best paani for a better life with sajal pradhan
With the alarming growth in rates and a small percentage of all the water on earth, it only makes sense that we must preserve and conserve this precious resource. Since water is an essential to sustaining life, it is our responsibility to preserve it and learn more about its conservation so that the following generation can use this luxury. While we wish we could recognize every organization that has made a contribution towards water conservation efforts in Nepal, we have chosen one that has been implementing some noteworthy advancements to make Nepal a cleaner and a better place. We had a talk with Sajal Pradhan, the Co-Founder of Best Paani, to know more about what this initiative does, what the future looks like, and what we can do to make it better.
DID YOU ALWAYS THINK THAT YOU WOULD GET INTO ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
Entrepreneurship has helped me combine my passion for the environment and my fascination with creating systems that engineer human well-being and equity. But regardless of what I’ve worked or will work in, be it in the private, academic, social, or public sector in the past, I choose to make it parallel to the notion of environmental conservation and human well-being.
HOW DID BEST PAANI COME TO BE?
My business partner Gokul Dangal has been making sustainable water systems for over 10 years now. I had the opportunity to volunteer with Rotary making wells during my SLC break, so I was always familiar with his work. When he asked me to join him, I was in the second semester of my Masters in Sustainable Development at Kathmandu University, and it was an easy yes.
Although we started the company with rain water harvesting systems in mind as the primary product, two months after we started it, the Nepal Earthquake of 2015 devastated the nation. We had to quickly switch gears and focus on filtration because it was essential at the time to prevent a cholera epidemic. And since then, we’ve been doing just that, trying to provide a cleaner form of potable water.
I BELIEVE THAT IF NEPALESE MOTHERS ARE TO BE MORE EDUCATED, WE WILL NOT LOSE 5000 CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 5 EACH YEAR TO PREVENTABLE CONDITIONS.
WHAT WAS THE INITIAL PROCESS OF ESTABLISHING BEST PAANI? DID YOU GO THROUGH ANY CHALLENGES AS SUCH? AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?
Although it felt challenging at the time, the setup was a fairly simple process that involved many consultations with mentors, competitors, and templates available online. My job was to set up every department and process. So I started with mapping the company on a business model canvas and a service blueprint and then zoomed in the details by creating flowcharts, which we are still making till date. The emotional trauma of entrepreneurship was the greater challenge than the technical work involved, honestly, and I have the utmost respect for people who start their first entrepreneurial journey alongside a family.
WHAT IS BEST PAANI? WHAT IS IT DOING TO MAKE OUR LIVES BETTER?
This year, 5000 Nepalese children will die due to a preventable water-borne disease. 80% of hospital beds and majority of female student drop outs are also accredited to preventable water scarcity and diseases. Our team at Best Paani believes that it is absolutely necessary to ensure safe water access in rural Nepalese villages, because:
• Access to water in a school determines whether a young girl continues her
education after she starts menstruating
• This also determines whether her children
are taken care of by an educated guardian,
I believe that if Nepalese mothers are to be more educated, we will not lose 5000 children under the age of 5 each year to preventable conditions. Thus, our work not only enhances the quality of a person’s life, but also increases the chances of their children’s survival.
In other schools we’ve worked in, children are sent to fetch water from far away locations rather than to school. This sometimes leads to them being abducted or molested. In the day to day life scenario, safe water at homes ensures that working individuals can provide for their families without falling sick or losing the family’s income source, or even their lives, to preventable water born disease.
We understand the vast impact water has in people’s lives. Safe water should not be a barrier for a person’s wellbeing, and we are working on this problem so that it doesn’t. In the past three years, Best Paani has built safe water access for over 300,000 people across 20 earthquake struck districts. We design and build non-electric rain water harvesting and slow-sand filtration systems that create access to sufficient and safe water. Our cost-effective filters help to combat Cholera, Hepatitis, Typhoid, Dracunculiasis, Filariasis, E. Coli, Salmonella, Shilgella, and other water born threats. The filter is also effective against iron, arsenic, manganese, faecal vi, to prevent dysentery, diarrhea, and other rampant waterborne diseases notorious in South Asia and Africa.
We use only locally available materials to ensure affordability and ease of maintenance. We also connect buyers to financial institutions so they can make monthly payments which lessen their financial burden. On average, our home projects have cost $600 for 5 persons, whereas our school projects have cost $1200 for 650 students. Our impact in schools is amplified because villages double these schools as community gathering locations and marriage halls. This is why we prefer to work with community schools to leverage a larger impact.
OUR FOCUS HAS ALWAYS BEEN ON THE PRODUCT AND ON THE IMPACT WE CREATE. THUS, OUR VISIBILITY HAS BEEN THE RESULT OF THE QUALITY OF OUR WORK.
WHAT STRATEGIES ARE YOU IMPLEMENTING TO ENSURE BETTER AWARENESS AND VISIBILITY?
Our focus has always been on the product and on the impact we create. Thus, our visibility has been the result of the quality of our work. This has worked out greatly for us so far and we’ve always gotten amazing opportunities to create impact.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR BEST PAANI? WHERE DO YOU SEE BEST PAANI?
In the past three years of operations, we have secured safe drinking water access to 300,000 Nepalese people, across 20 earthquake struck districts, and have recharged 3.3 million liters of water to the ground water aquifer.
On average this has cost $0.3 per person, including long term maintenance costs. According to WHO’s calculation method, our work has given a $165,108 to $1,871,224 economic return to Nepal’s economy.
In the macro, lobbying with local Governments has finally resulted in Kathmandu making rain water harvesting mandatory for all constructions this year. We consider this a huge success.
This numbers will grow as we grow, and we will continue to lobby to strengthen this policy’s implementation plans and to launch the policy nation-wide, because we believe decentralized water systems are safer and more efficient in Nepal than the centralized but poorly maintained distribution.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ONE OF THE 50 MOST IMPACTFUL LEADERS IN THE WORLD?
We’ve been doing this for three years now and I’m proud of the work Best Paani has done in safeguarding the health of over 300,000 Nepali through water filtration across 20 earthquake struck districts. This award has, most importantly, further motivated the team to continue this good and challenging work. And it’s great that we’re living in a time when society believes in the press for progress and prioritizes highlighting important work such as that in the water sector that transforms lives. That being said, it’s important to protect your self-worth from social opinions, whether positive or negative.
INTERVIEWED BY SHREEYA SANGROULA | PHOTOS: GAURAV XHOMPATE SUNUWAR