Social Good Startup: Em{Power} Energy Group

Second in the series of Startups for Good Challenge

Em{Power} Energy Group, was one of the eight finalists to Startups for Good Challenge, hosted by the good guys of Mashable, 92Y and UN Foundation.

In this interview I talked with Ryan Integlia and Nasir Uddin, who are Executive Director and Vice President of the organization, respectively. We talked about the business they are in and challenges facing such organization.

Em[Power] Energy is in the business of helping landfill communities, people who are living close or near landfills – around the world.

Their mission is to “revitalize waste scavenging communities throughout the world using a modular and scalable cooperative development based on renewable resources.” In layman’s term, they will help these communities to improve their living conditions by converting organic waste and waste water into electricity, compost and have them take charge of the business – once all said and done.

Unless you come from developing world, you probably not accustomed to see people living near, at or very close to the big dumpster. We don’t see them around here anymore. But, in countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Mexico, Indonesia, India – they are coexist – with today’s modern world.

Em[Power] Energy currently work on two projects in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Since I use Flip Cam to record the conversation, the background sound was so loud that you could hardly hear what they say. So to solve that, I split it into two – 1) via transcript and 2) on video (this part you can hear the conversation).

Among some of the things that we talk about:

  • What got them started with this venture
  • Some of the challenges they faced as a non-profit organization
  • How forming a good and supportive team can help to overcome insurmountable challenges

So here you go – transcript of our interview. You can catch the rest of the conversation at the end of this article.

DS: Tell us about your business..

RI: Our business is about helping kids and communities living in garbage dumps using sustainable model. We merge renewable resource processing with community infrastructure and schools.

NU: We’re a non-profit 501c(3) organization. We became non-profit in 2009. One of our projects is in Bangladesh. We’re now at phase 2 of this. We’re working with the community developing waste management at household level, sorting facility, composting location education before we get to the phase 3 we’re looking at electrication before another aspects of technology of other renewable resource-oriented development. We’re also in Pakistan, where we recently implemented 2 biodigesters to involve the electrication of the clinic and the school, which is in dire need of as part of our phase 2 initiative.

DS: What inspired you?

RI: To me, when I was a kid my grandmother took me to one of these locations in Juarez, Mexico and carry that with me as I grow.

NU: Personally I’ve always been doing services or another thing and developing some non-profit in my high school as well. But this was dear to my heart in the fact that I was born and raised in the village of Bangladesh. It makes it easier but at the same time at this stage I was given a lot more opportunities than they have and I’m just giving back the way it should be. To me sustainability is the next best thing. We’re not an organization, we’re not a charity organization that giving out money one day and the next day they’re hungry again. It’s a sustainable solution where they’re helping themselves and we become jobless in each of those communities.

RI: We try to transfer the ownership of the facilities that we develop there to the community to the school, the best way they have a vested interest for the long-term. We’re going to make sure that they have a vested interest.

DS: Are you selling the (renewable) energy? Tell us more about how you help each community.

RI: We help them. They already have a middlemen. We don’t want to disrupt that process so the only thing that’s going to be new is the salvage of the organic material which has no middlemen. been around. And nobody wants. So we use that to create a new revenue stream. First the compost and eventually with gas capture and electrification.

NU: We’re working to develop partnering. I believe UN has a protocol of greenhouse gas and carbon credit. So it’s a carbon credit. Non-profit in domestically but it’s for profit in those countries. So those for profit the money goes back into to the community development, community infrastructure because that’s what make it a sustainable solution. Yes, those renewable energy related project whatever we created goes toward the community themselves.

RI: An important part is that we co-op the development. These people are already entrepreneurs on their own. They’re scavenging the garbage dumps trying to survive. So we’re just trying to interest them. Provide them with skill sets and use to grow their entrepreneurial dimension of their life. So this way they can make a move away from the environment. So that co-op business model is crucial making sure that they eventually leave.

There’s more to it below..

Check out also their pitch at the Social Good Summit.  You can follow them on Twitter @empowertomorrow and on Facebook.

IMAGE: Landfill by Mackenzie Nicole – Flickr.

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Author: Dewita

Co-founder Ecotwist Labs.

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