Khaalisisi: Revolutionizing the waste management industry in Nepal.

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In a country where waste is thrown on the sidewalks and passerby cover their mouth and nose while blaming the government. Aayushi KC decided to take things in her own hand and built an online platform to revolutionize the waste management industry. She and her team are working with a laser sharp focus to translate their vision of making Nepal world’s top 20 recyclers by 2030 in to a reality. Operating 7 days a week, from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening Khaalisisi offers a door step pick up service to residents of Kathmandu.

Read on to learn more about the founder’s journey and mission to solve the waste issue of Nepal.

  1. How did the journey of Khaalisisi.com begin?

There isn’t any glamorous story behind starting Khaalisisi. After completing my bachelors while I was juggling between jobs I realized that I never felt challenged or found myself pushing my limits. I have always been passionate about environment and waste management is integral part of it. In Nepal the waste industry is not a new industry however what we don’t have in a waste management industry.

I started research on the industry and did prototyping and trials with different revenue models. I was also searching for exemplary businesses or examples from Nepal that I could look up to and learn from but I didn’t find any. When I worked with some Khaalisisi friends in my prototyping phase , I realized they are actually entrepreneurs without whom we wouldn’t have the waste industry. So in order to create not just a company but an industry, I had to work with these waste entrepreneurs. After 2 to 3 months of trial and errors, we came up with our digital platform Khaalisisi. I like to associate myself to the company’s vision i.e. To make Nepal as the world’s top 20 recyclers by 2030.

  1. Who are the Khaalisisi friends and why did you decide to make them an integral part of your business?

Khaalisisi friends are the people who have been traditionally involved in waste collection for more than 50 years. Otherwise popularly known as “Kawadi walas or bhaiyas” they go on their cycles from alley to alley screaming their lungs off from 6:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening buying waste from households.  Even after 50 years not much has changed in their way of doing business even though the environment has changed completely. Offices are stacked to 7 or 8 floors buildings. Schools, embassies and businesses have tight securities and their voices don’t reach their customers anymore.

They are an integral part of the waste management ecosystem but are working in a very inefficient way.  I found that there are 13000 such Khaalisisi Friends just in Kathmandu alone. That’s a huge number for a small city. So how is it that 70% of our recyclables were still ending up in the landfills? That math just didn’t make sense. Also, the idea was never to replace these waste entrepreneurs; it was to take them along in the value chain.

  1. How does Khaalisisi operate?

We operate a lot like Uber. Anyone from any area in Kathmandu can request a pickup on the website. We send a Khaalisisi friend from our wide network who visits the client place with his ID card, digital weighing machine and a notepad. He weighs the recyclables and pays the client at market rate.  We collect all kinds of dry waste including plastic, electronic waste, books and newspaper. Everything is noted down as data is a huge part of our business. He then takes the waste to one of the collection centers where it’s segregated and processed to be further sold to buyers in the value chain for either production or to export to other countries.

  1. What is the kind of social change is  Khaalisisi making or is planning to make?

Social impact is an integral part of the process for all of us at Khaalisisi rather being the end goal. Khaalisisi friends are businessmen who are resourceful, hardworking and well-networked.  Being part of our business they receive access to additional business opportunities. On an average, a khaalisisi friend has an incremental income of at least 32% on a monthly basis. Another aspect is that we give them ID cards which is a simple piece of paper that somehow transforms their social identity from ‘Bhaiya’ to ‘Mukesh’ or from “Oi” to ‘Ramsagar’.  Though we were expecting this change to happen but it has happened in a very natural and organic way.

Another shift we were aiming was among our client’s mindset and overall culture around waste in our country.  Schools, individual houses, offices having this awareness that they need to be responsible at an individual level and stop blaming the government all the time. We work with a lot of schools so harboring this change among the younger generation is creating a future for our country as well.

Apart from this we were recognized by prestigious online sites like Google and Forbes for our business model and that too for waste. Nepal has been known for Mount Everest, the scenic beauty, the Gurkhas and maybe even for momos but what beyond that? So, getting this recognition as a Nepali business was huge for us. We take that as an impact for us as well as for our country.

  1. What is your team size now vs when you started?

When I began my work with khaalisisi, it was just me with 2 or 3 of my khaalisisi friends. Now we have around 150 to 200 khaalisisi friends and 7 full-time staff members in the office.

  1. How did you raise the funds to start Khaalisisi?

Whatever I did I wanted to make sure, it wasn’t dependent on donation funds. I wanted the company to be self-sustainable so I used my savings and bootstrapped my way up. When I needed to pay someone, I got them onboard with the company in terms of stakes because I didn’t have the money to pay everyone in the beginning. So that strategy worked out for me well.

  1. I am sure your entrepreneurial journey wasn’t easy? What kind of challenges did you face on the way?

There are so many but the one that I always focus on is the part around culture.  More than Khaalisisi friends, it was and still is a challenge to make people who are already educated aware of why it is important to make waste management as a part of their lifestyle.

Apart from that I would like to tell you about this incident when during my meeting with the first khaalisisi friend, I told him about the revolution we are trying to bring and build Nepal as the world’s top 20 recyclers. I told him “-and you’ll be the biggest part of that revolution.” He just laughed off on my face and asked me where the office is and where the sirs. I told him that sirs are there in their offices and this is only the first meeting. After a month of operating and prototyping, he had already made some money. He told me “Didi, this is the first time I’m buying all my 7 children something from the additional money I made”. So then I could muster up the courage and told him “Does my gender matter or does your hard work matter?” I was convinced that the thing about gender that people ask so often about what it feels to being a female entrepreneur, it doesn’t make sense as long as  you have a solid model and it works peacefully.

  1. Who are your target customers?

That’s the beauty of our business; anyone with waste is our target customer. From a kid to a housewife or husband, from small offices to big corporations, schools, embassies, restaurants and hotels; since everybody has wastes.

  1. What are your future plans?

We have focused on a few projects like getting out of the valley and getting into recycling. We have started with making pencils out of newspapers but we haven’t gone commercial with it.

  1. Do you consider yourself as a social entrepreneur?

I am not crazy about determining what types of entrepreneur you are like social entrepreneur or female entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is itself is largely about bringing a social impact through the business. You don’t need to be a different kind of entrepreneur to do what you’re set out to do. So I would just say that I am someone who’s trying to do something meaningful as an entrepreneur.

  1. Have you measured the impact of Khaalisisi.com?

We have our metrics in place in terms of how much plastics we recycle and how many Khaalisisi friends are benefited and in what ways. We have different aspect that we keep very close watch on the numbers as we are very data driven organization.

You can join Khaalisisi in its vision to make Nepal world’s top 20 recyclers by 2030 by get your recyclables picked up by Khaalisisi friends. Check out their website and Facebook page or email them on recycle@khaalisisi.com.

Interviewed by Priyadarshani Shrestha and Edited by Jasmin Karmacharya