“An entrepreneur is a person who perhaps decided to take more control of their 9 to 5, or to create more flexibility in their schedule, or to accumulate a lot of money or to create direct impact through their work… or all of those, or none of those,” says Sajal Pradhan, co-founder of Best Paani, a water management company that installs rainwater harvesting and water purification systems.
Although there is a widespread notion that one has to be a visionary, disciplined, confident, passionate and a world-changing personality, Sajal believes that there really isn’t a set of personality traits aspiring entrepreneurs need to follow or promise to be. She says that the qualities a person has outright are sufficient. Stating that entrepreneurship is subjective to each individual, she says, “A guy selling fruits on their bicycle shop is an entrepreneur and so is the transwoman selling merchandise on their body-positive Instagram."
Prior to starting Best Paani, she was managing a geospatial data mapping project of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in collaboration with USAID and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the US space agency. She had also worked with different national and international organisations. Once, Sajal had also thought of starting a clothing store at Kumaripati, Lalitpur due to the high-profit margin in the business. “However, I had to drop the plan because I did not have sufficient capital to start it,” she recalls.
The idea of starting Smart Paani came after she met Gokul Dangal who had been working on developing sustainable water systems for over 15 years. During the second semester of her Masters in Sustainable Development at Kathmandu University, Gokul asked if she wanted to work together and establish a company. As she had worked as a volunteer in a project Rotary Club in constructing wells after her SLC examinations, Sajal says that she was familiar with his work. Also, as a student of Sustainable Development studies, environmental benefits have always remained the primary motivation for most of her projects. For all these reasons, she agreed to start a business venture with Gokul and in 2014, Best Paani was established.
Best Paani is a water management company that has been providing services such as rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge and water purification through organic filtration systems. The company aims to address the water crisis in the urban areas and apply proper water management techniques in remote areas through sustainable methods. To date, the company has created access to safe water for 300,000 people across 20 districts and recharged more than 10 million litres of rainwater.
“Entrepreneurship has helped me combine my passion for the environment and my love of creating systems that engineer human well-being and equity,” says Sajal. Furthermore, she ascertains that she will always relate herself to the environment and human well-being, regardless of where she works, be it in the private, academic, social or public sector.
Apart from the company, she is also a co-founder of SOWA Healthcare Clinic along with Debate Network Nepal, an organisation that works towards intellectually empowering citizens to strengthen democratic values. She is also a board member at Safetyknot, an organisation that works in the area of safety and preventable injuries. Along with this, she leads the Water and Sustainability section at the Vishal Group Foundation. Besides, she is also involved in the People’s Alliance for Nature Nepal through which she has been working for environment and biodiversity conservation.
Similarly, she has been speaking and working for sustainable development through platforms like the US-Nepal Partnership Symposium, Global Entrepreneurship Summit, Yunus Center, World Innovation Forum, Center for Research for Environment, Energy and Water, the Budapest Water Summit, Kathmandu Climate Talk, Hult Prize and TEDx.
Sajal's dedication towards sustainable development led her to receive the Global 50 Most Impactful Leaders in Water and Water Management Award in 2018. An environment entrepreneur and sustainability professional, she is also a recipient of the 2017 Nepal’s Women’s Leaders Award and the 2019 Hyatt WOW Women Achievers Award in Entrepreneurship .
According to Sajal, inequality has been the major challenge that women have to face. “Women are often asked how they overcame inequality. However, there is no overcoming inequality. There is only coping with it. The only thing that I see that overcomes inequality is equality. And that’s a systemic change, not an internal coping mechanism,” she says.
Nevertheless, she avoids being overly conscious of such gendered nuances in a professional atmosphere. “I think it is important to put aside gender, age and society in order to maximise productivity,” she opines. Further, she also believes that if the government removes systemic barriers of entry and administration for business such as lack of digital access and gendered inequalities in various processes, women and people of other genders would likely have an easier experience in doing business in Nepal.
"Growing up in a collectivistic society such as ours, certain family boundaries are always there. But I have discussed with my closest friends and family members and reminded them that we do not have the right to control each other’s time which has made it a lot easier to maintain a work-life balance," mentions Sajal.
Among a lot of inspiring people that she meets daily, she considers Ashutosh Tiwari as an ideal person that she looks up to. “As a person, I have yet to experience a wiser combination of rationale, integrity and articulation,” she says.
With the pressures of modern life, there are times when a person feels low and we tend to deal with such situations in a variety of ways. Whenever Sajal feels low, she says that she tries different coping mechanisms such as talking to friends or a therapist, escaping the city to go camping or meditating. An avid cyclist, she is also the first Nepali woman to bike the Annapurna Circuit. She has organised various cycling events and is a coordinator of the World Bicycle Forum.
During her free time, she likes to meditate, read journals and spend time in nature by usually camping. “I used to bicycle more, but I’ve switched my primary sport to yoga during the pandemic,” she adds.
Five years down the line, she hopes that her work will create a more positive environmental impact. “Living a life more aligned with my values, I hope to drastically reduce my consumption of petroleum, sugar and meat,” she says.