WOW | Coverstory
LIVING MY DREAM AAYUSHI KC
An unlikely business model for a young go getter in Nepal, Aayushi KC challenged many norms by entering the waste management business, and with a different approach! Aayushi has a huge appetite for sustainability and through Khalisisi has digitally connected more than 130,000 recyclable waste-buyers to waste-sellers. This initiative has helped increase the diversion of recyclable materials away from landfills, creating a greener society. Her work has been recognised in several international platforms including Forbes 30 under 30. In Nepal, she is seen as a role model who built an unlikely business which has immense social and environmental impact. Her goal: zero waste in Nepal.
In a conversation with WOW, the founder of Khaalisisi talks briefly about what it takes to be a successful social entrepreneur, her life, and the state of Nepal’s waste management industry.
What makes Aayushi KC?
My value system and my work.
How does it feel to be on the cover of WOW?
I take it as a huge compliment because I feel our work at Khaalisisi has made an impact and created a value. This motivates us to do more.
You were listed in the Forbes 30 under 30 in the social entrepreneur category amongst 200 participants; clearly your business model and pitch has won the hearts of many. How did it all start and what were the challenges?
The story of Khaalisisi was not exactly a glamorous one. We started out from scratch without much example to learn from; we just experimented with a completely different business model.
When I initially explained the business idea to our first Khaalisisi friend (waste buyer), he laughed at me and asked, “Where is sir?” I realised they were not used to working with women and it would be a big challenge for me to make them accept my idea. Then we did a prototype for a month, where the same Khaalisisi friend earned Rs 800 extra to what he was earning. That’s when he was convinced that gender did not matter. Eventually, he got more Khaalisisi friends from his circle, and they got their friends to join our network. Now our Khaalisisi friends come through the digital platform.
Also, the biggest challenge was to explain about the concept to the educated mass. They were completely unaware about trash culture. For example, the culture of separating waste was very new for them.
Khaalisisi has come a long way since its inception; what has been a key milestone that catalysed this growth?
The fact that we convinced our Khaalisisi friends to join us as they have never worked outside their network. Also, clients making recycling decisions based on our data is a good sign. Furthermore, we were fortunate to receive support from the media since the topic of waste management is not popular. Forbes and google gave us good leverage and enhanced our credibility in the market. Additionally, one of the most amazing part was when the government approached us to work with them.
Being an entrepreneur is difficult and being a social entrepreneur is even harder. Looking back, what has been your personal motivation and key learning?
I have learnt that although it gets extremely challenging, you need to realise that you are in a different ball game. You are not only doing business, but you are changing the entire culture. You really need to have thick skin to survive.
What are some of the challenges that the waste industry in Nepal is facing currently, and what is your vision going forward?
One of the biggest challenges is that people are not exposed to trash culture; recycling is just a theory and we don’t go beyond the classroom. We don’t have information and there is lack of policy implementation. For example, we have the policy that every public vehicle should have a dustbin, but then the conductor or the bus driver might use it as an extra seat to get more passengers onboard. Hence, we need to start giving practical education to our children about recycling, so culture grows from one generation to another. Also, we all need to work together to ensure that the policies are implemented.
If you could travel back in time and then into the future, what advice would you give yourself?
18-year-old: Live your dreams.
75-year-old: I hope you lived your dreams.
Please finish the sentence…
I have failed in: Taking tough decisions and this was my learning: Implementation over perfection.
What is it like being a woman entrepreneur in Nepal?
I always believe that an entrepreneur is an entrepreneur; there is no male or female entrepreneur. However, in reality the society has different views. I feel that women entrepreneurs need to work harder to prove their worth in comparison to their male counterparts. Also, there is a lot of social pressure and expectations from women which makes it even more challenging.
How do you manage your time between home and work?
I am very fortunate to have a supportive family. However, the reality is that work life balance doesn’t exist when you are an entrepreneur. You need to make tough decisions and be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices along the way. There will always be a struggle. So, first set your priorities straight; whether you want to achieve your goals as an entrepreneur or take care of your home full-time.
Message to budding entrepreneurs…
Just get started, take risks, don’t give up and don’t forget to learn along the way.
A day in your shoes…
A day in my shoes is usually very comfortable in a pair of sneakers (laughs). I wake up at 6am and talk to my husband. We try not to check our emails until we get to work. Then I either meditate for five minutes or check a few websites.
We sit down with the family for breakfast and leave for work around 8.30am. By 9am, I sit down with my team members and discuss our plans for the day. Usually it follows with meetings, with a lot of kabads and sometimes media interviews. We all return home around 8pm and have exciting discussion about the day. My mother-in-law runs an organisation that empowers women; hence we usually talk about doing our part to make a difference.
Build a better future, expand the network of more Khaalisisi friends and help motivate other waste management entrepreneurs.
What makes you…
Happy: Creating value
Sad: A day wasted
Angry: Disrespect and arrogance
What makes you trust a person?
When their actions speak louder than their words.
Who is your 5am friend?
My husband and my parents, I can share anything and everything with them.
How many books have you read so far this year?
On average, I read two books a month.
What is the one thing that scares you most?
The fear of being useless.
Text and Concept: Mannat Shrestha
Photos: Pawan Joshi
Wardrobe: NS by Jenny / Instagram: nsbyjenny
Accessories: Maya Handicrafts Jewelry/
MUA: SakchiMaskey/ Instagram: maskey.sakchhi
Location: Silver Oak Banquet & Event Center, Gairidhara, Baluwatar/ Contact: 9808626505,
01-4411724/ Instagram: silveroakktm