Please tell us a little about who you are and what drives your commitment to the planet.
By way of background, I’m a pharmacologist. I used to work at Pfizer in the UK for about five years, and I became an entrepreneur in 2009.
I’ve always been very driven by creating impact. And my journey sort of started with health impact. I worked at Pfizer and specifically in oncology, and when I moved to India in 2009, I was really aghast at the amount of plastics people were using. We had a lot of conversations about healthy food and healthy eating habits, but we never looked at what we were eating this food out of. And I think the second thing that struck me was that we had no formal waste management or waste segregation and all our waste really ended up in a landfill.
I wanted to create something that was safe for people and the planet, and that’s how my venture Ecoware was born. We use agricultural waste such as wheat, rice, and sugar cane, and through a thermoforming process, we convert it into packaging that is naturally biodegradable and compostable. So what that means is once it comes in contact with soil, it breaks down into the soil in a period of 90 days. So it bypasses the need for any sort of waste management, which still remains a challenge for us. And it doesn’t change the nutritional value of the food that you put in it. So it’s safe for you to eat out of, as well.
Ecoware was born on three founding pillars. One was safety. The second was impact and we are really proud of the impact that we’ve created over 10 years through social impact, health impact, and environmental impact. Third is authenticity because there’s so much greenwashing out there, and we just wanted to make sure that we were doing what we were doing for the right reasons. We’re the authentic solution. What drives my commitment is the impact that we create.
How did you convince general traders across India to modernize their packaging and confront the environmental impact of their work?
The resilience of being able to sell something came from my five years at Pfizer. We were made to believe there was nothing like an OC customer, and that’s what I brought into India when I was trying to convince people. We entered the market and we created this industry much ahead of our time, so it did take a lot of convincing for people to understand what biodegradable meant, to understand what compostable meant, why there was a need for it, how it was going to improve the livelihood of generational traders. That plastic is eventually going to be eradicated. There were different pieces of information that we strung together to help convince different stakeholders, that it was better that they start now rather than wait for plastic bans to come in.
I’m a really strong believer that education and awareness have played a huge role in our success because when someone understands why they’re making the choices that they’re making, those are lifelong decisions. That’s a permanent behaviour change versus a plastic ban that’s enforced on you. We’ve spent a lot of time creating education awareness, whether it’s been at the grassroots level with schools, whether it’s been engaging with the community or with businesses. Education and awareness are the core part of our strategy.
What makes you optimistic about the future of our planet and society?
There are a couple of things. One, we’re seeing a lot more conversations happening on the importance of being sustainable. Whether it’s your large-scale business or an SME. People are starting to recognize that sustainability is an opportunity and has to be part of their present and future growth strategy.
If you want to be around, climate change isn’t sparing anybody. When you look at extreme weather patterns, they affect your output, your profit and loss, and people are starting to recognize that that’s climate change. It’s not, “We’ve just had a sandstorm or extreme heat”; people understand it’s climate change. We’re now seeing conversations around functioning more responsibly as a business, which is exciting.
The other thing that we’re really seeing is entrepreneurs are looking at sustainability again at the core of their decision-making. Whatever business people want to create, they want to make sure it’s sustainable, that it’s circular economy. I love that because I genuinely think entrepreneurs are creating solutions to some of the biggest problems we face today. When the rest of the world sees a challenge, an entrepreneur looks at it very differently. They’re like, “I can create a solution to this”, and when they create solutions to problems that they care about, they create impact, which is really what we need.
We’re also seeing a lot more of the next generation, and even the current generation be a lot more values-driven. They’re a lot more purpose-driven and that’s what they want to align their career choices to. Whether you are working for a large organization or whether you are a consumer looking for something to buy or choosing to be an entrepreneur, people are driven by purpose. That’s what’s keeping me optimistic at the moment.
Why have you committed your time and energy to support beVisioneers and its mission?
It’s the change-makers. I’ve been an entrepreneur and I believe in the power of network and I believe in the power of sharing knowledge, to collaborate with like-minded individuals. It’s a give-and-take learning opportunity.
If I can make it easier for somebody else, if I can help somebody else by sharing my experiences, then I would love to do that. Or if I can collaborate with somebody and help them scale both our businesses then we’ve scaled impact. So that’s why I’ve committed my time and energy to beVisioneers because we need change.
The world is better than it’s ever been before, but is that good enough for where we are right now and where we’re going? I think there has to be this collective empowerment where we help one another to create the change that we really want to see and not work in silos.
What advice would you give to our aspiring planet-positive innovators?
I can only share what’s worked for me. I think what’s important to recognize in my journey is that we started Ecoware much before any Clean India campaigns or awareness was happening. We were way ahead of our time, but what kept us going was a really clear vision and knowing the change that we wanted to create. I think that’s really important. You must have that clarity because that’s what’s going to drive you.
As an entrepreneur, you can have really good days and they’re fantastic, but you can also have really low bad days, and those are lonely. You are responsible for your team. You’ve got livelihoods that depend on you, and you’ve just got to keep persevering. Sometimes you might feel like you’re navigating the unknown, but what keeps you focused is this clarity of vision and this clarity of purpose. You’ll face the cynics; a lot of people won’t believe in what you’re doing. Perhaps it might take time. You have to be agile and have the humility to listen. But one piece of advice is just to be really, really clear about what you’re trying to set out to do.
Where do you want to see the world in 2030?
I have two kids who are now 10 and 12. I would love to see a cleaner world. We live in New Delhi, and we breathe some of the most toxic air for almost six months of the year. I would love to have seen us create solutions to these issues and that we’ve minimized the negative impacts, and that we’re not still facing the same problems.
I would love to see more sustainable businesses and bigger businesses operating more sustainably. That there’s more responsibility, true action, and commitment to the change that we’re trying to create. I would want to see more of what’s happening now. I wouldn’t want us to give up on the spirit of change and purpose.
I hope that the beVisioneers cohort that you have now will in 10 years be sharing their success stories with budding entrepreneurs and be part of advisory councils, giving back as well.
Learn more about Ecoware.