Wonders from Waste: Akash's Journey to Changemaking
Growing up, Akash Singh lived a humble life in Utter Pradesh, India. His father was a farmer and his mother a homemaker. Akash was never that interested in his studies, and it wasn’t until a 9th grade science project where he fully realized the power of his innovations and the extent of his creative young mind. His project was selected into a national science exhibition and received prizes while gaining acknowledgements and recognition for his work.
From that point forward, Akash was inspired to innovate, organizing science fests in his village and tinkering with new inventions. After finishing 10th grade, he enrolled in a 3-year diploma in Civil Engineering at Manesar Gurgaon, a prestigious government polytechnic education society, to advance his technical knowledge.
Along with creating self-irrigation sprinklers, self-power generating walking sticks, and much more, Akash’s favorite pastime has always been admiring nature. His love for the outdoors attracted him to a newly formed lake around the Shani temple he used to visit with his friends. He noticed that with each visit, the health of the lake was deteriorating; the water was being polluted as a result of the disposal of waste material from the temples.
Akash immediately had an idea. He wanted to repurpose the waste materials into items of value. He soon launched his social venture, called Energinee Innovations. Initially, all he knew was that through Energinee Innovations, he wanted to recycle the temple wastes so that water pollution gets reduced—but after researching, he discovered that a combination of coconut husk and ash forced a strong binder which could be molded and cast into figurines. The waste could be transformed into art! Akash came up with the idea to recreate idols and miniature statues from the combination, his main goal being creating a better world.
Now all he needed was a team. He was guided to work with incarcerated persons at the Gautam Budh Nagar Jail near is hometown. By providing economic opportunities to those in jail, not only would Akash’s idea protect lakes near the temples to flourish, but would also provide prisoners with a better future after they received bail.
After spending time with the incarcerated persons, Akash realized that the majority of them were imprisoned without any investigation and forced to serve long sentences. In India, Akash learned that nearly 69% of the inmates are innocent as they are undergoing trial, not yet convicted of a crime. Astonished by the lack of justice, Akash launched a startup to offer incarcerated persons a creative outlet and a way to make a living.
Alongside the team he was forming at the local jail, Akash identified other young changemakers to amplify his vision. He recruited peers like Azam, Lakshya, and man, who all bring in their own academic expertise in research, design, and engineering, followed by an eagerness and commitment to social change. In an interview with Interview Portal (read more here), Akash shares that “earlier the team struggled with fear, uncertainty and doubts when we first explored the idea of up-skilling the prisoners to create the handicrafts but today we have overcome our hurdles and are working for a better tomorrow.”
Now, rather than searching for allies, eager students and volunteers are finding their way to Energinee Innovations because of their confidence and promise of the team behind the idea. In recent months, Akash’s social venture has had to pivot as inflow of temple waste reduced due to closure of religious places in India as a result of COVID-19. Brilliantly, Akash introduced mask-making in 64 of the jails across Uttar Pradesh. Every day, around 2,000 masks are produced, collected and distributed by the government and NGOs.
In the future, Akash plans to extend his facilities and train women who are incarcerated. He also aims to cover more than 500 temples under his initiatives and free surrounding lakes, trees and greenery of pollution. Akash says that “driven by empathy and social Impact, my aim is to bring positive change in the lives of billions of people.”
This story was written by Asia Rinehart, LeadYoung Intern.