“The future depends on what we do in the present,” goes a quote by Mahatma Gandhi. Since it’s easier said than done, most of us prefer to be a bystander to all the problems that are plaguing the society. However, many youngsters are breaking the norm and working day in and day out to make this world a better place to live in.
One such group is ‘Reap Benefit’, a non-profit enterprise that aims at building the next generation of problem solvers and involve the youth in solving local civic and environment problems. Started in July 2013, ‘Reap Benefit’ has saved around 270 tonnes of waste, 19 million litres of water, 1,450 kilo units of power and developed low-cost solutions like water-less urinals, weather stations and organic enzyme to convert food waste. The team has also worked with 15,000 youngsters and 240 schools and colleges.
Its work is so phenomenal that even Google sat up and took notice of it early last year as‘Reap Benefit’ was one of the five start-ups shortlisted by the corporate to pitch live in front of a panel of judges comprising key venture capitalists, Google global leaders and government representatives at ‘Startup India’ that was held in New Delhi. In a chat, the organization’s co-founder and chief problem solver Gautam Prakash speaks about their vision and what sets them apart.
Were you always into the social sector?
I have done Masters in Finance and worked with Thomson Reuters for one-and-a-half years after finishing college. Though I had a good time and worked with a great team, my heart just wasn’t in finance.
What was the decisive moment that led you to start ‘Reap Benefit’?
Our entire team is from Bengaluru and the city has changed a lot over the years. I remember the good old days when our cars would be covered with gulmohar flowers that fell from the trees or bird droppings. But now, it’s very unfortunate that there are no birds or trees and our vehicles are covered only with dust.
During one of the many road-widening processes, a tree very close to my room was cut. Due to this, the temperature in my room shot up by two degrees. That’s when I decided that I had to do something.
When was the Reap Benefit formed?
In 2011, Kuldeep (Dantewadia) and I were discussing these problems and felt that we needed to do something. While I was working with the non-profit entity Ashoka at the time, Kuldeep was working on ways to dispose the huge amounts of waste that the city generates on a day-to-day basis. We began unofficially almost instantly but the company was registered in 2013. Today, we have 17 people on board from diverse backgrounds and with excellent skills.
What’s your main focus?
The main solution to any problem lies in communication. In the olden days, there was no UPS. People would take water from the neighbour’s house if there was no water. The waste would often go to the garden. Our parents made sure life was comfortable for us but never communicated what they went through.
So we need to ensure that if anyone solves an issue, they communicate how they did it. For instance, if I have installed a urinal in a school and 300 boys are able to use it, I need to communicate how I did it and our website gives you the platform to do so.
Did you face any challenges while starting out?
All of our families and friends were extremely supportive and that made a huge difference. But we did face many challenges and the main one was to make people understand our approach, which was to decentralize the problem solving process and involve the youth in the course of it.
It’s easy to be cynical and many people told us that the going would get really tough and that we needed to work with the government. But we can’t blame the government for everything. They can’t solve each and every issue. If we reduce what is on their plate, they can look at building around things in a more sustainable manner.
Are there any mistakes that you think you could have avoided?
We could have been more strategic. We took four years to figure out a hands-on developed solution and we did a lot of groundwork for that. We should have codified or structured our process earlier and shared it with everyone around to see which approach was the best.
What are your future plans?
We are creating a web platform, basically an app that will codify information, help solve problems and also facilitate communication. Anyone can use it and give feedback. We also want at least one in five children in Bengaluru to become problem solvers.
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
Enough starts-ups are formed just for the sake starting up. One may have a nice story to begin with but no depth to it. So be clear about what you are trying to do. Don’t start something only to make money. Become role models because that is something the society is currently lacking. Have tough conversations with everyone. Have an opinion and stand for it.
Do you have a favourite quote?
My friend and colleague Kuldeep said this and I stand by it, “Try to solve problems not for the society but for yourself.”
For more information, visit www.reapbenefit.org