From corporate success to literally cleaning up the streets, Malini Parmar’s story is an unconventional one. This social reformer stumbled into activism, and has carved a niche for herself in the waste management space.
How does one become an accidental activist? For Malini Parmar, the co-founder of Stonesoup.in, the turning point was finding her cause and deciding to take action. A former IT sector employee, Malini had worked with some of the big names in the industry before realising she wanted to give back to her community. She decided to take a break from corporate life and do some volunteer work, and never looked back.
Malini’s father was in the BSF and thanks to his work, their family was fairly nomadic, rarely spending more than a couple of years in one place. Malini says, “I get attached to people and not places. I’ve attended eight schools in different states because dad got transferred.”
However, her constant travelling did nothing to diminish her academics. “I got my Engineering degree from DCE, Delhi, and worked for a year at HCL. Then I did my PGDM at IIM Kolkata. Post-IIM, I worked in the Times Bank, and when it got taken over, moved back to HCL. Later, I joined Infosys for three years and then Wipro. Infosys gave me the opportunity to travel to 25-odd countries. With Wipro, I worked in Bengaluru, and then in the United States for a few years.”
She continues, “In 2010, I quit my job to start an NGO for senior citizens, and in 2012 I joined a startup – then a mid-sized IT company – before deciding solid waste management was what I wanted to pursue.”
Malini explains how she went from loving her job at an MNC to tackling social issues, “I am an accidental activist, and since earning a living was a necessity, I became a social entrepreneur too. Garbage just happened to me! I had been working as a volunteer in the space, and felt very strongly that there was a problem that needed to be solved. In the process, I also wanted to create flexible employment for women. It wasn’t a decision taken in a day.”
She decided to take a year off work to volunteer, and it changed her life. “After that, I just couldn’t think of going back to IT. The SWM sector’s needs were so much more pressing. Stonesoup was born out of a desire to continue to work with responsible waste management and create employment for ourselves and other women working in the sector.”
Responsible waste management is a job for many hands, and Malini’s family exemplifies that. Her mother and children help her with her volunteer work, she says, “We are all involved in composting and growing our food at home. It has also given me more time for my family and volunteer work. I still continue to spend 70 % of my time volunteering around waste.”
Malini adopted both her daughters, and when asked about life as a single parent, says, “I’m not a single parent. My kids have me – their parent – and then my mom, their grandparent. To each their own choices. Either way, you need a village to help you.”
Her journey has been characterised by wonderful people. Friends and family have supported her professionally and personally, “You need a village to raise a child, and I have tons of family and friends who have been part of my village. My mom now stays with me, while my sister stayed for a year after I brought the kids home. Once I had a pal host my kids for three days while I was out-of-station.”
He life has changed dramatically with the addition of her kids, and she says, “My life has changed like crazy! As a single person, I was OK with drive-through and TV dinners all the time. Now I have learnt about food and nutrition. In general, my life has changed dramatically, but I’m enjoying every moment of it. My ex-life was super fun, and this one is too. It’s just that what I consider fun and what gives me joy has changed.”
Prior to her success with Stonesoup.in, Malini was involved with another venture that was close to her heart.
She explains, “While I was in the US, my siblings and I were trying to figure out how to take care of our grandma in India. Finally, my mom came back and stayed with her, taking care of her for 2.5 years. So when I came back and became a mom, and wanted a role that would give me more time with my kids, I decided to launch this social enterprise. While we touched lives of 250 odd senior citizens for the better, I just couldn’t find a model to make it scale, and wasn’t feeling the energy and enthusiasm for it any longer. Two years later, we shut it down.”
Stonesoup.in was the brainchild of Malini and a few of her friends who shared her passion for waste management. She reminisces, “A few of us Trash Talkers at Kasa Muktha Bellandur decided to come together and launch this company. All of us who started it, and those who joined us subsequently, are united by our desire to change India’s waste footprint, and have a common value system of a fair and sustainable way of working.”
Solving a problem this size is not a one-woman effort, and she says, “We are more like collaborative work groups trying to solve a problem. Our first project was ‘Green Events’, which we then converted into shared wisdom and put on 2bin1bag.in. ‘Borrow a Bag’ was our second initiative. Since then, we have launched Stonesoup Compost Maker units and blocks, and Stonesoup Wings, a menstrual cup. We are also working on a school event and programme, ‘Borrow a Box’, green corporate gifting, consulting, and more.”
Waste management is a serious issue, both globally and in India, and Malini has a message for everyone who wants to make a difference, “Please take responsibility for your waste. Segregate and then compost wet waste. Reduce dry waste. Find out what a menstrual cup is, and use it or gift it. Check out stonesoup.in and come volunteer with us. Join us to solve problems that you feel need to be solved. We all have to do our part—Modiji alone cannot accomplish Swachh Bharat.”