’ with very low social status.
Determined to tackle both issues, Sampurn (e)arth proposed smaller facilities such as biogas generator or compost areas, allowing for waste to be processed locally at the source instead of adding to the dumping grounds, reducing resources as well to transport the waste. Simultaneously, these waste management facilities could also provide more respectable and stable jobs for the current trash-collectors, who would be seen instead as waste managers.
Currently, Sampurn (e)arth is able to manage 500 MT of waste per day, and have now expanded to a team of 17 staff, 40 clients, and 7 waste-pickers. Sampurn (e)arth also won the prestigious Global Social Venture Competition last year, and more information can be found about them here.
The next enterprise we visited was Paaduks, an enterprise that designs and makes handmade footwear from used automobile tires. The profit from these shoes is shared with the cobblers, which allows for them a stable source of income to support their families.
Traditionally, the shoe making process would go something like this. A client would go to Cobbler with a design and desired material, and then it would be up to the cobbler himself to buy the raw fabric and materials to create the shoe before being paid. This put the cobbler at a great disadvantage, as not only would he waste time in shopping for materials, but there would also no guaranteed payment. For the cobblers who did choose to work for larger organisations as informal or ad hoc factory workers, they were also prone to exploitation of low wages due to the unorganized nature of this sector.
Hence, Jay and Jothsna, the founders of Paaduks, set out to change these unfair power dynamics by providing cobblers with a stable source of income, with at least 100-120 rupees per shoe. Paaduks also provides their cobblers with the raw materials, allowing them to focus specifically on making shoes, so that their productivity and wages can be higher too.
Currently working with 3 cobblers, and now creating over 500 shoes per month, Paaduks retails in 15 different outlets, selling their shoes around 1000-1500 ruppees a pair (around 100 – 180hkd per pair).
Looking at their wonderfully colorful print flats, it took all the discipline for the shoe addict in me to not buy a pair immediately…
The final social enterprise we visited was Green Soles Farm.
Green Soles Farm started off in 2012 as just ‘a patch of free space’ next to a children’s hospital. Growing simple fruits, herbs and flowers, the produce harvested from the space was given directly to the children at the hospital, most of whom were there to receive cancer treatments.
According to Julius Rego, the founder of Green Soles, the story of Green Soles began initially as his own interest in bird-watching. Having grown up in the country-side, Julius was accustomed to seeing greenery all around him, and so when he relocated to Mumbai as an adult, he took up bird-watching as a way to maintain his connection with nature.
However, soon, he realized that the eco-systems in which these birds were living were being damaged. Feeling frustrated over his helplessness at helping these birds, Julius asked himself to think of where he could start his first step towards contributing back to the environment. And the answer to him, was home.
Home was where he could begin his journey into greening Mumbai, and for the next 15 years, Julius worked tirelessly to continuously research and develop new ways of urban farming.
As of right now, Green Souls is not only a rooftop farm, it is also an interactive classroom where children can learn to take ownership of the environment. The rooftop farm also functions as a solid waste management system, where waste can be processed into compost, thereby not only saving costs for the farm, but even providing income for Green Souls when they sell the high quality compost.
Looking at the pots that dotted the entire roof of the building, it definitely made me appreciate not only the amount of effort and labor, but also the creativity that the team at Green Souls embodied in their work. Using simply upcycled plastic jugs, bottles, or any other material they could find, everything that Green Souls created was both functional and also environmental friendly.
Gazing over the rooftop at Green Souls with the sun setting across Mumbai, it definitely felt like the best way to conclude my first day in India.