“Think like a king, work like a slave”: Face-to-face with Fahim Uddin Shuvo

Inspired from the Japanese proverb, Fahim Uddin Shuvo sets out to start GarbageMan, a startup using kitchen wastes to create organic fertilizers. In an intensive conversation, he shares with YY Goshti about his experience towards this self-initiated journey and the challenges he met.

YY: What inspired you to start GarbageMan?

Fahim Uddin Shuvo (FU): My academic background is in architecture. So by profession, I am an architect. But now I am trying to be an entrepreneur by integrating my academic knowledge.

When I observed my surroundings, I have experienced a lot of things. Much progress has been made in terms of development, but we don’t see much of an acknowledgement of waste management in the city. So I started digging out. I found out that it’s not about the single households, it’s the problem of the whole city.

To solve the problem, I started attending sessions on social businesses. That’s when I thought if I can turn waste management into a monetary exchange business, it might be a good thing. That’s how GarbageMan started.

YY: How was the early days of Garbage Man ?

FU: I have been inspired by a Japanese proverb, “Think like a king but work like a slave.” So, I started out small. I started the endeavor on my house’s rooftop. Total twelve families live in the whole household. I gave each family two bins for six months. From there, I got a minimum viable product and had a proof of concept to take off my plan in the marketplace. So, I started pitching about my product.

After few days, I got acknowledgement  from 2-3 places like YY Goshti and GP Accelerator. Then I also got funds from the ICT division.

In the early days, I also started to realize that it was not possible to work with households. Households don’t segregate their wastes (which I need for my product). So I shifted my focus to commercial entities like tea-stalls, wholesale markets etc. because they produced wastes in bulk amounts and had the product I need.

To solve the problem, I started attending sessions on social businesses. That’s when I thought if I can turn waste management into a monetary exchange business, it might be a good thing. That’s how GarbageMan started.

YY: Apart from the challenge of convincing households to segregate wastes, what other challenges did you face early on or are currently facing?

FU: Scarcity of land was a challenge for us. There are dumping grounds. But if you look at decentralized waste recovery or recycling centres, there is no space for that. We needed to have that, while we were growing and providing our services.

Adding to the scarcity of land, there was the smell of the fertilizer out of food waste when fermenting. If you go to a village and stand near a cattle house with 4-5 cows in it, you get a smell of earth. That’s the smell that fermenting process gives. People don’t like that.

To solve this challenge, we are looking for land. We are looking for cooperation with the government. Hopefully, we will get a land soon. That’s the first challenge that we are facing.

And the challenge we faced early on and still facing is the mindset of people. We want to induce people as well. But it’s a matter of mindset. People don’t know why to be involved with this, what benefits to get, why they should decide to do this.It’s a challenge to deal with the mindset of the people.

 

YY: Are you satisfied with what you have achieved?
FU: No, I am still not satisfied.Because we are just growing. As I said before, there are 20-30 commercial entities that are engaged with us. Through them, we are producing just 1200 kilograms of fertilizers per month.

This figure is insignificant as Dhaka produces 6000 tons of garbage everyday. So we are probably just dealing with 0.02 percent of the total waste of Dhaka city. So I am not satisfied at all. We still have not reached the target.

YY: What are the new initiatives you have taken?
FU: We are going to expand to plastic recycling. We are in conversation with Precious Plastic and TU Delft (Delft University of Technology, Netherlands) to send us plastic recycling machine. They are planning to send us DIY plastic recycling machines.

YY: What do you value the most?

FU: I want to tell a story honestly. I don’t know whether you will be happy or sad about it. I had a manager during the first days at GarbageMan. He was a diploma architect and I treated him like my brother. He now has a fertilizer making facility of his own.

It makes me happy to see that someone has been groomed at GarbageMan and started something of his own. I have empowered someone and that makes me happy.

YY: Tell us about your journey with YY Goshti?

FU: One of the first seminars I went to was held in Dhaka University. There were very few speakers I wanted to listen and Shazeeb M Khairul (SMK) Bhaiya was one of them. The seminar was about social business and how it works. I got to know YY Goshti website from him.

I checked the website and decided to apply for their cohort in Khulna. Then GarbageMan was set to formalize and being structured. I had the experience but I knew nothing about pitching and business proposals. That’s how everything took shape.

I learnt a lot from the process. I met a lot of people.It feels good to be connected with YY Goshti in terms of skills.