Thinking out of a paper bag

Three friends in Pune are changing the face of local businesses with bags that provide an income for them as well as for those who make them.

Published: 09th June 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th June 2013 08:43 AM   |  A+A-

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It’s a paper trail to prosperity. Three twenty-somethings from Pune are showing that the humble paper bag can not only generate income for those who sell and those who make them, but also earn revenue for those advertising on them, while all along adding to efforts at sustainable development. It’s a business cycle that addresses key issues facing society. It aims to eradicate the use of plastic bags and make local businesses think green.

The three—Rohit Nayak (25), Satyaprakash Arora (24), Sudhir Deshpande—call their business model Ecoad. They collect promotional and advertising messages from local businesses for a fee and print them on paper bags, which are made by women from extremely poor families. The bags are then sold to retail outlets in the same locality at subsidised rates.

The idea struck Nayak on a train journey from Bhopal to Pune in 2009. Fresh from reading the book Rich Dad Poor Dad that advocates financial independence, Nayak noticed that almost everybody was carrying a plastic bag. “It was not an unusual sight, but the desire to change something around me and the plastic menace triggered something in me,” says Nayak. He got Arora and Deshpande on board and Ecoad took shape.

For advertisements, the three approached bakeries, boutiques, coaching classes, cafes and salons in different localities of Pune.

“Small businesses are being eliminated by multinationals and we help them increase their visibility at an affordable price. This also means strengthening the local business,” says Nayak.

In the last four years, Ecoad has helped provide employment to several women living below the poverty line. They manufacture these bags from recycled paper and supply them to the Ecoad team. “We then retail them to the market, thereby giving them a fair share in profits,” says Nayak. Co-founder Arora adds, “In suburban areas near major cities of India, women cannot go out to work and earn. Now, they can work from their home and earn up to Rs 3,000 per month, which is sometimes even higher than the earning of male members. Around 50 to 60 such women are working in Bhor near Pune, supplying paper-bags to us and many other businesses.” 

Battling challenges on the way, the three-member team has supplied over 40,000 bags so far to pharmacies in Bibwewadi, Wanowrie, Kondhwa and NIBM areas in Pune—preventing the use of an estimated 40,000 plastic bags. Deshpande, another co-founder, says, “Over 30 retailers are purchasing paper bags from us and three of them have stopped using plastic bags. I think it’s a small move for a greater cause.”

“When we began working on Ecoad we could not invest anything. We simply pitched our idea to one of the local boutiques and they agreed to give us 50 per cent money in advance. That was our first order,” recalls Nayak. What started as a college project five years ago with zero capital has today become a full-fledged business, impacting the lives of several families.

The three founders now plan to diversify and innovate financially viable variants of eco-friendly products. Nayak says, “We plan to expand with more variants of paper bags in many cities with Ecoad and connect local businesses, retailers and consumers on a single platform using the latest mobile technology. We will also start a carbon-neutral delivery system using cycles. It will be an incentive-based system. This will be run by citizens, mostly students, who will get incentives on multiple levels.”

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