One of the few women entrepreneurs in India’s sustainability sector, Meha Shrivastava Lahiri, who co-founded Recity Network, is working tirelessly to keep plastic in the economy and out of the environment. In a freewheeling chat with Education Post’s Tanay Kumar, she talks about her entrepreneurial journey and the importance of making people aware of a circular economy by recycling.
You were born in Prayagraj (Allahabad), a rather unlikely place to produce an ambitious entrepreneur in the sustainability sector like yourself. Tell us about your education and your family’s reaction to the career you chose.
Prayagraj, where I was born and raised, holds a very special place in my heart. But the place where you belong rarely has much to do with the career path you choose. It mostly has to do with your interests and upbringing. From a very young age, I have been reading about unplanned urbanization and its effect on the environment. It would make me sad. So, I always envisioned implementing techniques that would protect the environment. I have learned from my parents, Kamal and Meenal Shrivastava, that we should always do things that not only make us happy but which make others’ lives better, too. My grandfather, Bansidhar Shrivastava, was a freedom fighter and an education revolutionist. So, I guess contributing positively to my country runs in my blood.
After completing my MBA in Finance from Smt. Hiraben Nanavati Institute of Management and Research for Women in Pune, I started working as a marketing professional. In the past 21 years, I have founded two companies – a creative agency called Just As Meaningful (JAM), which helps craft and execute strategies for various marquee brands, and second was Recity. While founding Recity, I knew it was special as it was something I always wanted to do and my family was very supportive and proud of my decision.
Your LinkedIn profile mentions, “circular economy of plastics.” What exactly does that mean?
Let’s first understand the concept of a circular economy. A circular economy is a systematic approach dealing with various global challenges, such as waste management, climate change, pollution, etc. Its primary motive is to keep products and materials circulating in the economy, instead of just dumping it as waste.
Similarly, the circular economy of plastics is bringing back the plastics in the economy by recycling. It is also another giant leap to protect our planet. Today, over 3.4 million tons of plastic waste is dumped each year in India and only 30% of this waste is recycled, while the remaining is left rotting in land, hills and oceans, causing harm to various living species in the surrounding environment. Hence, to encourage sustainability, the circular economy of plastics in India is a must from all fronts – policy, implementation, business and social good.
Environmental conservation has become one of the most crucial parts of every individual’s life and it is truly important to introduce and promote courses on sustainable resource development as most people are not aware of the problem and the solutions. Private colleges and universities must encourage sessions to promote the awareness of such courses and also align sessions with industry experts in order to increase the curiosity students about working towards environmental protection.
Compared to other management streams like finance, accounts, or business, waste management is yet to be explored at a necessary level in India. What is the future of this branch of study and its job market in India?
The future of waste management largely depends on sustainable innovations and commitment to circularity integrated into business models. The field of plastic circularity is currently very dynamic, fast-paced and ever-evolving. Today, with the increase in population, urbanization and waste disposal systems, incorporating waste management as a crucial part of a product’s journey is a necessity. Nearly 0.1 million tons of waste is generated daily in India and it is vital to manage this waste. Thus, the sector of waste management will develop more in India, along with creating various job opportunities.
Many colleges around the world have a provision of giving academic credits to students if they do community work. In your opinion, if something similar started in India, could it be helpful?
Yes, I think it could be worth a shot because it is very important for us to educate students about environmental protection. We have recently collaborated with a university for a beach clean-up drive and it is immensely gratifying as a majority of the participants who are willing to volunteer are students. In my opinion, creating a curriculum in India with credits for community work to recover and recycle plastic waste would really inculcate a more practical know-how-to approach among the country’s youth.
Recity works with several self-help groups of women which make its portfolio in incorporating women from all strata of society. What are the challenges you believe that we all must address to achieve adequate female labour force participation?
Indeed, we believe in incorporating women from all strata of society. I have understood that it is essential for every individual has to be financially resilient, disregard of their gender. I believe that the biggest challenge women face in the Indian society is lack of knowledge and awareness. Thus, sessions on enhancing education and learning opportunities for women should be galvanized as much as possible.
Often, many people misperceive environmental protection as social work or NGO jobs which pay little or nothing at all. What is your message to them?
As the green economy focuses on the solutions that aim to solve problems related to the environment, most people often think of it as social work or jobs related to NGOs. But I would say that a green economy is a combination of all. It surely captures social and environmental dimensions, but it also has the potential of providing economic growth.
There are various purpose-driven businesses that aim to make good for others, impact people and the environment beyond earning profits. Let’s find inspiration from them and evolve. So, my message to them would be to accept the new ways of the world and grow with it.