Brainfeed in conversation with Anushka Bansal, Venkateshwar International School, Dwarka, New Delhi, co-founder at Zap-E-Scrap, TEDx Speaker and trained Bharatanatyam dancer about entrepreneurship and e-waste in India
You are an author and entrepreneur. How do you connect these two professions?
What ties these two of my passions together is my love for learning! While creative writing has allowed me to express myself, social entrepreneurship has inspired me to explore endless possibilities and give back to my community – in whatever small ways I can. I believe having the enthusiasm to venture outside my school textbook, being able to grab all opportunities presented to me, and having a really strong support system – both in school and at home – have really enabled me to pursue being both a writer and a student entrepreneur.
As a student, how do you see the generation and the countries worldwide contributing to e-waste and dealing with it?
There most definitely is! Many countries, including India, have taken effective steps towards e-waste management (the one government initiative we specifically worked on was extended producer responsibility or EPR) but these steps often fail to keep pace with the generation of electronics.
Honestly, up until two years ago, I had no idea where my phones or wires even went after I discarded them (or if they ever went anywhere!). While working on Zap-E-Scrap, my team and I realized that just like us, there are a lot of people who aren’t aware of proper channels for e-waste disposal, even though many such channels exist.
Please tell us about the birth of Zap-E-Scrap.
Zap-E-Scrap was born out of the TiE Young Entrepreneurs Program hosted by The Indus Entrepreneurs Delhi-NCR at IIT Delhi that I attended in winter 2018. Now renamed E-waste Erase, it is a student-founded platform that connects all the stakeholders – citizens, companies and recyclers – in the e-waste ecosystem. While doing preliminary market research, we were able to realize the ubiquity of electronic waste in our lives and our fundamental disregard for it. What was initially focused towards a business plan competition eventually grew into something bigger as we reached out to potential clients who were willing to tie up with our platform. Through this platform, we strive to incentivize consumers to dispose of their e-waste responsibly, help companies fulfill their monthly obligation quota for e-waste collection, and facilitate the recyclers who need e-waste to run their recycling plants, while reaping both financial and environmental benefits.
While doing preliminary market research, we were able to realize the ubiquity of electronic waste in our lives and our fundamental disregard for it.
As an avid lover of Economics and entrepreneur, please tell us about the practical scenario of entrepreneurship in India.
As a student, I have found social entrepreneurship to be very dynamic. Even from my limited experience the domain, I think the opportunities available to students are endless. There are more and more programs and boot camps coming up for school students to learn about the fundamental principles of economics, to reach out to entrepreneurs, etc. Every day, I read about entrepreneurial developments in the newspaper and it excites me to see where we are headed. While I can only speak as a student, when it comes to the scope of social entrepreneurship in India, I think there is immense hope.
The primary challenge I feel is a lack of accountability. More often than not, I see people going through their lives as passive citizens, only-Instagram-activist netizens, and bystanders. If everyone feels as much a part of the community as they should – in whatever small way they think possible – then we can transition into a world with endless possibilities and opportunities for everyone.
Through this platform, we strive to incentivize consumers to dispose of their e-waste responsibly, help companies fulfill their monthly obligation quota for e-waste collection, and facilitate the recyclers who need e-waste to run recycling plants.
How do you manage to be a student, author, dancer, entrepreneur and public speaker? Who inspires you?
My grandfather, who is a retired agricultural scientist, inspires me to constantly push myself out of my comfort zone, broaden my horizons, and explore new arenas!
The idea behind Unravel Economics is to generate inquiry-based education. How far have you seen Indian education system inculcate this idea?
While our education system teaches us a lot of things, it doesn’t allow us the opportunity to take risks, or the space to explore insightful questions. In fact, I think we often undermine how much one can learn from just talking to different people and learning about their experiences. I founded Unravel Economics to bridge the divides between economists and students. More importantly though, to get an insight into the world of economics from the lens of a professional.
Even though my teachers have been extremely supportive in my efforts to pursue questions beyond the textbook, I have been told a number of times that I need to sometimes restrict myself to just learning what is in front of me – and that frustrates me. Of course, it is important to equip oneself with fundamental concepts of, say, demand and supply, before moving on to more complex economic concepts, but I genuinely feel that it is the ability to come up with questions, and the persistence to pursue them that truly matters.
India has some of the primitive methods of dealing with e-wastes and especially in the non-formal sector.
I think it is very important to recognize that technology is only growing – phones, laptops, cables, etc – can be found with most people in the country. With this growth in technology, however, comes the problem of e-waste management. While doing market research for Zap-E-Scrap, my team and I found that people are not well aware of the many channels that are available to them to dispose of their e-waste off responsibly. In fact, most people don’t even feel the need to do so! We noticed that a lot of entrepreneurial ventures are now focusing their resources on efficient e-waste disposal. Integrating formal and informal sectors, establishing mechanisms for e-waste management, and proposing policy interventions in this regard can help India move into a more sustainable future.
You have interviewed 25 economists so far. Any projects in hindsight where you plan to apply the data?
Unravel Economics is an academic platform that is dedicated to promoting the spirit of inquiry-based education, and connecting leading economics researchers, policy-makers, and professors with passionate high-school students through interviews and opinion pieces. So far, I have interviewed 25 economists, published 22 crowd-sourced articles, and reached 3,200+ readers from over 60 countries. Talking to my peers at school, I realized that as school students, we are not very aware of what economics looks like at the professional level or, say, know what an economist really does.
Once you find your passion, take every opportunity you can get to pursue it. Until then, keep exploring!
Moreover, we have been born into a political dynamic where more complex issues are hampering economic growth than ever before. With the youngest generation growing up with unprecedented levels of awareness and ambitions to succeed, it is important now more than ever to establish this connection between professionals and students. I think only bridging this gap can solve the doubts that students often have, and consequently help students make their professional career choices confidently. At the moment, there are no upcoming projects beyond interviews and op-eds, but I am working on collaborating with other similar platforms to be able to reach out to more and more people!
Please share a message for our young readers to encourage entrepreneurship skills and academic research interest in them.
What drives all my curricular and extracurricular activities is my inherent curiosity to learn more about…everything! I love to debate ethical issues with my school’s Literary Club, and thoroughly enjoy listening to podcasts, reading books, and watching TED talks on Youtube. Overall, I constantly strive to explore my interests beyond my school coursework, and grab any opportunities I find to pursue them. For all the young readers out there, you need to ask yourself: What excites me? What keeps me up at night? Once you find your passion, take every opportunity you can get to pursue it. Until then, keep exploring!