Through my ten years of visiting India, and my 7 years working there, I’ve realized that India’s youth are some of the most educated, hardest working people on the planet. One problem I continue to see: though their potential is unlimited, they are often stuck working menial jobs, so far from their goals.
I recently met a 24 year old student who embodied this: Ankita had built a prototype of a toilet that used 70% less water than traditional ones, and also included a hand washing area within the toilet itself, eliminating the need for separate hand washing facilities. Yet she was having trouble getting her idea in front of donors and investors, and all of this was wearing on her while she worked 6 days a week as a bank teller in Mumbai. She was so close to throwing in the towel.
I remember how my own story of building a company began in comparison to her journey: pitching a social good competition for LinkedIn and being lucky enough to win a $10,000 check on the spot. Over the years, my good fortune of being American and living in New York has paid off tremendously: I’ve received hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations, partnered with large soap and beauty companies and been able to work with hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt to recycle their soap. Since founding Sundara in 2013, we’ve recycled nearly 1 million bars of hotel soap to be distributed to people in need, while offering full time fair wage employment for 40 women to become community hygiene ambassadors across India.
Something kept bothering me though: I knew I was benefiting from an inherently unfair system. I met local Indians who had better ideas than I, who were harder working than I, but were forced to work in jobs that were so far from where they actually wanted to be spending their time. I started to think of how I could play some role in making a shift.
This year, Sundara is making a big change. We’ve launched a social innovation fund – a grant making branch of organization for young, talented social entrepreneurs living in places like India, Kenya, Ghana and beyond, who are currently dreaming up daring projects that would benefit their local community in areas of water, hygiene and sanitation. Each grant comes with seed funding, mentorship and connections to the US market – three things that we’ve heard time and time again that social entrepreneurs want.
Men and women like Ankita are the future of India – but current circumstances prevent them from executing their ideas to make the reality they dream of the future we all so desperately need.
If you know of someone who should apply for this program, our application goes live January 10th, 2020. If you’d be interested in supporting our innovation fund, and creating more critical opportunities for the next generation of Indians, or want to explore collaborating with us in any other way, please visit our website and get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sundara’s Social Innovation Fund was launched in February 2020 to support early stage social entrepreneurs working in water, sanitation and hygiene spaces with funding and mentorship in middle and low-income countries. We are currently accepting applications from now until March 31st, 2020.
Erin Zaikis is the founder of Sundara, a non-profit organization that recycles hotel soap and operates across India, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa and Myanmar. Sundara hires widows, victims of domestic violence and single mothers, employing over 40 women at a fair wage and training them to become community hygiene ambassadors, teaching basic hygiene and health practices in their villages. To date, Sundara has distributed a million bars of soap, reaching over 200,000 children each month, while working with partners like Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott. Sundara has been recognized by BBC, CNN, Forbes and the national government of India.