Lessons from Working in a Social Start-Up

28th February 2019


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My first day of work, I got in a Tuc Tuc / Auto-rickshaw, arrived in my office and waited for Kaylea, my mentor, in the social start-up, Pure Paani, a business whose mission is to assist those living in the most resource-challenged communities by providing access to affordable water filtration and treatment solutions. When Kaylea arrived, she was very friendly (as I now know, she always is) and showed me my working table, the microbiological lab and introduced me to people there. Twenty minutes later, I was riding pillion on her scooter, heading to a meeting with Swiss Re, a global insurance company. Being on a bike in India’s crazy traffic at that point was the last thing I wanted to do, but there I was, facing my fears.

We arrived at the Swiss Re office to join a meeting that is part of the Shine program and supports social enterprises with developing scalable business models. The Swiss Re office was, without doubt, one of the fancier offices I’d seen in a while. They had relaxation rooms, a modern refectory as big as a mall’s food court, a gymnasium and many more things that I can go on about – but to put it simply, I was overwhelmed by the place!

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We proceeded to our meeting. I stayed quiet because I was still trying to understand what we were doing there, and my newness in India had me bewildered trying to decipher and understand the Indian accent. After our meeting ended, we went to the eating place and they had 3 different options of delicious and spicy meals. We ate and head back to our office. For the remainder of the day, Kaylea gave me some readings and spent time explaining more about Pure Paani to me. I left around 5 pm, back to the hometel I was staying at with 11 other amazing people from all over the world.

It’s been almost two months now since that happened, but that still remains a great starting example of what was coming. Every day at Pure Paani has been different. In the office now, the Pure Paani full-time team is basically just Kaylea and myself. Being in a (very) small team makes me feel like I own a bit of Pure Paani too.

I don’t have a fixed role at Pure Paani (even though my business card says I’m the Manager). I’m always doing whatever is necessary, what has to be done. Some days, I’m working at Pure Paani collecting data, other days I’m going on a community visit to collect water samples. Some days I’ll have meetings, workshops, or pitch meetings with big companies like IKEA and Swiss Re; and on some other days I’m just looking at what is happening around the world when it comes to water. Measuring the filter flows, working on impact assessment, applying for start-up competitions… I’m doing a bit of everything, and I’m becoming a multidisciplinary and multitasking worker.

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In a start-up, there is no model, no exact answers and no route to follow. When you are starting out, everyone has a lot of suggestions for you. A reality I am now familiar with almost everyday, is having someone coming up to us and telling us something we should improve or change. Finding a balance between not being discouraged about the long way ahead of you, but also being open to suggestion and change, is the key to develop your work. The main lesson I have learned from this is: Don’t wait until you’re perfect/done. Have the confidence and trust to test your unfinished work, and be open to the path life will bring when guided by sincerity and hard work.

We are, together, creating this path. Kaylea is encouraging me to find things out by myself regarding what we need, and today, I am slowly also making decisions in the name of Pure Paani. I am constantly learning not only from my mentor but from my own experiences. In such a short time, these intense two months has made me feel like she and I are a team, and we really want to make Pure Paani reach as many people as possible. This opportunity is priceless, and I believe that Pure Paani will improve the lives of many of those who need us.