Interestingly, Toastmaster Tyler McMahon had approached me to discuss his speech on rainwater harvesting in early 2011 at our home club, Everest Toastmasters Club. Then, as the President of the Club, encouraging members to discuss their speeches and booking a time slot was common. This interaction, however, went ahead for us – to be co-founders of the company SmartPaani.
Being an entrepreneur, trainer, and consultant since 1995, I had always been open to new ideas that could be partnered, incubated, and grown. Joining Toastmasters in 2004 as a charter member of Everest Toastmasters Club allowed me to network freely and share the stories of my entrepreneurial journey. Being a faculty of marketing at various business schools made me more responsible when such entrepreneurial ideas came along.
When my interaction with Tyler took place, I had just about sold my company Digitainment, a VAS company dealing in SMS, shortcodes, ringtones, and music downloads. With resources available, a house became a possibility. There was a problem that I did not want to face in the new home – shortage of water!
Kathmandu, as a metropolitan, was developing fast and hard. Obviously, the essential resources were under pressure. I was already buying two water tankers a month even to flush my toilets! Tyler said rainwater would solve my problem. The cynic in me initially knee-jerked an ‘impossible’ remark, but he was logically convincing and psychologically inspiring. I was imagining if I could live in this modern age without having a piped connection at home. The idea of living off the year with rainwater and recharged water from the shallow well was not just utopian but spiritually satisfying.
My engineer friend discarded this ‘wild’ idea that was not found in education books as another crazy notion of mine that needed to be packed and sent to Mars along with the Tesla rocket. Grudgingly, he agreed. Unwillingly, he changed the piping. Reluctantly, he integrated what became the first ‘SmartPaani’ systems in my house. Installed in Oct 2011, it still functions perfectly well, and I still live without piped water connection ‘off the grid.’ Rainwater, the gift of nature was respected, harnessed, used, recharged, and recycled.
Friends used to say that I was a ‘guinea pig’ of my design, putting the family at risk. The entrepreneur in me thought there were many friends who could benefit from such systems. Tyler was already thinking with his technician friends about actually starting a company. Space was available at my office for a startup. All came together, and SmartPaani was born on Nov 2011.
Now, SmartPaani provides sustainable water management solutions from rainwater to wastewater with its filter systems to make water usable as well as potable. We have received multiple awards including 2013 Surya Nepal Asha Social Entrepreneur Awards and 2017 Aim2Flourish Award for UN SDG #6 Clean Water and Sanitation, USA.
We continue to spread the message as to why freshwater sources are depleting; building concrete over fertile land is preventing natural recharge causing urban floods; cities are going dry with a population boom and less supply; yet, we do not respect what nature has given us in the form of rainwater. In Kathmandu, a family of four can easily meet their yearly water requirement if they have a roof size of 100 sq.m. and can harness rainwater with a shallow well as a supplement.
So far, SmartPaani has installed its systems in 31 districts of Nepal. One of the focus areas is public schools to provide basic water requirements for toilets, handwashing, and drinking. Over 100,000 students in 160 schools directly benefit every year. We want to impact at least half a million students in the long run. Through our systems in organizations, resort, hospitals, and homes, collectively we annually contribute to 50 million liters of rainwater harvesting, 145 million liters of rainwater recharge and 15,000+ liters of wastewater treated daily.
Looking back, it is deeply satisfying. That interaction with Tyler would not have happened if there were no Toastmasters Club in Nepal.
Suman Shakya, DTM,
Division A Director