An undeniable paradox of life is that more the challenges and distresses in the world, greater the chances of resourceful minds emerging to find ways out. An outright optimist, Satyam Mehta — a student of Class XII from Amity International School, Noida — is driven to solve the social problems of India and refuses to be bogged down by any obstacle. He has come up with two ventures — Junkguards and Rural Invest — and is an active member of another, called Pravahkriti.
While Junkguards collaborates with resident welfare associations to install electronic waste bins in localities, Rural Invest aims to inculcate financial literacy among people from rural areas. Pravahkriti generates mass awareness regarding menstrual hygiene.
This year, the 16-year-old social entrepreneur has received the Diana Award, which was established in memory of the former Princess of Wales, recognising the social and humanitarian contributions of young people. Excerpts from an interview with Mehta:
Why did you feel the need to start so many ventures?
Every day we discuss umpteen social issues in our daily lives, yet there continues to be other relevant concerns that are less spoken of. I feel the need to be part of something bigger than myself and seek ways to contribute to meaningful projects that give me a sense of ownership in my work and overall ecosystem.
I have started three initiatives in the last four years, addressing the lack of financial literacy, menstrual health and hygiene, and e-waste disposal. With gradual progress, I have further plans to strengthen developments in all the areas through cross collaborations, partnerships and marketing tactics.
The idea is to do significant work and impact social change with conscientious efforts.
How challenging is it to balance your studies with them?
Frankly, it’s demanding but equally exciting. I cannot compromise on my studies as I have extensive plans to pursue higher education from top global universities. But being my passion, the ventures automatically get all the attention with no struggle.
I am fortunate to have a sense of prioritisation that helps me to efficiently organise a day. In addition, I am blessed to have team members and volunteers who are equally driven towards contributing to these ventures, and we all share the work.
What, according to you, is the definition of an ideal society?
An ideal society is one where the youth aspire to trigger tangible change, which will help address many issues that a community is dealing with. I also believe in disruptive technological advancements and empowering the diverse sections of society. It takes strong initiative and dedication to make a difference.
I feel that I have just scratched the surface of global problems. My aim is to reach an extent where others can be inspired by my work and become champions of change.
How does JunkGuards work?
The focus of Junkguards is on providing a facilitative platform between various stakeholders in the entire e-waste ecosystem. The problem at hand is the disposal of e-waste, which has become a severe cause of concern for our nation. Its increasing levels, improper and unsafe treatment, and disposal through burning or in dumpsites pose significant risks to the environment and human health.
All the countries in the world combined generated a staggering 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste in 2016, which is close to 4,500 Eiffel Towers each year. The amount is expected to increase to 52.2 million metric tonnes by the end of this year.
Junkguards’ principles are in line with the vision of the Government of India and the Central Pollution Control Board. In 2016, the government laid out several norms and regulations regarding proper e-waste disposal by electronic manufacturers. It stated that each of them must give at least 30 per cent of their e-waste for proper disposal.
As companies find it challenging to achieve the quota, our platform enables them to meet their e-waste collection targets quickly and complete their extended producer responsibility quota without hassle or extra charges.
How much of a challenge is it to promote financial literacy in the remote villages of India, where many are still skeptical of the concept of bank accounts?
Even though India’s rural population is getting more digitised day-by-day in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Digital India, it is a challenge to promote such a complex concept in remote villages.
We realised that our business could reach countless people only with the help of technology. Especially, since the Covid-19 pandemic made a dent in our plans to travel to these villages and promote the idea of financial planning, we created a seamless, user-friendly app called Rural Invest, which make investing possible anytime, anywhere, and one can start with as low as Rs 500 per month.
We are very optimistic that once we have offline interactions with villagers, we will successfully garner more interest from farmers.
Do you feel more people need to leverage technology beyond just browsing social media?
Technology has the potential to empower us, and we need to leverage its ability to go beyond our comfort zones and use the current technological advancements to better our personal and professional lives.
E-commerce and the availability of daily utility apps have made life dramatically different than in earlier times. With the help of online tutorials, the Internet has opened abundant knowledge resources for people of all age groups to learn and advance their skills.
Even social media platforms are not mere chatting or connecting mediums anymore, but can be best utilised for networking, promoting, advocating, selling and marketing one’s cause, services or products. I am also impressed with the online fundraising/crowdfunding platforms and campaigns that anyone can run.
In the second wave of the pandemic, I have seen many such campaigns run by people in my network to support aggrieved women who lost the breadwinner of their families. I have run a few of them.
I genuinely believe in the power of Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things — more people must harness its use in everyday life.
What does it take to be an impactful entrepreneur?
Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s the execution that matters. Being one’s own boss, calling all the shots or hustling to hit one’s goals, entrepreneurship is the ultimate career choice for many.
But as excellent as running a business sounds, it’s also challenging. The greatest lesson I learnt was that any entrepreneur can only do so much by themselves, no matter how talented. Ultimately, it would be best to be surrounded with the people one trusts and give up some of the control to grow a business.
I’m constantly pushing myself to do more, but it can take a lot out of you, especially when still trying to figure out who you are.
What do you aim to be in future?
College is a time for exploration and discovery. Many prospective students have not yet been introduced to the fields that will define future careers. A large number of them will change majors before they graduate.
I am good at solving problems, so either I will solve them on my own or fund them by becoming a venture capitalist.