Humans of Handprint: Meet Akshay Gunteti, Green Worms – Eradicating poverty through job employment

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It’s often the individual threads that make the most compelling stories. Welcome to “Humans of Handprint,” a special segment dedicated to shining a spotlight on the incredible individuals who are the driving force behind Handprint’s impactful journey. As we delve into the lives, passions, and experiences of these remarkable people, we discover the heart and soul of our impact partners that thrive on the dedication and inspiration of its diverse team. 

Join us on this journey as we get to know the faces and voices that breathe life into Handprint’s mission, and witness firsthand the profound impact they have on the world.

In this chapter of HoH we sat with Akshay Gunteti, Head of Partnerships at Green Worms, while he shared with us his journey and experiences. 

Akshay Gunteti

Akshay Gunteti joined Green Worms 4 years ago as part of the HR and Marketing teams. He has now shifted to working on sales and partnerships. His job is also to explore waste technologies and understand how Green Worms can keep improving. 

Originally Akshay was in environmental consulting, however he was not able to make as much of a difference as he hoped. Therefore, when he saw Green Worms he was able to see a tangible way to make a difference not just environmentally wise but also in gender equality and eradicating poverty. 

“It was satisfying working with Green Worms as I got to see a difference. I feel working with them has helped me understand my consumer choices.”

The most important lesson he has taken away from his work is that everyone has a role at the company and everyone should be valued there.

Green Worms

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Green Worms is a multifaceted organisation that focuses on eradicating poverty, tackling gender equality and providing jobs through waste collection. They strive for a circular economy where trash collected can provide jobs and money to people as well as the profits from processing the trash can help spread environmental awareness. 

Green Worms began in 2014, so it has been a long journey. When they started, the general idea was to see people engage in waste collection and make more responsible choices. In 2016, the business model shifted as they figured out waste management needed continuous people, who were consistently working. At this point most salaries were on a day-to-day basis, where if you came in you would get paid. This was where women came into the story. 

Women Empowerment

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A big part of Green Worms is job employment. Women had fewer options for work and most were living in poverty, but wanting to come out. Their promise to the women was to dignify them and provide safe working conditions. When they gave them consistent work, they found that women were more reliable as they knew work would be hard to find otherwise. Green Worms also found women were more connected to the cause, bringing passion and empathy everyday. They were happy with the work, which gave them purpose. 

By 2018, Green Worms had spread to multiple villages and built a policy where women were engaged and could become micro-entrepreneurs. The women focused on collection of waste so that Green Worms could focus on building the value chain of bringing the collected waste to facilities to be sorted and processed. With a successful business model, the main goal of Green Worms transitioned into solving the waste crisis in India. 

Currently they are at 120 villages, which are mostly rural. 2600 women are involved; 300 work a consistent job sorting waste and these people have more benefits; 260 work as vendors; 103 work at administrative facilities. The work with Handprint goes to the wages of the women and research on newer methods. 

Challenges

When Green Worms started, not many believed or trusted in them. They had to work a long time on community building projects, such as ensuring the women were treated well when collecting trash and that people put trash in the right areas. Akshay recalls lots of taboo and discrimination when the women would go to the houses. The mentality shifted on the second aspect when COVID hit. Without people going outside and collecting the trash, it built up and everyone saw the mess it made. The communities started working together and supporting Green Worms after that period. 

Another difficulty Green Worms encountered is the lack of safety when the women would go out. The areas were not protected and there were always risks people would get hurt. This was a larger issue at the beginning as there was less funding and resources for Green Worms to work with.

Currently the local government supports them but this has not always been the way. The national government does not work with them as they have larger issues to tackle in India. The local government stepped in to support them when they saw the difference made. Now Green Worms works with the governments on policies around India regarding trash. 

Environmental Work

Rural and poorer coastal communities have less options regarding waste, as they only buy what they can afford. Often this is plastic as it is a common and cheap material. This adds up to 30-40% of the trash being non recyclable. Trash left lying around is dangerous for the animals of the areas as they will consume it and die. Recent studies of cow deaths in the areas have shown trash in their stomach which caused poisoning. To counteract these issues, Green Worms has started working with brands to use recyclable materials and to educate people on reducing their waste.

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Another issue of trash left lying around is that they clog the drain. When monsoons hit India, which is quite common, the trash blocked the drains, causing the neighborhoods to flood. 

To make more of a difference in the environment, Green Worms have started to use the non recyclable trash to burn for energy. This is eliminating the use of coal energy in the villages. While this method of gathering energy is not fully environmentally sustainable it is better than coal burning. 

Now that Green Worms has a model that works and is scalable, they will be spreading across India and tackling more and more issues.

To support them visit https://greenworms.org/our-story/To learn more about other partners focused on reducing plastic, read about Seven Clean Seas and Sungai Watch