Nepali entrepreneur turns trash into cashThe story behind the entrepreneur behind the Khaalisisi initiative
Real entrepreneurship is about innovation, executing ideas, consistency, not giving up easily and not worrying too much about finding investors immediately.
Prospective entrepreneurs do not need an MBA from an expensive international university: they start with a great idea and a bit of money, and they set about implementing the idea step by step.
Young entrepreneur Aayushi KC is a good example of this. She quit a secure job at an international aid agency to start her own company, Khaalisisi Management. Khaalisisi uses a digital platform to link garbage sellers and buyers for waste transactions. It was an unusual idea, and many thought KC had lost her mind.
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“Every time I shared my idea, people laughed and ridiculed me. Nobody had done this kind of business before and so everyone was sceptical,” she recalls. But she was determined to use this sustainable business solution to clean up Kathmandu.
It wasn’t easy, as KC had no technical background on information technology, recycling waste or garbage management. All she had were the facts and a motivation to make her idea work.
She did her own research and met experts and people who were already recycling garbage. And it was after meeting Kathmandu’s waste collectors that KC learnt how waste management works in practice.
There are about 13,000 collectors in Kathmandu alone, and there was already a network of people managing waste by recycling in their own way. KC decided to partner with them.
“They are the real waste entrepreneurs who deserve to be respected and the society needs to dignify their hard work and not disrespect them,” says KC. She shares that one of the best rewards for her is to see collectors get more respect after they started working with Khaalisisi, which provides them with uniforms and ID cards. The company employs 300 collectors, who are known as Khaalisisi Friends.
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The way it works is this: Khaalisisi connects the collectors with waste sellers through the Khaalisisi digital platform, social media and phone apps. Waste sellers, mostly city residents with a lot of trash, contact the Khaalisisi team for a pick-up. The company then contacts the waste collectors, who make house calls to purchase the waste. Recyclables are then sold on the market, and Khaalisisi gets a commission.
This process has apparently helped waste collectors increase their incomes. They no longer need to roam neighbourhoods on their bicycles, shouting to attract the attention of residents.
In just three years, Khaalisisi has become a recognized brand gaining popularity in Nepal and abroad for its novel approach to sustainability. In 2018, Forbes listed KC in its 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, selected from thousands of online nominations. In December she was one of the top five youth social entrepreneurs out of 1,000 competitors from 90 countries to speak during the World Bank Youth Summit in Washington DC. The Asia Society also included her as one of the 2019 Class of Asia 21 Young Leaders.
“This is a business-for-profit initiative, but as a company we also have a social responsibility to educate people on how to manage their own waste and create a better environment starting with our own neighbourhoods,” says KC, whose team also visits schools to urge them to manage their own waste. The government also needs to step in to give incentives to people who actively reduce, recycle and reuse, she says.
Khaalisi and other business initiatives involving waste management are gaining traction as awareness grows worldwide about sustainability, environmental degradation, plastic pollution in the rivers and seas and the climate crisis.
“There was nothing extraordinary about our business idea. We all have great ideas but they will come to nothing if we fail execute them. I acted on a simple idea and that was the starting point to build this company,” says KC, now 30.
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