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Launched – multi-partner collaboration to improve the life of waste pickers

Together with eight organisations H&M Foundation has launched a unique initiative to address the quality of life of waste pickers and their families in Bangalore, India. By taking a holistic approach the vision is to addresses the broken systems that keep waste pickers in poverty, while tackling challenges in the waste management sector. The goal is to enable waste pickers to have greater agency to lead secure and dignified lives.

There are roughly 1.5 million waste pickers in India. Waste picking ranks lowest in the hierarchy of urban informal occupations in the country and they struggle to lead healthy and productive lives, despite their economic and environmental contribution to society, and despite several commendable efforts by key actors to improve their lives.

Many waste pickers have to endure a difficult everyday reality including regular harassment and extortion – not to mention the health hazards they are subjected to when handling waste. Further, they are self-employed workers with no formal legal relationship with the municipality or the recyclable traders, nor do they have any social security benefits.

The new initiative, called Saamuhika Shakti, follows the Collective Impact approach which is a commitment of a group of different actors to work together in a structured manner for a common agenda, and to solve a specific social problem at scale. It has a strong focus on equity, addressing the basic needs of marginalized groups such as women and girls. H&M Foundation has committed $11 million for the first three years of the project, with scope for expanding it by three additional years.

“H&M Foundation has always wanted to take a systems change mindset in how we work, our ambition is to address root causes instead of the symptoms of social problems.”

Maria Bystedt, Strategy Lead, H&M Foundation

“H&M Foundation has always wanted to take a systems change mindset in how we work, our ambition is to address root causes instead of the symptoms of social problems. We also believe that change is best achieved when a diverse group of people join forces and commit to a common agenda to solve complex challenges. By bringing together eight fantastic partners to work towards the same goal, we are confident that we can achieve more and contribute to creating long-term positive change,” says Maria Bystedt, Strategy Lead, H&M Foundation.

The different partners and their role within this initiative are:

  • BBC Media Action – Sector perception change program, to improve professional pride among waste pickers and encourage Bangalore’s general population to respect and value waste picking
  • LabourNet and CARE – Development of alternate livelihood opportunities.
  • Hasiru Dala – Improved linkages to government schemes, to enable access to basic services; and establishing counselling programs to reduce incidence of substance abuse and domestic violence in waste picker households
  • Save The Children – Improved access to quality education, to enable social mobility for waste pickers’ children
  • WaterAid – Affordable access to WASH facilities for waste picker households, with a focus on clean drinking water
  • Social Alpha – Development of new waste streams, so as to increase waste picker income, and improve the stability of this income
  • The/Nudge Foundation – Operates as a local backbone organization to coordinate the initiative

“Waste pickers form clusters of communities often without even basic access to resources such as clean water or sanitation facilities, let alone opportunities to improve livelihoods and that of their children. Through Saamuhika Shakti, our partners and we hope to provide prospects that can lead to better outcomes, and in an equitable manner for waste pickers and their families,” said Lakshmi Pattabi Raman, Executive Director of Saamuhika Shakti, The/Nudge Foundation.

Read more about Saamuhika Shakthi.