Hoping for Light at The End of The Tunnel: Aruna and Muna’s Jamarko

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Two sisters, one goal – environment conservation . Started in 2001 by two sisters Aruna Lacoul and Muna Shrestha, Jamarko, meaning “effort” in Nepali,  is their effort to spread awareness and conserve the environment by recycling paper. 

Let us see what the younger of the two, Muna Shrestha has to say about Jamarko.

1. What is the social problem you are trying to solve?
Jamarko is an initiative towards waste management and environmental conservation.  Having once seen a clean and green Kathmandu, and then having to witness all the unmanaged waste and littering concerned us a lot. Therefore, we decided to do something about it. .

Our short term objective is minimizing the amount of paper waste produced, by spreading awareness regarding our depleting resources. While promoting the importance of using recycled paper products, our long-term goal is to help conserve natural resources and habitats.

2. When was Jamarko established? Can you share with us your venture with Jamarko?
Jamarko was established in 2001 as a small cottage industry. Our view was contributing to environmental conservation as well as providing employment to the underprivileged, especially women.
My sister used to run a small-scale adhesive manufacturing company while I was involved with volunteering, working in many NGOs and INGOs. As I was involved in numerous talk shows and volunteering programs, I realized the significance of environmental issues as social welfare organizations had them on their priority lists.

My sister had to close down the business and I wanted to do something on my own too.   We both felt like it was the perfect time to do something we both wanted and that was the start of Jamarko.

3. Can you give us an idea or concept of Jamarko?
Kathmandu was littered all over with plastics, polythene bags, and paper, which was an issue. We noticed that paper constitutes a large part of our waste, and realized the prospect of reusing and recycling that part of the waste.
The two of us then geared up for the smallest change we could make through paper recycling. We took various training on recycling paper and paper and product making. As we realized that it would be difficult to sustain the business just with recycled paper products, we decided to make products from Lokta paper as well. Lokta is a sustainable and renewable source for papermaking as from trees are cut down for manufacturing this paper and the fauna continues to flourish.

4. How did you raise funds to start your business? Can you give us an estimate of your investment until the date?
We invested our own money of approximately four lakhs to start this venture. Right now, the investment amounts to 20 lakhs.

5. When you first started, how many employees did you start with and what is your employee strength now? Also, what stage do you think the company is at right now?
Including my sister and I, we started with twelve employees. but we are only eight at the moment. We would love to train and employ as many people as we can, but it is difficult for us as there is a lot of fluctuation in the demand for our products. However, we have a network of people that we employ outside our organization when there is a need.   While we would love to export more, currently our local market is bigger than our export market.i

6. Were there any challenges that you faced while starting the business?
We experienced many challenges when we started Jamarko since 2000 A.D. We started the business from scratch, so it took a lot of our time and effort to learn about recycling paper to training staff and marketing our products. .Our products are 100% handmade and the cost of production is higher than machine-made products. We face big competition from Chinese goods that are available in the market for a much cheaper price. Moreover, there is not much support from the government, NGOs and INGOs in terms of promoting and using sustainable environment-friendly products.s

7. Who are your target customers? How many customers do you have monthly?
locals are our biggest target customers as we want to promote the importance of recycling and environmental conservation to them. We do export outside Nepal as well. 
We do not have an exact number since the number of customers differs every month. Also, it varies because the number of people that come to our store in Jhamsikhel is different every month. 

 8. How is the company doing at present?
To be honest, the business is not doing as good as we would have wanted, but we are still hopeful.  The business suffered more after the earthquake in 2015, but it is slowly coming back. One of our daughters – Kritica Lacoul joined the company too, and she’s been a great addition to our company, taking over a lot of responsibilities. We are also trying our best to maintain our presence on social media and it has been a really exciting journey for us.  

9. What do you think is the market potential for your business? Do you see any changes in society after the commencement of your business?
We see a big potential for our business and business like ours especially since the young generation is becoming more and more aware of their natural environment and the importance of conserving resources. However, there is a lot that still needs to be done. 

Over the years, people have appreciated our efforts, and our business, so we believe that we have definitely made a certain level of impact in society.                                                                                                                              

10. What are the key needs of your company at present? Do you have any plans with Jamarko?
We need our customers to understand the level of work that we put into making each and every product. We need people to support our business, whether by referring us to their network or by making a decision to adopt and use recycled paper in their daily lives. We are also open to new ideas in terms of collaborating and creating products with other local businesses.   

11. Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur?
We started Jamarko with an objective to bring a social change by addressing a social problem, so we believe that we can call ourselves social entrepreneurs.  

12. Is there any other information you would like to share with people?
Supporting local businesses that are trying to create a change is one of the ways you can be a changemaker!

For more information, check out their website Jamarko or connect with them on Facebook here.

Interviewed and article by Ashmita Rai.