No one can travel to India, as I did last week, without feeling the full impact of a nation in need. So I was delighted to meet Priyanka Bawa at Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network. Bawa is business student who is taking the initiative with an exciting social entrepreneurship project.
Project Akshar is a simple but very effective one. Bawa noticed how much paper was thrown out by her and her fellow students at her university, the Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies: marked assignments, drafts, out-of-date lecture notes. (Across all of India, almost nine million tonnes of paper goes to landfill a year.)
Meanwhile, millions of children lack basic school equipment such as exercise books.
Bawa formed a group, Students in Free Enterprise, who together created a small business model to address the problem. The students trained members of three marginalised community groups – the deaf, and victims of substance abuse and trafficking – to bind notebooks. These workers collect paper that has only been used on a single side and bind it into notebooks (fully used paper is taken to recycle). The notebooks are sold in urban markets and via student networks at 47 institutions. Non-government organisations sell the notebooks for a single rupee (two cents) to children in need. “If you get something for nothing, you don’t value it,” Bawa explained to me. “They can pay one rupee.”
The group of students raised a small grant from the technology company Dell’s social innovation program and organised paper collections from local businesses including Tata Motors, Viacom18, Praja, SMR Solutions and Dhanpat Rai Publications.
There are now three production centres in Delhi supporting 12 entrepreneurs whose income has increased from $6 a month to $121 a month. That is an increase of 2,000%!
Priyanka Bawa is a leader in the making. With her clever entrepreneurial thinking, she has solved an environmental problem and created work and wealth with potential for a lot more growth. For Bawa, it is valuable practical experience in business building, training, developing partnerships, managing people and financial control. A fine example of all that a leading woman in business can achieve.