A Positive Tide in Kathmandu’s Water Supply Industry
“The workshop made tears come in my eyes, it had validated all my hard work and revived my sense of purpose” recalled Ujjwal Shakya the Founder of Suddha Muhanko Khanepani Sewa, and Rockstart Impact alumnus from its first batch. Nepal is considered one of the richest country terms of water resource availability. However, there are many places in Nepal and in Kathmandu itself, where though the houses are connected to the main water line, there is no water in the tap. This water situation, has resulted in a lucrative water supply industry. Ujjwal’s company, Suddha Muhanko Khanepani Sewa, he maintains, “does not sell water, rather it provides a service. We take a natural resource- water, purify it and try and solve the water problem in Kathmandu.”
Ujjwal Shakya was involved with the water supply company founded by his father, since he was in the eleventh grade. Twenty years in this business had given him knowledge not only about the water supply chain in Kathmandu valley, but also the problems lurking in this industry. For him there was two main problems- the quality of the service and the water they were providing. “There were 700 tankers in the valley, yet there were still problems trying to meet the demand for water. Furthermore, the quality of water had degraded since my father’s time. We had to further purify whatever water we had.” It was when he was pondering about theses problem, a friend told him about the program. “He was always involved in start-up and acceleration, he told me about the Rockstart Impact acceleration program and suggested I should apply.” When he looks back to the 100 days he spent in the program, he does so with fond memories,- “I had spent twenty years in this industry, but when I joined this program it completely changed how I view business, and what I was doing,” he explained.
“The program not only showed me the changes I could make in my business but also validated a lot of things that I was doing. It helping me re-establish my passion for this business!” It was one of the workshops given by Rockstart Impact mentor Edmond Hilhorst, called ‘Why’ that created such an impact on him. “This workshop made me realise that the reason why I did not mind a 12 to 14 hour work day was because I was passionate about what I do. I sincerely wanted to solve the water problems that people would call me with. For me this business was not just about making money.”
The program’s influence can be clearly seen in Ujjwal’s business practices. He credits Rockstart Impact for making him realize that expansion, in this industry, is also a possibility. Now instead of being limited in supplying water to one location and from one source of water he has expanded his customer base and increased his water source. The program, he mentioned, helped teach him to delegate more and “free some time to explore the market.” Ujjwal readily admits that, as someone with a science degree, he had no idea if what he was doing made good business sense. However, another workshop made him realize that his practice of treating his employee as a valued team member, rather than creating a divide between him and the employees (as his father had dome) was something that should be continued. Encouraged by the program he often asked his employees what a possible solution to certain problems could be. “I found out that asking them for possible solution could easily help me find the solution, and furthermore, because they felt valued, money no longer became their first priority.”
Ujjwal not only applied what he learnt from the program to create a change in his business, but also in the water supply industry. “Partnerships will not work in Nepal” Ujjwal recollects his father telling him. But, the Rockstart Impact program made him realise that if “companies can be successfully run with foreign investors, it could also be successfully run with Nepali investors.” It was this though that lead him to establish two water supply companies with different investors. One of the company –Chakaratirtha Multipurpose has 120 investors and the other Surya Vinayak Water Supply, six investors. Apart from this he has also applied what he has learnt about positive and healthy rivalries to bring about a positive change in Kathmandu’s water supply sector. Under his leadership, companies are not trying to undercut each other, but rather they now have scheduled meetings and have agreement on prices; creating a camaraderie in this industry that was otherwise lacking. In fact, he added, companies will now refer each other to customers if they cannot fulfil the customer’s demand.
It has been three years since Ujjwal participated in the Rockstart Impact Program, and in these three years he has used many of the lessons that he learnt in the program to create a positive impact in not only his business but also the water supply industry.
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