What is the link between slum dwellers and rag pickers and some trendy shoulder bags, pouches, laptop cases and table mats on sale at boutique retailers in Bangalore now Bengaluru, India such as Mother Earth, Satva, Ants and, cafes such as Java City and Daily Bread?
On the surface, nothing whatsoever! In a world divided by abject poverty and affluence backed by abundant wealth each of they represent two extremes that would never be expected to meet. In a world where sustainable development has become a mantra of sorts’ is proof enough of the fact that social enterprise is indeed an important route to sustainable development.
A graduate from Bangalore’s Srishti School of Art, Suren Vikash U set up “Thunk in India” with a $20,000 loan from his parents. The sight of mountains of waste is something that puts everyone off but Vikash saw a viable business opportunity in this very pile of garbage.
According to the 2001 census, India generates 42 million tonnes of garbage per annum. Between 1997 and 2001, the volume of garbage generated was more or less steady but thereafter it has witnessed a steady 5 percent year-on-year growth. With increased interest in recycled products and piles of garbage lying around, it was an opportunity waiting to be discovered and Vikash seems to have hit bull’s eye with his ideas.
Manufacture of eco-friendly products such as laptop bags, table mats, shoulder bags and pouches using shredded plastic bags and Tetra Pak. The products are marketed at up market retail stores such as Mother Earth, Satva, Ants and cafes such as Java City and Daily Bread in Bengaluru and stores located in Chennai, Coimbataore, Pune, Pondicherry and Cochin.
A Bangalore-based non-profit organization to collect garbage from hotels, residential properties was a partner to begin with. Thunk, engages designers and weavers in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu to explore varied weaves fusing shredded plastic with rubber from automobile tyres, plastic with banana fibres, corn leaves and coconut fibres to see what works best.
Competitively priced products with a Tetra Pak photo frame for little more than on $1 and a shredded plastic laptop bag priced at around $30. Most products are made of 90% waste and 10% new material. For instance, the outer covering of a laptop bag is made of recycled plastic, but it is fitted with new zippers and straps to make the bag look attractive and durable.
Taking the social enterprise route is not something everyone aspires to do. However most of us are surrounded by issues such as garbage disposal, recycling, spiraling consumerism, hoarding on one hand and handicraft units and artisans who are struggling to survive on the other hand. This is probably why those who are serious about making a difference and being in business may have to (just like Suren) rarely look beyond our neighborhoods for social enterprise opportunities.
More on social enterprise and its nitty-gritty’s to follow.
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