John Hoffmire: You are the founder of Sanshodhan An E-Waste Exchange, an emerging company working for e-waste management and the development of zero waste businesses and organizations. You also founded Global Institute for Circular Economy and Sustainable Development Goals (ICE&SDGs), the NGO. Tell me how this came about?
Shalini: It goes back to January 2017, when I was cleaning and reorganizing my home. I found that I had accumulated too many obsolete electronic devises. When I decided to dispose of them through recycling, I discovered that it was quite a challenge to find authorized scrap-dealers to take and recycle my obsolete electronics. I realized that this was undoubtedly a problem that millions of Indians faced and that there was a need for a more organized waste management infrastructure that could help everyone.
I also discovered that India was among the top five global producers of electronic waste. As one of the fastest-growing electronics producers in the world, India produces about two million tons of e-waste each year, and only five per cent of it was being recycled. A 2018 ASSOCHAM-NEC study cited the reason for so much e-waste and so little recycling in India was due to poor infrastructure, legislation, policy, and non user-friendly information and communication.
I also learned that in 2016 The Government of India formulated the E-waste Management Rules, which aims to direct e-waste to government-authorized dismantlers and recyclers but very few know how to find these dealers. All of this combined was the impetus that prompted me and my colleagues, Saraswati Devi and V Shiwaani, to innovate and find better solutions for this crucial social problem. So we created Sanshodhan e-waste Exchange, an enterprise that provides last-mile connectivity to authorized e-waste collectors.
John: Social innovations are new practices that aim to meet social needs in a better way than the existing solutions. It sounds like your E-Waste exchange is a perfect example of a social enterprise. Tell me more about your organization and it’s key priorities.
Shalini: With the support of the Department of IT and Department of Industries of Telangana at T-Hub, we established Sanshodhan An E-Waste Exchange, a tech-based circular economy model for e-waste management sector in 2018. It has been called the world’s first “tech-based Circular Economy (CE) model for this sector” and has achieved recognition as ‘Highly Commended” by The Circulars 2019 of the World Economic Forum, Davos. Sanshodhan was also a winner of Swaccha Bharat Grand Challenge 2018 by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Gov. of India, and the ‘Global SDG Challenge’ award from Responsible Finance and Investment, UK and DDCAP Abu Dhabi.
User-friendliness is a key priority for Sanshodhan. Our website currently displays seven user categories: Manufacturers, State Governments, Industry Clusters, Bulk Consumers, SMBS/Retailers/Refurbishers, Residential Societies/Individuals and Others. Once you have chosen your category, you will be directed to an e-form to enter what type of waste you want to dispose of, your contact details, when you want the e-waste collectors to visit you and then submit your form. It’s that simple.
We provide e-waste inventory services to manufacturers of electronic and electrical products, which help them with Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) compliance and similar mandates. Further, we help companies implement large-scale e-waste awareness campaigns. We also help consumers of electronic and electrical products with responsible recycling and meeting annual sustainability targets, and even offer advisory services to help set up recycling units.
We have innovated new products for India and other developing economies, such as ‘Zero Waste Certifications’, ‘Circular Cities Platforms’, ‘Circular economy standard for Circular Products’ and ‘’Circular Economy Standard for Circular Businesses & Offices’.
Our innovations are significantly useful for businesses and environment-friendly organizations and governments, who are keen to track their ‘waste footprint and manage e-waste more effectively.
Finally, we‘ve established strong partnerships with State Government of Telangana are associated with Ministry of Electronics & IT, Government of India.
John Hoffmire: You have come a long way for a 3-year old start-up social enterprise! Give me an example of some of the projects that your organization supports?
Shalini: In addition to launching Sanshodhan, we also created the Global Institute for Circular Economy and Sustainable Development Goals (ICE&SDGs), which is and NGO engaged in the design and development of training courses on circular economy for various sectors. We initiate training courses for users (organizations) and trainers on sustainability policies, circular economy (CE) for plastic, CE for e-waste, CE for textiles, and CE for the automobile sector, with a focus on end-of-life and critical resource recovery.
We’ve innovated a tech-based platform (digital infrastructure) to connect businesses and organizations to channel their e-waste directly to the authorized and technically competent e-waste dismantlers — recyclers for child labor free, safe recycling and critical resource recovery. By doing so, we are not only preventing child labor (65% of child labor in India is in waste management sector) but also preventing e-pollution, land, air, and water pollution caused by mismanagement of e-waste and landfills.
John Hoffmire: We met at Oxford in 2014, before you became a successful social entrepreneur. Tell me about your experience with the Chevening Research Science and Innovation Leadership Programme (CRISP), and how it redirected your vocation.
Shalini: My time as a scholar of the Chevening CRISP fellowship at the Said Business School at Oxford University was my first exposure to innovation and entrepreneurship. At that time even thought about social enterprises or of becoming an entrepreneur. But visits to the University of Glasgow and an accelerator in London, provided me with exposure to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and a spark was lit. Prior to 2014, my work was to provide environment management as service. After my CRISP fellowship, I started thinking of environment protection and management as a brand — a brand that society and businesses should embrace, own and nurture, and I wanted to be a part of that.
I am still working to establish that brand and hope I’ve achieved some success. I work in the area of waste management because, it’s my experience that business and governance too often do not consider the environment and social cost of development, and that is to everyone’s detriment. We all need clean air, water and land for survival, but the fact is that natural resources (environment) is are not managed well in India and many other developing economies. I’m trying to change that and to work on making earth a better place for current and next generations to thrive.
Hoffmire: I’m truly impressed seeing such innovative work being done to better manage e-waste in India, to change ‘waste to wealth’, and the social benefits that are being produced in an area that has been ignored for years together, in developing economies. Thank you for telling me about the outstanding work you are doing.
Shalini: Thank you for inviting me for this interview. It’s been my pleasure to share the details of our business and initiatives. I’m grateful for the encouragement I received to move in this direction while I was a CRISP scholar at Oxford.
Dr. Shalini Sharma is the Founder and CEO of Sanshodhan An E-Waste Exchange, a Founding Director of the Global Institute for Circular Economy and SDGs, and an Expert Member of the Committee on Circular Economy (EEE Sector), Niti Aayog, Government of India. She is also an alum of the Chevening Research Science and Innovation Leadership Programme (CRISP) 2014.
Interviewer: Dr. John Hoffmire is the Chairman of the Center in Business and Poverty, and research Associate at the Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Businesses.