Ravi Agarwal

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1998


This profile was prepared when Ravi Agarwal was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Ravi Agarwal is dealing with urban waste in a comprehensive process that is suited to Indian conditions. He sees two key aspects to the challenge. "The first is to make the waste management system more responsive and involve communities in it, without sacrificing the very efficient and employment generating informal sector; and the second is to initiate measures which tackle the creation of waste at the source itself."
To meet the first challenge he has introduced rag pickers' collectives in six communities in Delhi. The rag pickers are employed by the communities to collect, segregate, compost, and recycle waste at the site. Ravi explains why it works: "It has to be a win win situation for all. The rag pickers need formal employment, recognition, and better conditions to work in, and those who live in colonies [residential areas] need more cleanliness." Recognition of the success of these projects will also define community waste managers, especially rag pickers, as a formal workforce. "Our initiative marks the beginning of a new waste policy," Ravi explains. "The policy will reverse official apathy for the unorganized sector of rag pickers and turn a dynamic, informal human chain into a formal workforce with fiscal and other incentives."
The waste policy that Ravi envisions also extends to the problem of waste creation at the other end of the waste stream. To address this second challenge, he is building a market for more responsible industry that internalizes the true cost of a product, ensures a safe and proper path for it after it has been used, and shifts away from the use of hazardous and untreatable materials. Ravi and the organization that provides his institutional base have been decisive voices in India's public appraisals of waste management, which included a ban in 1996 on the incineration of polyvinyl chloride, the first of its kind in the world.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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