by Kandalam, Hripsime and muktadir
What project did your team nurture in EMPOWER program and what contacts did your team establish within the project framework?
In today’s world, using of electronic gadgets has become a part of everyone’s life. These electronic products are used mostly in communication and entertainment areas. As we are aware that the resources on our planet is not infinite, we need to be responsible in consumption and recycling of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). According to United Nations (UN), 53.60 million tons (Mt) of electronic waste (e-waste) is generated in 2019. It is estimated that by 2030, the e-waste generation could reach a whopping 74 Mt.
We are a team of 3 (Dr. rer. nat. Hripsime Gevorgyan, M.Sc. Avinash Kandalam and M.Sc. Golam Muktadir) from multi-disciplinary backgrounds who are focusing to develop sustainable waste management and recycling system for the huge amount of WEEE generated. At Green Footprint, we want to decrease the pressure on the primary (i.e. mining) resources (including Rare Earth Metals [REE]) and close the loop for end-of-life products. Thereby, we support the UN sustainability goals and move towards the circular economy.
Although, individually we are passionate over the years on the environmental issues, EMPOWER created a platform to form a team (as we are today) in 2018. In the beginning, we had a final vision of 100 % recycling and maximum recovery of REE and minor elements, but there was no structured planning. Over the course of the EMPOWER program, we were guided by series of lectures and workshops on entrepreneurship skills, which helped us to plan step-by-step. Few noteworthy topics to mention, which we gained in-depth knowledge during the EMPOWER program are on business model canvas (BMC), leadership & communication skills and business plan.
Additionally, EMPOWER program helped us to improve our network within the business community. For example:
- Different start-up founders & CEO’s were invited as guest speakers, where they shared their experience on founding their company.
- We got in touch with SEBIT (Sächsischen Entwicklungspolitischen Bildungstage), which is an NGO in Dresden, Germany who are connected to several NGO’s and activists around the world. These organisations are focused on human rights and mining related issues (such as pollution, indigenous rights and health hazards).
- We also got in touch with SAXEED Freiberg, which is an organization linked to TU Bergakademie Freiberg (TU BAF). SAXEED is like an innovation hub, where TU BAF students can get free business consultation throughout the entire start-up process (i.e. start-up incubator). They also guide to apply for funding’s, competitions and obtain investors for the initial start-up phase.
Moreover, there were many multi-disciplinary PhD candidates from different nations in the EMPOWER program with unique start-up ideas, which led to special thinking and working perspectives through brainstorming and break-out sessions and in the end most of us became good friends.
What lasting memories do you associate with your time in EMPOWER program?
“There are many good memories associated with the EMPOWER program. Personally, I developed my leadership, organizational, presentation and networking skills. Through EMPOWER, Green Footprint got fantastic team members with unique skill set and broad field of expertise. I made international friends and especially I enjoyed BBQ parties during the summer !” – Avinash Kandalam
“In this project, I got more than what I had initially expected. Not only new experiences but about great encouragement and belief in myself, about the power of teamwork & aspiration. I will always carry myself back the skill-set gained through the Empower sessions. Thank you for a life-changing experience, strong connections and memories that we have built !”- Hripsime Gevorgyan
“Empower meeting reminds me of the saying: “Great minds think alike”. Great or not, we are researchers around the globe trying to change the world in our own ways. All the members are open hearted to help and contribute to each other’s projects directly or indirectly; whether it is building connections, giving on new perspectives, or joining in together to build a team. I will always remember the wonderful discussions, feedback rounds and encouragement from each other.” – Golam Muktadir
What is the state-of-the-art and future scope of your EMPOWER project?
The goal of e-waste management and recycling through Green Footprint is a “global idea”. As our group members are from Armenia, Bangladesh, Germany, and India, we planned to initially focus on these nations. Out of these nations, our priority is to establish first in Germany (as we are residing) and in India (huge market potential).
Germany: According to German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt – UBA), in 2018 Germany collected 853,124 tons of e-waste out of 2.1 Mt (i.e. 41 % collection rate). Germany’s WEEE generation per capita is highest in EU (19.2 kg per capita in 2019). Our goal is to improve the collection rate and improving the recycling technology. Currently, we are looking for reliable, efficient, and economical recycling solutions (not only for base metals but also for Rare Earth Elements (REE)). Additionally, we are applying for EU or third-party funding’s on recycling technology (R&D) in collaboration with universities, research institutes and industries. Finally, we also want to transform waste plastics & metals into useful back-to-life products by using additive manufacturing technologies. According to our EMPOWER training, we looked upon our old networks and involved Sayan Chatterjee and Sania Ahmed into the German start-up team, where their expertise on business development, legal and economic activities will be used upon.
India: According to United Nations (UN), India generated 3.2 Mt of WEEE in 2019 and less than 20 % is recycled. In India, most of the recycling practices are informal and hazardous. We focus to change the recycling practices from informal to total formal sector with latest recycling technologies (whole supply chain from collection to recycling). We pitched our business idea to CIM (Centre for International Migration and Development, Germany) run by GIZ (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH) and German Federal Employment Agency competition in 2019 and were in the top 6 finalists. EMPOWER (GraFA) and SAXEED helped us through the application and pitch presentation. The prize money (~ 7.000 €) will be used as a support funding for Indian start-up in the year 2021-2022. Furthermore, CIM-GIZ organized business coaching centers (in Germany and India), who will support us until mid of 2022. Similar to German start-up, we would need to form a team who will be working in India (groundwork) and therefore we found Akhil Mankala, Anil Sharma and Ravi Varma through networking. All this has been achieved by the encouragement from EMPOWER program.
Subsequently, the models from Germany and India will be modified and applied to Armenia and Bangladesh in 2022-2023.
- Avinash Kandalam, Hripsime Gevorgyan and Golam Muktadir
What is your motivation for joining this EMPOWER project?
“ Since adulthood, I was always worried about the environmental conditions where I grew up (India) and motivated to do something good to the society. When I arrived in Europe and travelled around, I started to compare these nations to India and tried to iterate the possible ways to implement and develop my home country. After graduation, I felt I had necessary skills to address these environmental issues and therefore I was looking to implement my ideas. During that time (in 2018), I received an email from GraFA, which stated that they are starting a 2-year program (EMPOWER) to develop social entrepreneurship skills and right-away, I applied and got selected. At the beginning of the program, I was motivated to develop networking skills (to build a team) and over the course I learnt many other concepts, which I wasn’t aware of. Apparently, my passion on start-up grew exponentially, made a fantastic team and constantly updating my skills. In conclusion, I would say that EMPOWER taught me more than what I was expecting.” – Avinash Kandalam
“ I like challenging myself and advancing on a personal level, that is what attracted me to EMPOWER program to begin with. It taught me to develop new skills (e.g. leadership, business & networking) that I never would have attempted on my own. By doing so, I boosted my confidence levels and turned myself on a path of becoming a good entrepreneur. Additionally, the program kept me motivated during rough times. With EMPOWER, we have built a great team and continue to improve our skills. In a nutshell, EMPOWER program is a tool to build motivation, face challenges, and gain experiences ! ”- Hripsime Gevorgyan
“ I got to know about EMPOWER during my “Assessment and Development” workshop, organized by GraFA. I come from Bangladesh, where the waste management is not very efficient. After travelling around Europe, I thought of contributing a bit in this sector. Before EMPOWER, I didn’t think about the subject deep enough to make any progress. EMPOWER gave me the opportunity to discuss the issues with others. Subsequently, I got to know that Avinash Kandalam and Hripsime Gevorgyan, who were focusing to develop new ideas in the area of waste management. It was really helpful for me to get in and join the team, where I started to make progress. Without EMPOWER, it would be way more difficult. The regular meetings helped me to motivate myself all along.” – Golam Muktadir
Will you tell us your life motto at the end?
“ I want to use my professional and entrepreneurship skills (taught in EMPOWER), to impact the world in the area of waste management and recycling technologies. I would like the start-up to grow international, where we address waste management and environmental issues. Today, we address WEEE, where it has huge impact on pollution, resource depletion, informal and inefficient recycling practices. Nevertheless, there are also other areas, which damage our planet significantly – for example, other wastes from textiles, paper, food, nuclear, tailings from mining, hospitals and many more. My life motto would be to handover better planet to the future generations.”- Avinash Kandalam
“ Regardless of the challenges I face, I would like to use and improve my professional and personal skills to make this world a better and greener place. My short life motto is: The world is chaotic – do not be lost – focus on your mission !” – Hripsime Gevorgyan
“ As M. K. Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in this world”. I would like to consider this my motto. It always motivates me to do something positive every day. Moreover, it does help me to take control of my actions as well as to keep some distance from the negativity around. – Golam Muktadir
Which elements of EMPOWER training do you/your team find most helpful?
There are many elements from the EMPOWER course, which helped us, which are stated below:
- The multi-disciplinary background and international exposure led for cross-culture exchange and know their nations great things and, also the problems they face day-to-day.
- Different start-up ideas and brain storming sessions expanding our vision and knowledge.
- Inviting guest speakers to share their experiences on start-up and business development, taught us how unexpected things could happen even in a well-planned business model.
- Motivation from Dr. Wopat is a boost to many of the participants, who were in difficult times (e.g. financially and emotionally).
- We also like that the EMPOWER organisers gave us tasks so that we could get practical experience. For example, working on website development, organising the conference etc., gave us on-field experience to address and solve the challenges. – Avinash Kandalam and Hripsime Gevorgyan
- The perspective shift: I learnt a lot about the decision making. How we make decision based on biology (gender and age), family/belief history (religion and ethnicity), or personal choice (occupation, place of residence, etc.). Through EMPOWER, I got to learn to consider other side of the story, so that the decision/opinion is unbiased.
- Feedback round: I learnt a lot from Dr. Wopat and Dr. Desmond about group management, organisational skills, brainstorming for idea generations etc. I would like to mention here about “feedback round”. Although, feedback round is very common amongst us, I never felt it to be important or fruitful. But, during the EMPOWER program, Dr. Wopat explained to us in detail the importance of the feedback round and how to give an effective feedback, which changed my perspective. From Dr. Desmond, I learnt how to moderate a session upholding one’s own opinion to bring the best from the members. – Golam Muktadir