In a recent conversation with Oliver Pouillon, Founder of Bali Recycling, we spoke about what it takes to be a successful Social Entrepreneur and the state of Bali’s waste management industry.
You won the audience choice award at the 2014 Impact Forum – clearly your business model and pitch has won the hearts of many. Moving forward, how will you grow your impact?
Oliver Pouillon (OP): One of our main objectives is to prove that you can not only make money being a ‘green’ waste company but you can make a positive impact on society and the environment as a whole. As far as growing our impact is concerned, in the short term we will focus on maximizing our upcycled products, which can radically speed up our revenue growth. They also play an important marketing tool as they give a very different image to what is generally seen as a dirty, stinking industry. In addition, the products not only create impact by eliminating harmful waste from the environment but serve as an educational tool to the public regarding waste. In the longer term, as these upcycled products become more established, we will be in a position to better expand into the marketplace. At the moment we only process about 0.01% of the waste generated in Bali, but our goal is to approach 15-20% – this will enable us to truly influence waste management on the island.
To achieve this we will need help from the right kinds of stakeholders – investors, mentors, entrepreneurs and ecosystem partners. This will enable us to grow our impact by raising awareness through our upcycled products and selling them to both the local and export market, which in turn will encourage businesses and households in Bali to use our collection services, recycling facilities and hazmat services.
Bali Recycling has come a long way in the last 3-4 years since you founded it – what has been a key milestone that catalyzed this growth?
OP: A big turning point for the company was when we stopped trying to copy traditional waste management business models, which generate income through fees for collection and disposal. Those business models aren’t effective here. It then dawned on us that we didn’t really even have a business model; we were in a phase of trying to discover it. Once we realized that we were in search for a repeatable and scalable business model everything started to click. Immediately our approach changed and we began to adjust more frequently and test ideas – keeping the ones that worked and tossing out the ones that didn’t. The results speak for themselves; we started to be profitable soon after and realized that we had a scalable company.
Being an entrepreneur is difficult and being a social entrepreneur is even harder. Looking back, what has been you personal motivation and key leanings?
OP: From the start I understood that the road would be very long and difficult, but as long as things were moving forward overall, the key would be to maintain persistence. This has been the case even through some very difficult times. It sounds cliché, but passion and persistence are essential ingredients to success, yet they don’t guarantee anything. To be sure of success you also need to continuously adapt and learn. You need to be savvy, practical, cunning and at times a little crazy. Yes, being a social entrepreneur is hard, but it can be fun and exciting too. Once you are successful, it is so much more satisfying than anything a 9 to 5 job has to offer.
Waste Management is a sector with a lot of scope, and Bali Recycling has been a pioneer in the area in many ways. What are some of the challenges that the waste industry in Bali is facing currently, and what is your vision for Bali Recycling going forward?
OP: Bali is going through a third tourism development boom, which is much more pronounced and dramatic than previous booms. Not only is the pace of tourism development extremely rapid, the island is simultaneously going through a general urbanization boom mainly due to the huge influx of migrants which has made Bali’s populations growth one of the fastest in Indonesia.
All this development has been lopsided in its application. Hotels are built in record speed, but there’s little thought put into the infrastructure requirements to manage and support all the development. Water, electricity, roads are generally inadequate and when it comes to waste management…well that’s really not even on the radar. Just throw it away, right? Where’s ‘away’ on such a small island? People don’t realize how bad things are getting. Illegal dumping in rivers, mangroves and into the ocean has become the norm. And it is not only the local residents dumping but also high end resorts that charge you $500/night for the privilege of fouling the island. That plastic littering the beach and ocean while you were on vacation could have come from your hotel. Crazy, but true.
The core of what The Bali Recycling Company aims to do is to shake up this old concept of how to deal with waste and force businesses and people to start thinking about the ‘waste’ they produce. Then to convince them to look at their ‘waste’ instead as a valuable resource that needs to be captured again and not simply thrown away….because there is no ‘away’. We see a future where our services will be in great demand in Bali, and other regions of Indonesia, since maintaining the island’s tourism economy necessitates the island remain a clean paradise. And that’s what we do, we keep Bali beautiful.