Bridging the gap: Innovation Driving Social Inclusion

Bridging the gap: Innovation Driving Social Inclusion

We live in a world with landfill destined products. The traditional linear economy - take, make, dispose model, is reaching its breaking point, as we find ourselves in the largest global garbage crisis. While this is undoubtedly an obvious health and environmental hazard, it is equally a social justice issue too. 

As we find ourselves grappling with resource depletion and overflowing landfills, we ought to look towards newer and more innovative solutions. The answer to this lies in tapping into solutions based in a circular economy. 

Achieving circular solutions requires collaboration from several parties - startups, their innovators, incubators, impact funds and consumers. Importantly, it demands a keen focus on social inclusion, ensuring that everyone benefits from this innovation. 

India is currently at the cusp of impact innovations, most of which are based in circularity. A conversation that would have once been tagged as niche is now slowly making its way to the mainstream, with the support of several like-minded organisations. 

Social Alpha and H&M Foundation’s Saamuhika Shakti, a collective impact initiative, hosted a conference to mark the convergence of innovation of social inclusion. Through this initiative, the five selected startups not only hired waste warriors into their team, but also worked to empower and upskill each of them. 

Collaboration for impact: 

Anish Malpani, Founder of Without by Ashaya, emphasised the power of organic collaboration. Ashaya, creates daily wear products such as sunglasses, from impossible-to-recycle plastic, all while empowering waste pickers. The startup collaborated with Swach, Pune to rope in waste warriors. And now they have employed ten waste warriors, many of whom are also children of waste warriors. 

In creating an environment, which employs and upskills them to do more technically challenging tasks, sees a longer growth trajectory in sight. The employees belonging to the waste warrior community do not want to leave, but also would like their families to join Ashaya. If this is formalised and made economically sustainable, there is a real business case for this, which can be replicated by other organisations too. 

Bridging the Gap & Establishing Trust: 

While acknowledging all the wonderful qualities of working with waste warriors, Natasha Zarine, Co-Founder of EcoSattva, also threw some light on some of the complexities of working with the waste picker community. Challenges such as uninformed absenteeism, disregard for timings, among others require urgent attention to ensure that this partnership can be sustained. 

Resonating something similar, Sahar Mansoor, Founder of Bare Necessities shared some personal takeaways. The waste warrior working at Bare Necessities held a strong connection to her community at Hasiru Dala and would often miss work for their meetings. A key learning from this experience is to hire multiple waste warriors at once to foster a sense of belonging in a new environment. This experience goes to show the importance of social integration in all the nano worlds that we are creating. If we look at people beyond the social tags and labels, we would be able to create a just and equitable world. 

Building a Team: 

Ajinkya Dhariya, Founder of Padcare Labs, highlighted the importance of integrating waste pickers as valued team members. His team spent copious time with the new team comprising waste warriors and in doing so observed a strong sense of ownership and accountability amongst them. In addition to this, there is a need to invest in skill development and create opportunities for waste pickers to grow within the organisation. Case in point, Ekta shared her interest to work beyond the machines at Padcare to learn Microsoft Excel and other computer skills. 

Indrayani Kadu, Co-Founder of Reti Ecotech, echoed a similar sentiment. Their grit and determination are invaluable, but skill development is crucial for long term success. There is scope to achieve this seeing that many of them went above and beyond their usual tasks to take on more responsibilities. 

Initiatives such as these, demonstrates the potential for waste pickers to evolve form waste collectors to being key players in startup’s supply chain processes. Circular economy has the promise to create a future where innovation and social inclusion can go hand-in-hand. By embracing collaboration, innovation and social inclusion we can create a future that is sustainable, in the most holistic manner.