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Student teams across India create micro community waste management social start-ups. Enabled through a mobile-based online leader board.



Disposal and management of waste is a bane that has always haunted modern India. Indian administrative authorities have failed miserably multiple times in setting up and managing effective waste management systems. Hence, we propose LeadLab, a micro community model, where student teams are incentivized to create small social start-ups around waste management theme in 1km vicinity. Incentives for the students include a fun, competitive, engaging at the same time valuable experience. The entire process is enabled and can be scaled up through a mobile-based online national leadership board. Leaderboard would foster gamification of the entire model and would breed competition at a larger level, though action is taking place at the micro community level. It would enable us to capture and celebrate the best practices as well as the best performers. We have successfully completed our pilot programs in 25 universities and colleges across various parts of India. 

Category of the action

Reducing emissions from waste management

What actions do you propose?

Disposal and management of waste is a bane that has always haunted modern India. In fact, recent reports say that in the top 35 Indian cities with over 1 million population, dry waste levels are approaching western levels of 1kg per day. Unfortunately, in most of these cities, government and administrative authorities have failed miserably multiple times in setting up and managing effective waste management systems. This might be due to multiple challenges – where as, on the one hand many of these organizations are ineffective and corrupt, while on the other hand they have to manage disproportionally large populations with limited resources. Hence, in spite of government initiatives like the ‘Swatch Bharat Mission’ Indians might not be in a position to expect any quick turnaround to this situation.

However, India has access to an important resource when it comes to managing any critical challenge - youth power. Almost a third of India’s population is between the ages 18 to 25 years. If adequately incentivized, and given access and responsibility to a community that they have high stakes in, this youth power could be used for tackling the waste management challenge of India.

This is what we are striving to achieve through the idea of LeadLab. As part of LeadLab, student teams of maximum 4 members with an elected leader, envisage and create small social start ups to positively impact waste management challenges in a 1km community around them.

At LeadLab, we have made sure that right kind of incentive structures are built in to ensure long-term sustainability and viability of the model. Firstly, LeadLab is played like a game – because above all, youth are interested in fun, interaction and engagement. They form a team, elect a leader, and ideate on their social start up. As part of the process, they even crate a logo and a motto for their team. Secondly, LeadLab is competitive, because it motivates youth to perform better. We have developed a mobile enabled online national leader board, which gives points to each team for the activities that they do. We have divided the whole activity in to 5 steps – team formation (100 points), problem identification (100 points), project planning (200 points), roll out (300 points), reporting (300 points). These help in gamification of the whole process and would nurture competition at a larger scale, though action takes place at the micro community level. It would enable us to capture and celebrate the best practices as well as the best performers enabling better engagement of the youth.

Thirdly, we do not restrict the freedom and critical thinking of the participants. We give them broad guidelines – for example, the challenge they have to handle is waste management in 1km vicinity with a 4-member team. Beyond this, we leave it to their creativity to figure out the most pressing challenges in their community and to come out with innovative solutions. Fourthly, we tell them not to view it merely as a social project, but as a start-up that can give them credibility and valuable experience - whether they decide to pursue entrepreneurial path or a corporate career.  This experience helps them to develop vital leadership and professional skills like decision-making, leadership, goal setting, communication, team building, creativity and innovation. And lastly, based on the performance, and the impact these projects have generated, we select best practices and award and certify the better ones. 

We have noticed great level of interest not just in students, but also in universities and colleges. Colleges are looking at our program from two perspectives – firstly, this gives them a chance to be involved with their immediate community and secondly, this gives their students a chance to compete on a national platform and acquire critical professional skills. 

Who will take these actions?

A hugely complex challenge like waste management in crowded Indian communities where administrative agencies lack will power and resources can be managed only through effective collective action. Hence, LeadLab is envisaged as a micro community initiative for waste management, driven by students of colleges in a specific locality. Students form teams of maximum 4 members, they elect a team leader, envisage and create small social start ups to positively impact waste management challenges in a 1km community around them.

Team leaders play a critical part in the whole process. Leader is the face of a team and he/she is completely responsible for ensuring team consensus, success of the social start-up and updating of information. There are specific prizes and awards for leaders so that they remain motivated on the task. From among the leaders, we also select a campus captain to whom all the leaders report in. Campus captains are responsible for interfacing between LeadLab and the teams as well as for organizing best practices sharing sessions.

Colleges again are intended to support us through multiple means. Colleges ensure that students are given ample time apart from their regular academics to pursue this activity. They also devote a faculty coordinator who serves as an interface between LeadLab and the team leaders.  Some of these colleges even have initiated activities to integrate LeadLab in to their regular academic structure. 

Where will these actions be taken?

We shall be rolling out our program initially in India. Currently, we have tied up with 25 universities across India – ranging from large metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore to Tier 2 towns like Udaipur, Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur and Nagpur to smaller towns like Kakinada and Gulbarga. We eventually plan to scale this out across South Asia, where the waste management challenges as well as the thought processes of citizens’ are similar in nature. 

The waste management start-ups shall function at a micro community level. Hence, we have restricted the geographical limit to 1km vicinity of their educational institutions. This constraint makes sure of the high stakes of the student groups and the colleges in the community that they are serving. As they are already familiar with the practical and on the ground challenges, it is easier for them to score quick wins. It also helps them to enjoy the fruits of their labor and to be celebrated in their own communities.

What are other key benefits?

Advantages of this form of micro community based waste management systems are multi fold. Firstly, we are not relying on a detached and monopolistic administrative agency to deal with complex local problems, but in the collective wisdom of a group of people who have a high stakes. Secondly, as these students get involved, they transform to better citizens and develop better civic sense. They get recognized as opinion leaders in their communities. Thirdly, these students learn critical skills essential for a better future. Some of them even tell us that having faced their defining moments, they would like to pursue this as a future career.

Once we have built in adequate scale in this model, we could always extend this to other pressing climate change challenges that could be addressed in a similar fashion. Interestingly, in some of the universities, they are even looking at our model to be tightly integrated with their curriculum with even academic credits attached with it. 

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

For addressing a complex challenge such as waste management, in a crowded and resource-constrained country like India, it is important that we bring in collective wisdom, collective action and innovation to the forefront. Attributing to the freedom that we provide the students, we notice a great amount of innovation and fresh thinking while dealing with waste management challenges.  

Bigger idea behind this model is that actions of a team are not limited to their community alone but unleashes a domino effect. Our mobile enabled online national leaderboard equips, evaluates and celebrates student leaders. It equips students with the much-needed professional skills like decision-making, leadership, goal setting, communication, team building, creativity and innovation. It evaluates the students continuously by assessing their competencies and through peer ratings. Our model goes a step further and celebrates the achievements of the student leaders, their teams and their best practices.

What are the proposal’s costs?

LeadLab has multiple levels of costs attached with it. First, is the cost of reaching out to colleges, engaging them and training the leaders. For this we have already deployed a small outreach team and trainers. Second, is the cost of development and deployment of the mobile national leaderboard. For this we would require technology access, technical experts and a customer service team. We have already built and deployed an initial working model. The online leadership board shall go through several reviews before it is finalized. We are estimating the initial cost to be around USD 350,000.

While we are running this initially with funds from our own pocket, we shall eventually be raising the fund through investments, primarily from socially focused venture funds. Our revenue stream shall primarily be based on the certification for students. Each student once their project is completed, shall be eligible for a certification, with a fee of $10. Since, we have built a data driven model, where demographic, psychographic and behavioral data about the participating youth are captured at every step, we would be able to generate detailed competency reports of each participant, which can again be made available to the student for a fee. Our objective is to make sure that 30,000 students are part of the program during the year 2015-16, with 60% completion rate and 50% opting for certification. 

Time line

We officially rolled out LeadLab in 2014. We are looking at 3 cohorts every year, running parallel alongside the academic term system in India. We shall be announcing the results of every cohort at the end of the term. We are also planning to tie up with some reputed academic institutes in India and abroad, where we can explore the options of sending these winners for some short-term programs – relating to climate change as well as sustainable resource management.  

In the medium term, we are planning to grow wider, broader and deeper. From a depth perspective, we shall be looking at high school students, who are primarily in the ages between 13 to 17 years, to be part of our programs. From a breadth perspective, we shall be looking at other South Asian markets. From a width perspective, we shall be looking at extending our program beyond waste management in to the other pressing climate change initiatives that can be addressed at a micro community level. Through out this time, we shall be looking at several strategic tie-ups in the government levels, which can give more scale and credibility to the program. 

Related proposals


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