Introducing new technology and changing age-old habits is always going to be difficult. Despite that, Mr. Bhupendra Raj has not stopped trying. Fuel-efficient and environment-friendly stoves are his tools to try and bring such changes. “Inculcating change is not easy, but I will not give up” voices Mr Raj with utter passion. Let us see what he has to say about NEEDS (Nepal Energy and Environment Development Services).
1. Can you share with us your venture with NEEDS?
I was always interested in business and dreamt of having one that benefited the society in some way. I have friends running their businesses in the UK, which served as one of the initial motivators.
Going to the UK after my graduation, I saw them doing great things in a foreign land which helped me form my mind to start my business, in Nepal. Immediately after returning, I started working on the plan and started to network with people in the sector. Being environment-friendly is what I decided upon as my main objective. That is how and why NEEDS was established.
2. When was NEEDS established? How did you raise your initial funds?
It was legally registered in 2069 B.S. Initially, I invested personal funds into this business and as time passed, the company started making a profit. Since then, the money earned is circulated back into the business and that is what helps it run now.
3. When you first started, how many employees did you start with and what is your employee strength now?
It was just me when NEEDS started out. Later, as we sent proposals, people came to know more about NEEDS and companies started accepting our proposals. That was when we started our recruiting process. We recruit employees depending on the needs of each project. Hence, our staff strength is generally based on a project’s type and needs.
4. What stage do you think the company is in right now?
It has not been long since we started NEEDS. Looking at it now, I must say it is in the growth stage. Many projects and researches are being conducted for Research and Development, which I believe is a continuous process. We are trying to give our best even at the worst of times such as when we distributed stoves in many areas during the earthquake and Indian strikes.
5. Were there any challenges that you faced while starting the business?
Yes, it was difficult to change the mindset, especially of people from rural areas. People are not willing to change their lifestyle and are often skeptical about modern equipment. This was one of our biggest challenges and the trend is still visible.
Apart from that, these stoves are a little expensive and people prefer buying and using cheaper alternatives.
6. How did you overcome those challenges?
The major challenge was to introduce the stoves. However, once people were clear about how the stoves work, we received a positive response. Though many challenges remain, all we can do now is proceed and work for the best.
7. Are there any challenges that you are facing currently?
The challenges are mostly the same. These days, LPG is replacing the traditional stoves in the village areas. It is serving them better than firewood and kerosene. Hence, the villagers do not want to replace them with modern stoves. These use smart technology which is environmentally friendly but are slightly expensive compared to the LPG stoves.
8. Have you seen any changes in society after operating your business? Yes, recently we introduced electrical induction stoves to about 100 households in Saptari district, where previously people made use of traditional stoves that emitted immense toxic gases. People are suffering from various problems such as coughing, asthma and many more due to it.
Now, with the electric induction stoves, people need not worry about the negative effects caused by traditional stoves. This has reduced the amount of nasal problems in certain areas, as per findings.
Moreover, people’s time is being saved, previously occupied by the collection of firewood to light the fire.
9. What are the key needs of your company at present?
We are facing the problem of awareness as changing the age-old practices in village areas is still the most challenging part. LPG is taking over the market but that too is not a solution. LPG supply is mostly fluctuating, resulting in increased prices.
Moreover, the gas is all imported resulting in a greater unfavorable balance of payment. Marketing and promotion is another key need as we could not invest much in this area. So, it all boils down to funds.
Apart from that, technology suppliers do not support us at the organizational level.
Therefore, I think the support from these companies as well as the government to promote and prioritize environment-friendly technologies is much-needed.
10. Can you give us an estimate of your investment until the date? Who are your target customers?
Well, we are not that big of a company. The total turnover is of 25 lakhs until the date. We have no specific group as our target customers. We aim to serve everyone who reaches out to NEEDS.
11. How many customers do you have every month?
Depending on the demand it generally ranges from 200-500. There are times when we get no customers for a while. We do not engage in the retail model; it is more of a volume-based project.
12. What do you think is the market potential for your business? Is the business profitable?
Compared to the past, the demand is growing but is not that high yet. People are becoming aware of the environment and perhaps, the demand will go higher.
Yes, we do benefit and I think profitability is necessary for the survival of a business.
13. Have you been measuring the impact of your business on your society?
Yes, we do. It is necessary for the company’s growth and development, and I believe it to be a continuous process.
14. Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur?
Of course, that is why I am here. We need to benefit our survival but the priority is to give more to society. NEEDS thrives on society.
15. Do you have any plans with NEEDS?
Yes, we have plans. Right now, we are trying to explore new technologies that benefit the people socially.
16. Is there any other information you would like to share with people?
Attitude and behavior are crucial and change should be given a chance because who knows, it might just be the best option.
For more information about NEEDS, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with them on Facebook here.
Interviewed and article by Ashmita Rai