Business Bhutan reporter Tshering talks to 34-year-old Leki Dawa, a social entrepreneur who recycles e-waste namely printer cartridges. Leki Dawa from Samcholing under Goshing gewog in Zhemgang holds a diploma in civil engineering and uses environment-friendly technology in his business. Leki Dawa worked with the Tarayana Foundation for almost nine years under various capacities before starting out on his own. Currently, he has 30 employees-all youth from underprivileged families including school dropouts. Leki Dawa started Bhutan Alternatives (BA) on November 11, 2015 with a fund of Nu 1mn from the Loden-DHI fund. Bhutan Alternatives caters to all 20 Dzongkhags and has supplied more than 15,000 printer cartridges so far.
1. How did you start Bhutan Alternatives? Why did you come out with such an idea?
Answer: Lack of e-waste entrepreneurs, availability of abundant resources and enormous social and environment impact from the operation of the firm led me and my team to come up with this idea.
The goal of attaining self sufficiency in printer consumables was another vital factor behind the foundation of BA. About 60% of end life printer cartridges are dumped in landfills and the rest are auctioned through Department of National Properties (DNP) which ultimately lands in the hands of Indian counterparts and these same end life toner cartridges come back in the Bhutanese market with value added price.
To start the foundation, it took one year primarily because we had to get an environment clearance from the National Environment Commission and manpower was another prime reason for the delay. Commissioning of machineries and equipment, training of human resources and finalizing marketing strategies led to BA.
2. How does Bhutan Alternatives function?
Answer: Bhutan Alternatives has five main operational departments namely production, quality, collection, store, marketing and accounts. The product has to go through each and every department until it is complete.
3. What are your product prices?
Answer: The prices of BA toner cartridges are different for various models. In terms of affordability, the price of BA products is 60-70% cheaper than the market price. On the other hand, with regard to page yield and print quality, a customer will get the OEM Performance.
4. How many hours do you work a day on average? Can you describe/ outline you typical day?
Answer: Our staffs work eight hours a day from Monday to Friday and on Saturday from 9am to 1pm. We pay Nu 300 for overtime work (6pm-9pm) when there is more demand from customers. At night, the firm drops off all staff at their homes.
5. Where do you sell your products? How has your sales been so far?
Answer: As of May, BA has been catering to all 20 Dzongkhags and our services are also being availed by private companies, hospitality sectors and various banking sectors. The sales are encouraging so far and we hope the people would continue to support our cause. Till date, we have supplied more than 15,000 printer cartridges.
6. Could you tell us about the challenges in the business?
Answer: The collection of end life toners from government offices and other stakeholders has become a huge problem for the firm because these assets are deemed auditable and also because of stringent policy of DNP to dispose such assets to the firm.
Capital investment for manpower training and infrastructure development is a challenge for the firm in terms of sustainability and another challenge is product service innovation.
7. How many employees does your company have?
Answer: The firm has 17 female and 13 male employees working in different positions. All of them are from underprivileged families and school dropouts.
8. What are your future plans?
Answer: Short-term goals: To increase customer portfolio, Creation of youth self-help groups, Proper management and reduction of e-waste; and Creating employment opportunities.
Long-term goals: To form sustainable communities, towns, and cities with a culture of responsible consumption and production, To completely nullify the import of printer cartridges, Financial sustainability; and Establishment of green-technology in the country.
9. What are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Answer: I would say all entrepreneurs must be 100% focused on their venture with regard to the goals of the firm, operation, management of human resource, challenges and its growth.
Secondly, a entrepreneur must be resilient to the ups and downs of the business. With that resiliency, an entrepreneur gains experiences and skills to go ahead and be successful.
Lastly, an entrepreneur must always be ready to learn and equip themselves at any time frame. This will help an entrepreneur to be self reliant.
10. What advice would you give to youth who want to become entrepreneurs?
Answer: The world has shrunk and it is interconnected and all of you represent that interconnection. This is a time that our ability as human beings to discover, learn, to build, to question, to reimage, to create new ways to connect and work with each other is at its highest. To keep pushing forward, challenge the status quo and find new ways to solve old problem.
11. Describe your company’s progress and quantify the social impact that your venture has made.
Answer: The firm has been able to generate the revenue to sustain its daily operation. The firm has successfully launched itself in the market with excellent share in the market. However being a social entrepreneur, the firm has multiple mandates to be achieved in the long run.
Some of the impacts of the firm has made are as follows:
The firm has collected more than 18,000 end life printer cartridge waste since its operation. The firm has employed 17 female and 13 male employees from underprivileged families and high school dropouts.
The firm has supplied eco friendly printer cartridges to all the districts of the country thereby encouraging people use recycled products to minimize unhealthy consumption patterns and to maximize the use of available resources to combat the rising issue of waste.
Encouraged and inspired people of the country to take up e-waste and other waste management as a commercially viable venture.