To save the environment, it’s best to start with children. This is the idea that launched Reap Benefit, a city-based start-up, six years ago.
Ashoka Fellows Kuldeep Dantewadia and Gautam Prakash are the founders of the startup, which may be India’s first to reward children for their ecological consciousness.
The two decided on the venture when they realised there was an urgent need to change the way people engage with the environment. The most effective way to do this would be to go to the children, who have minds open to change.
Children have been roped in for various intiatives – from setting up low-cost greywater harvesting systems and waterless urinals in government schools to tackling water shortage and sanitation issues. This instills in them a sense of ownership and loyalty, believe the founders.
They even involved students in the research of lakes around Mahadevapura Hobli.
While it’s been a rewarding experience to interact with various government and private schools, Kuldeep says that change does not come about easily. Not every student has had a change of heart, at least not to the extent that the two had anticipated, he says. “However, the feedback has been positive enough to keep us going,” he says.
Both the founders have years of experience in conservation between them. But it is the inputs of the children that sometimes leads to breakthrough solutions. “Children process things without any filters,” says Kuldeep. “Recently, during interaction with children from a school, a child came up with the idea that we must have a mobile-based platform. And that is when it struck us how many children we can reach out to with such a platform. It could go from 1,000 today to a few lakhs.”
Initially, Reap Benefit worked with corporates and students. But now they focus on interacting with schools. “The solutions that we discover here are taken to corporates and residences,” he says. A case in point is the waste segregation solutions that the startup has been promoting.
The biggest challenge was to have a social impact and stay financially viable. The founders say that they have managed to find that balance.
Change is brought about in four stages, according to Kuldeep. “From being unconsciously wrong, you go to being consciously wrong, from there it is one step to consciously right and the final (and most blissful) stage of being unconsiously right,” he says.
The startup, he believes, has navigated these stages with field work and solutions based on data. “We have managed to collect local data, and tell people about things to get us to the second stage. To take things to stage three, we develop solutions. When all factors come together, people can be always unconsciously right,” he says.
The pressure of being very young and having picked the less-trodden path is wearing off.
“We are convinced about the impact of our work,” says Kuldeep. “Now, we can think of scaling up, going pan-India.”
For more information on Reap Benefit, visit http://www.reapbenefit.org/