“It is the most ludicrous thing that solid waste management, which is a highly profitable industry across the world, is still inefficient in India as most of the solid waste decomposes in open grounds, polluting the environment. It also marginalizes its very core – the waste workers and scavengers, even though it is a tax payer funded industry here.” says Deepa Gangwani of TaO. Learn more about how TaO is trying to change this.
What is the problem that you are trying to solve?
Firstly, in most developing countries, including India, there is a large problem of waste management. Most waste is thrown out on the streets and is decomposed into methane which is 23 percent more potent as a green house gas than carbon dioxide. Inappropriate handling of waste has a huge impact on the overall health and hygiene of the population. Secondly, the waste workers earn very little and are treated very poorly in the society.
Though waste management is a profitable industry, the reason for inequity at the bottom of the sector and the reason for the continued environmental problem is because of a level of supply chain integration that is lacking.
We believe that there can be a very well engineered business solution to this problem.
How does TaO work?
TaO uses a multi-level approach to solve the problem at hand. At the top level, TaO has created a platform of technology. And these technologies can be utilized at minimum cost in developing countries like India to process waste to highest value products possible. At the bottom level, we are in the process of negotiating soft loans, so that organizations that will benefit from implementation of these technologies can also access funding through us. So TaO is an end to end process.
What we are looking at in terms of capacity is, NGOs that are handling 5 tonnes of trash a day should essentially be able to handle 100 tonnes a day. And what is stopping the NGOs from achieving such a scale is lack of process and technology optimization. So TaO essentially provides “process plus technology and funding” as a package. We work with organizations to design and implement a package that will induce scalability into their model. We help these small scale NGOs identify industry best practices and design a process that will increase efficiency and give them a boost in earnings. Further, the scavenger population would benefit from the projects in terms of higher earnings and higher access to benefits by being a part of TaO.
How did you come up with the idea?
I have been supporting a non profit organization for past 5 to 6 years in Pondicherry where I live. During my work with them, I had the opportunity to observe the problem closely and intimately. We identified a number of core reasons for the problem, which primarily include supply chain inequity and the way in which municipal contracts are both won and executed. We came up with some simple yet potential solutions that can create some integration within the supply chain which can fill the financial shortage that has been occurring traditionally.
What are your biggest challenges?
Our biggest challenge has been helping the donors understand that TaO is a platform solution which is replicable and has a wide reaching impact. Though it is not a cookie-cutter solution yet, there are a number of things that can be done going down-stream that would make it applicable to a large number of organizations.
Secondly, it has been challenging to work with the NGOs as one has to spend time with them on ground to understand exactly what process and what package would best serve them. It is a huge resource commitment to even begin a project. A lot of ground level research goes into identifying which groups we can work with and which groups we can’t.
As an entrepreneur working for the BOP, what kind of support are you looking for?
It has been challenging for us to identify a source of funding within the conventional route. There are a lot of people who are looking for good projects to fund, but they like us to belong in a box they already understand as opposed to really trying to understand our business model and how best it can be funded.