1. Define success
For us success means financially, politically and socially sustainable waste management systems and infrastructure in every country. We focus on low and middle income countries where such systems and infrastructure are lacking. We focus on waste generated today and in the next 10 years. Hence our work is complementary to circular economy efforts aimed at building a waste-free future.
For us success means holistic waste management systems that ensure that all waste is collected and that materials and energy contained within waste are captured in the best possible way. We focus on:
- biowaste - due to its large impact on climate and its potential to contribute to soil health and productivity;
- plastics - because it is a relatively new type of waste and it presents unique challenges and opportunities for recycling (not because it floats in water and looks dramatic in photos);
- e-waste, textiles, vehicles, tyres, demolition and disaster waste, etc. - types of waste that are rapidly becoming more prevalent;
- batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, etc. - types of waste associated with the ongoing energy transition;
- medical waste - due to its impact on health if dumped, and on climate if openly burnt;
- CO2, methane, etc. - we are exploring whether it would be useful to think of GHG emissions as waste;
- and all other types of waste (apart from radioactive waste and space debris).
For us success means solving the problem without baking Samudra into the solution. Our goal is to facilitate a large systems change, not to create a successful organisation. Once we’ve solved the problem, Samudra will be dissolved.
For us success means systemic change; in contrast to 99% of ongoing sustainability efforts that focus on parameter changes. For us success metrics that matter are not easily quantifiable. Instead, to measure our success, we use three proxy metrics:
- the amount of GHG emissions prevented, measured in tonnes of CO2 equivalent;
- the amount of waste prevented from leaking into the environment, measured in tonnes;
- the number of people whose exposure to toxic substances associated with waste was prevented.
We acknowledge that waste reduction, fostering circular economy, raising awareness about challenges related to waste and promoting consumer behaviour changes are essential too. It is just not what we are working on.
2. Identify success-relevant stakeholders
We focus on stakeholders that are the most motivated to address waste management challenges and that are in the strongest position to facilitate a systemic change. The success-relevant stakeholders we’ve identified so far include:
- funders - IGOs, development banks, governments of high-income countries, etc.;
- problem owners - national and local governments in low and middle income countries, companies, etc.;
- methods leaders - research centres, companies that design and build infrastructure, etc.;
- capacity developers - waste management companies, local governments, startups and startup accelerators, etc.;
- new stakeholders - organisations, both new ones and existing ones with new priorities, that are joining the waste management space due to the scale of the problem and the lack of progress in the past decade.
Beyond just identifying the success-relevant stakeholders, we are working towards gaining clarity on the dynamics and patterns that govern the landscape of the waste management space. This includes mapping global, regional and national funding flows, and mapping decision making capacity within each country.
3. Work with them
We work with success-relevant stakeholders to facilitate internal changes and enable powerful coordination between them. That means working on changing system dynamics and creating new systems, processes, relationships and tools, because existing organisational and funding structures do not support powerful coordination between stakeholders. We focus on the capacities of each stakeholder (financial and human capital, expertise, decision making power, etc.) instead of focusing on consensus. We aim to prevent different efforts from cancelling each other out by developing synergies between them, making them complementary instead of contradictory, and thus enabling the stakeholders to amplify each other’s positive impact, even if they don’t agree with each other. We focus on identifying and addressing gaps, duplications and conflicts that impede systemic change on a global level.
We are also working on addressing the lack of a vision for what solving the waste management challenges might look like and the lack of on-the-ground expertise required to make better decisions. Currently the connection between the global vision and each stakeholder’s actions is inadequate.
Our goal is to facilitate the development of a global waste management strategy in full technical detail, and to enable its implementation, starting with defining roles of different stakeholders. This requires moving from silos to a shared reality, and subsequently towards understanding of shared possibilities. We aim to do this without superimposing our values and ideas on stakeholders, by instead developing a shared multi-sided value proposition that addresses each stakeholders individual motivations.
To ensure that technical conversations are on the agendas of high level meetings (that usually focus on bold commitments without an actionable plan to achieve them) and that better decisions are made, we work towards ensuring that all stakeholders have access to technical, financial and business expertise. This includes identifying organisations/individuals with relevant expertise in technologies, engineering, chemistry, policy, finance, and innovative business models and financial instruments (for example ones that blend different types of funding or leverage partnerships). We are working with them to facilitate the transfer of technical knowledge (between countries, waste streams and different types of stakeholders) through a virtual centre for technical expertise or otherwise.
All of this is a work in progress. We are trying our best to keep an open mind, to keep experimenting with innovative ideas, to keep evolving our approach as we continuously work on all three steps of this one.