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The story of Aawas, an interview with Bidhi Mandal

Dreams do come true when you wake up and work on it. Bidhi Mandal, the founder of Aawas, a solution for sustainable and affordable housing has proved this statement through her journey. Bidhi currently a council member of the US Embassy Youth Council, and a member at Young Female Leadership Forum, is a rising entrepreneur who recently won the Third Prize at National Social Business Challenge organized by Yunus Social Business Center. Breaking the barriers of age, gender, minorities, and what not she has set herself as an example and an influencer to all the fellow youth of Nepal. Here is an interview excerpt hosted with Bidhi Mandal by tyrocity.com

Bidhi cover

Please share with us your venture, the journey, and your plans.

I was born in a middle-class family. In the capital, our family always struggled due to financial hardships. Especially after the 2015 earthquake, our ceiling ended up with many cracks, which we couldn’t repair. Living in that damaged house, I realize the importance of security that the four walls give us. That was where the idea of sustainable and affordable housing came to my mind. It was not very clear in the beginning but my researches and the passion to make those four walls available to all the Nepalese kept me going. On my journey, I met Mr. Santosh Kumar Yadav, a final year civil engineering student from IOE Pulchowk Campus, also the co-founder of Awas. Our social venture is trying to make bricks out of plastic waste. In Kathmandu, only 82.56 metric ton of plastic waste is generated on a daily basis, which ends up in the landfill. And at the same time, 2.8 million people in Nepal live in substandard and dangerous housing conditions whereas thousands are homeless. We are trying to use that plastic waste and turn it into something very useful – bricks. Using plastic in a certain proportion in a brick adds features such as thermal and sound insulation; it makes it waterproof, antibacterial and antifungal. And the use of a few other elements makes it fireproof too. We are designing models of a house that will cost around 7 lakh rupees. Santosh looks after the technical and engineering part whereas I look after the possible ways in which we can maximize our reach. We are currently in the machine development phase, and we are also trying to set up our factory. We want to begin as soon as possible. Well to do so, we are also trying to collaborate with the Nepali government.

How was your experience in Yunus social business challenge? What were some key takeaway points that entrepreneurs can learn from National Social Business Challenge (NSBC)?

It was after I first heard of NSBC, I came to know about Social Business. It was perfect for someone like me who wanted to help people but didn’t like depending on donors. It was allowing me to solve so many problems at the same time. When I entered NSBC the idea of Awas was not clear and I didn’t know how the business world worked. From the day I started to first draft my first application to the day I pitched my idea in front of the great achievers of the entrepreneurial field, I could feel the difference. The difference was not only in my idea but also in me, I had started to believe in my idea more.

NSBC was amazing, that is what comes to my mind. From being mentored by the professionals to being trained by all the amazing professors of King’s College, I can never thank NSBC enough. In Fact, throughout the NSBC period, King’s College had turned into my own college and trust me even you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. NSBC makes you an entrepreneur from ideator. Whatever it has to give you, embrace it. You’ll grow unbelievably.

Bidhi during design thinking working conducted by TyroCity

How do you see the business environment in Nepal? What are the supporting factors and what are the major obstacles?

There are challenges, in fact, a lot of them. But those challenges should never be the reason why you leave your dream to change the world around you. Every hurdle that you’ll face will make you and your enterprise stronger.

I personally believe that doing trade in Nepal is tough, especially for female founders. One of the first and major obstacles is family, then there comes your society and finally the government. But right now in the context of Nepal, the way entrepreneurship environment has grown is amazing. So the major support comes from the people who have been through this tedious process. They sincerely help you through everything.

People might even say that you have already achieved so much and you are still so young. Whom do you credit your success to? Who are your major motivators?

Although I have gotten a good start, an entrepreneur’s journey is full of hindrances, overcoming them will be an achievement. But this good start hadn’t been possible with my amazing parents, the whole team of NSBC and Youth Co: Lab, Shishila Acharya ma’am and many other mentors that I had along this journey. Recently I also got to be the winner of Nepal Infrastructure Idea Hunt 2019, for which I was guided by KUSOM, Idea Studio and other amazing mentors.

Have you ever been to training or workshops that have added to your skills or added value to your venture? How much do you think these kinds of training and workshops are necessary?

I remember attending Design Thinking workshop at King’s College facilitated by Tyrocity, where I learned about how human values are something that takes any enterprise to a different level. This was something that I still believe in and is a major element of my enterprise.

Bidhi during design thinking workshop by TyroCity.com

Life is a never-ending learning process, especially being an entrepreneur is a wholesome journey. But something that we need to keep in mind is that no entrepreneur is born an entrepreneur, we become so. Critical thinking and reflection is something that helps us to build such skills. Especially in this competitive world, you need to learn to be distinct, training will help you understand your motives clearly and also help you to figure out ways to achieve them. So these training and workshops are a must for anyone who wants to come up with ways to change the world.

What motivating message would you like to send to the new entrepreneurs?

Being an entrepreneur is like being a Superman without a cape. It’s awe exciting but challenging at the same time. You’ll solve problems, in most innovative ways possible. But still, people won’t believe in your cause, you’ll not find a perfect team, you’ll not have money most of the times and this is where you demonstrate your superpowers, this is where you fight back and keep doing what you love and believe in. And when you feel low at times remember your cause, remember the people for whom you’re doing this. And believe me if you keep on fighting for your purpose, people will believe you, your ideas will flourish and you’ll see the change you always wanted to.

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