Meet the water warriors of Nepal

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From experimenting in his own backyard to establishing a water solution enterprise, Mr. Gokul Dangal, a water engineer and his partner Sajal Pradhan have been on a journey to set up and maintain water harvesting system in homes , colonies, communities, schools, hospitals and other institutions. Best Paani is a water solution that has reached more than 150 communities along 300 smaller projects reaching to more than 300,000 people.

Continue to read our interview with Sajal Pradhan to get more insight on Best Paani.

Tell us how you and Gokul began your journey of building Best Paani.

My co-founder Mr. Gokul Dangal is a water engineer and he has been working on water harvesting system for past ten years. So, his journey is more compelling. Nepal has steadily faced dire water issues since decades. When he started the business, the system was in a “Do it Yourself (DIY)” model. He started out by experimenting with the water system of his own house which worked well. Then he started implementing this system for his neighbors and several families and friends. After some more experimentation he realized the he can make a business out of it and started looking out for a business partner. Initially he started Smart Paani and afterwards, he left that company and started Best Paani with me.

When he approached me, I was in the second semester of my Masters in Sustainable Development from Kathmandu University and was open to working in any sector in environment.  So when this came in, it was an easy yes to Mr. Gokul’s proposal.

How does your product work?

The foundational philosophy behind our work is decentralization of water services. Take landlines for instance: instead of connecting every remote village to expensive telephone land lines that are difficult to maintain, we are now just buying decentralized communication devices, that is, cell phones. Similarly, given that water leakages wastes up to 40-60% of the government tap water in Kathmandu and that these pipes are sometimes mixed with drainage, centralization of water system might be efficient and sanitary at a housing  or an apartment complex but it not at hospitals and schools. Thus, we brought this concept of decentralizing the water system.

How did you raise the fund to start the company?

I worked at an ICIMOD/AITM remote sensing project for some time so I had some savings from the job and so did my partner. Also the company is self-invested i.e we didn’t raise or invest a lot of funds for the company.  We already had the required infrastructure and equipment and we did not require an upscale office. Instead of clients visiting us which happens in typically business scenario we had to visit our client’s location. This saves a lot of expenses for us.

What’s was your team size when you started out and what is current team strength?

We were a team of 4 when we began operations. Currently we have 9 full time staff along with 50 freelance technicians who work with us on assignment basis. They are especially required for remote locations.  Maintaining freelancers is an integral part of our project strategy as we need people with technical skills in spread out geographic area to cover a larger a market. Our core team still remains four.

 How many clients do you cater on monthly basis?

It really depends on the season. We have made around 150 major installations and over 500 smaller installations. If I average it out, it would be 8-10 clients per month. But usually, the demand peaks just before the monsoon.

Who are your target clients and how do you acquire them?

We have done installations in hotels, farms, resorts, school, hospitals, offices, private house, housing societies and also in villages when the donors wanted it to be installed after the earthquake. So we have worked all kinds of clients. We haven’t put out any advertisements or done any promotion of our services. Clients reach out to us because of the quality of our product and service.

 Do you face any kind of challenges while running your company?

The main challenge that we face is people management and getting the tasks done. People are core to our business.  Hiring is another challenge. Getting people on boarded and figuring out the right ways to deal with them is an ongoing learning for us.  Currently, we are focusing on civil engineering interns.

 Do you measure the impact of your service?

We have made systems for over 300,000 people providing them access to water. As per our matrix, we have recharged 6 million liters of underground water from groundwater recharging. Using a tool by the World Health Organization we’ve calculated that our economic impact from water service is more than 1 million dollars. But measuring social impact is the difficult part as we do not have the resources to establish an impact measurement system. For example, we work in schools where young girls have high probability of dropping out during their menstruation period. But we have provided sanitary water and now this is less likely to happen. We learnt this from the villagers.  However, we do not have the means to collect such data and measure our impact.

 What is the future plan of the company?

We are looking forward to Melamchi coming here. If Melamchi does it, we can focus less in Kathmandu and more outside the Kathmandu valley. I am also trying to look at the ways to transition into working effectively and remotely.

Is there any information you want to share?

Since the industry is changing due to government intervention, the Kathmandu Municipality has made mandatory provision to install groundwater recharge in big buildings. This has been a great success in response to our lobbying with Kathmandu Municipality and now we are focusing Lalitpur Municipality. Hopefully, we will be working together in the future.

Contact Best Paani @ +977 1 5536975, email: sajal@bestpaani.com

Interviewed by Jasmin Karmacharya