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How Reap Benefit has created an army of 15,000+ young changemakers who are solving local environmental problems

Shweta Vitta
21st Mar 2016
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What would you say about a 21-year-old, who instead of sitting for his college placements, collected garbage from around 150 households for nearly eight months? Kuldeep Dantewadia (now 27), has been an environmental crusader for as long as he can remember. A business graduate from Bengaluru’s Christ College, he says,

If I say Bengaluru has a water crisis, one may agree, but not take it so seriously, because it isn’t visible. But garbage is a physical, visual problem – one that cannot be ignored. And that’s why I decided to focus on it.

After coming back from Jagriti Yatra – a train journey that promotes entrepreneurship, Kuldeep’s desire to solve a real problem only increased. Since he was already clear about working in the garbage sector, he now wanted to understand the problem. He started off collecting garbage in Bannerghatta, and as the area didn’t fall under the purview of the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike), they allowed him to take charge. He recollects,

For eight months, I would collect garbage and take it in an auto to the nearest open space with only one thought in my mind – to find local solutions that will ensure that garbage doesn’t go in to landfills. By the end of my experiment, I realised there are two issues – one, the problem is behavioural and two, there is no silver bullet solution.

And that’s how he and two friends Gautam Prakash and Kamal Raj co-founded Reap Benefit in 2011. The trio is ‘making green a habit’ by not just focussing on garbage, but on broader environmental issues including water and sanitation. In less than five years, the team has already created a cadre of over 15, 000 young changemakers, who are innovating local solutions for local environmental problems.

Kuldeep Dantewadia, Co-founder of Reap Benefit
Kuldeep Dantewadia, Co-founder of Reap Benefit
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Gautam Prakash, Co-founder of Reap Benefit

What is Reap Benefit all about?

The company creates affordable and quantifiable waste-water-energy solutions and facilitates behaviour change by engaging with school-going children and youth to ensure behaviour modification that will allow for sustained change. By educating, empowering and rewarding students to find green solutions, Reap Benefit is making a collective impact towards a better environment.

As a result of its active engagement with the student community, Reap Benefit has also come up with a range of solutions in the areas of water, sanitation, segregation and composting –

  1. Low-cost grey water harvesting systems – For instance, a Government Higher Primary School which uses around 120 litres of water daily has been able to recycle 70-80 litres of water through the grey-water harvesting system. The recycled water is used for various activities such as flushing and cleaning toilets, watering the school gardens. Over a year, this school has saved close to 30, 000 litres of water already. What does GWH do? In simple words, water used in schools to wash utensils gets filtered and accumulated in a barrel/tank which is then re-used.
  2. Waterless urinals – Made from discarded PET bottles, these are engineered to eliminate the usage of water as well as foul odour leading to better health and sanitation practices, especially in areas where there is a perennial water crisis.
  3. Transparent bins for intuitive segregation of waste – Simple see-through bins that will empower individuals to segregate recyclable and non-recyclable waste sub-consciously.
  4. Enzymes – De’Grade for household composting and Up’Grade for large-scale composting – Both are coco-peat-based microbial enzymes that enable composting without laborious processes, fear of maggots, flies, and odour.

 

 

Children with the newly created waterless urinals
Children with the newly created waterless urinals

Creating young changemakers through gamification

The differentiator in Reap Benefit is that it doesn’t believe mere low-cost solutions will solve the looming environmental crisis. There’s a need for more. Kuldeep says,

We focus on the process more than the product. The product is a short-term solution. But in the long run, we are developing human capital that will continually find solutions to problems as they arise.

How? By working with schools/institutions and using gamification in an offline context. Kuldeep says,

According to our analysis, there are four types of people – those who want to solve for the larger good, for social standing, for fun or to win/outdo someone. Our aim is to leverage the need they have and get them to a point where they start solving for the greater good.

Reap Benefit uses gamification (comprising hands-on activities and reward-based curricula) to deliver 15 sessions, each spanning 901-80 minutes, that cover topics such as energy, waste, and biodiversity spread over a year. Gamification is a four-step process –

  1. Discover the local problem
  2. Investigate – Using a range of assessment tools to collect granular data around issues such as garbage, water, and air-quality
  3. Solve – Devise local solutions using local materials
  4. Communicate – Share the process with the larger world and spread ‘making green a habit’

To give an example of co-creating a solution, when students of a school realised they were consuming more water than they should to wash their hands, they developed an aerator that could control the water flow.

Children after a gamification session
Children after a gamification session

Impact and way forward

Kuldeep says,

Reap Benefit has managed to divert 200 tonnes of waste from landfills, saved over 15 lakh litres of water and 63, 000 kWh of energy per annum. We have worked with 110 schools and institutions, as well as 30 corporates.

Despite the staggering success, Kuldeep is nowhere close to resting. His next ambitious plan is to utilise technology, create a mobile-based civic app that will allow people of all ages and geographies to solve their environmental problems. At the end, Kuldeep says,

Solving local problems should be child’s play!

 

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