Divya Hegde: From waste to waves of change
My name is Divya Hegde, I am a social entrepreneur with a focus on climate action, gender equality and health tech. My climate action NGO TIP Sessions x Baeru aims to address women empowerment through waste management livelihoods & climate justice (www.tipsessions.org). This initiative has been recognised by UN Women with a leadership award as well as UNESCO as one of top 100 UNESCO green citizen’s projects for 2022. I am also a partner at a health tech initiative: Oqupi Health Tech (www.Oqupi.io) which makes rehabilitation convenient, measurable and engaging.
My journey from Adwords at Google to Garbage management at TIP Sessions has been intriguing to say the least! It has enabled me to recognize that I have a deep need to engage with social issues. My hometown is flanked by the coast on one side and the Western Ghats on the other and I want to be able to help these communities renew their appreciation for their surroundings. The goal is to leverage design, tech, lingual and regional context to achieve climate and gender justice! I believe they are interrelated. It is time to stop distancing ourselves from climate action, and it is also time to stop expecting local communities in developing countries to understand the western concept of climate crisis. Climate change impact is local and so the solution needs to be local & relatable. Not unrelatable & alienating!
The way society treats waste workers is shameful, and this is something I struggle to wrap my head around. This is also something we still struggle with, working on behavioral changes of the locals towards waste workers. People run to the opposite side of the road, so they don’t have to pass by a waste worker, making them wait when they come for door to door pick up of waste or fee collection, treating them as “lesser”. It’s getting better slowly, but too slowly. We conduct a lot of sensitization programs in this regard.
In coastal Karnataka, gender roles are deeply ingrained in society. While there is some female representation in local governance, those positions are also perceived to be beyond reach. As a woman working towards social impact, I want to offer the women of the community a way to empower themselves and learn that regular individuals also have the agency to effect change. Existing belief systems become the biggest challenge in this regard.
The negative perception of waste and the people who work in it comes as no surprise. A woman who’s moved back from Chicago, wanting to do waste management, simply didn't add up. "Why would someone with a Master’s degree come back to rural India and work with garbage?" was the constant question!
When you see a team member happy that she finally bought her first mattress, or a young girl who is so delighted that she’s now part of a team that is visiting Bangalore for training, when earlier she wasn’t allowed to complete school or even allowed to travel outside her village. These are things that strengthened my resolve, making a difference in people’s lives. And of course, my parents, they are my eternal source of strength.
There are a few things I have learned over the years being an entrepreneur. When it comes to waste management, choose persistence over militant idealism. You want to change behavior, not scare people into tokenism. Not everyone will like you, be okay with it. Get used to being labeled “difficult”, that is code for a woman who doesn’t compromise on her goals.