Vikash Das,founder, Vat Vrikshya
In 2014, Das left his high-profile job at IBM to work full-time in the social sector. He started Vat Vrikshya, which means banyan tree, to provide tribal women with a platform to sell handicrafts and eliminate middlemen. Eschewing the charity approach, he aimed to create a social enterprise that would generate profit, sustain itself, and create a social impact. Vat Vrikshya has imparted vocational training and education to 33,000 women across states like Odisha and Jharkhand, helping them start their own small enterprises for a sustainable livelihood and to employ others from their community. The pandemic was a game changer for Das and his 76-member team. Once heavily reliant on fairs organised by state and central governments for sales, Vat Vrikshya scaled up its online presence in 2020 through collaborations with Amazon and Flipkart. It started a line of masks made from recycled materials and partnered with waste management startup WeConvert to recycle 63 tonnes of waste to create bio-fibres for making clothes and accessories. Such efforts saw its customer base grow tenfold, to 1.2 million. Vat Vrikshya’s next ventures are marketing organic products in ASEAN countries and scaling up its recycling business.