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Saamuhika Shakti - In solidarity with waste pickers

Project time period

20202023

Saamuhika Shakti is a first-of-its-kind intitiative by H&M Foundation to improve the quality of life for waste pickers in Bengaluru, India. Waste picking ranks lowest in the hierarchy of urban informal occupations in the country, but are at the same time critical to the city’s waste management system. Through a powerful ecosystem of partners, we aim to address the gaps in the systems that keep waste pickers in poverty and build resilient systemic change. Working together will result in lasting impact at a scale beyond what any actor could achieve alone.

There are roughly 1.5 million waste pickers in India. They rank lowest in the hierarchy of urban informal occupations in the country and the they often 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 situation.

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, many are self-employed workers with no formal legal relationship with the municipality or the recyclable traders, and may completely lack access to social security benefits.

62 million tons of waste is generated in India annually. Only 60% of the municipal waste is collected and a meagre 15% of the municipal waste is processed and treated. On the other side of the spectrum, waste pickers are a vital part of the waste management system. Thanks in part to the waste pickers, India has one of the highest PET recycling rates in the world, over 90 percent of all the PET that’s manufactured in the country is recycled or reused. In fact, waste pickers are the largest driving force behind recycling, given that they are the ones sorting through trash and pulling out recyclable materials.

If challenges related to the waste pickers lives and the waste sector can be addressed, waste pickers have the potential to be a key player in a global circular system – and could not only contribute to the health and state of our planet, but also uplift themselves out of poverty.

Waste management and material recycling is an essential component of a circular economy, but it needs to be part of a wider systems re-design to create real impact.

Collective efforts to create long-lasting change

This initiative takes a holistic approach to improve the living conditions of waste pickers by supporting them in various aspects. By facilitating collaboration across stakeholders and sectors we address the basic needs of the waste picking community such as education, health, safety and access to fundamental rights, as well as increasing economic opportunities.

The initiative also has a strong focus on equity, addressing the basic needs of marginalized groups such as women and girls. In order to succeed we work with different partners from different sectors in this project, using the The Collective Impact metod. All partners are bringing their expertise into the collective effort, working towards common goals. Working together will result in lasting impact at a scale beyond what any actor could achieve alone.

The partners

  • H&M Foundation – Initiator and funder of Saamuhika Shakti
  • The/Nudge Institute – Operates as a local backbone organization that coordinates the initiative
  • BBC Media Action – Drives a perception change program, to improve professional pride among waste pickers and encourage Bengaluru’s general population to respect and value waste picking.
  • Sambhav Foundation and CARE India – Offers up-skilling and supports alternative livelihood options – either within the waste management value chain or outside it. CARE India works to improve the knowledge of saving money, opening bank accounts, learning basic computer functions and expanding their digital literacy. Sambhav Foundation aims to improve the earning potential of waste pickers through skill development initiatives and employment support.
  • Hasiru Dala – Improves linkages to government schemes, to enable access to basic services; and runs programs to reduce substance abuse and domestic violence in waste picker households. They are also developing user centric tools & equipment to improve working conditions.
  • Save the Children India – Improves access to quality education, for example through mobile learning centers (buses) that visit the communities, to enable social mobility for children of waste pickers
  • Social Alpha – Develops new waste streams by finding and supporting innovations that accelerate waste management in India, while increasing and improving the stability of waste picker incomes.
  • Water Aid India – Offers affordable access to WASH facilities for waste picker households, with a focus on clean drinking water. WaterAid also trains the community to take on the ownership of the infrastructure developed in the communities.

    The impact of the initiative is externally evaluated by 3ie. More
    in-depth information about the project can be found at saamuhikashakti.org.

Project and News

Project Specifics - Saamuhika Shakti

  • Total Donation: SEK 83 million (USD 9.3 million)
  • Program Period: 20202023
  • Countries: India
  • Focus Areas: Inclusive Societies
  • Partners: BBC Media Action, CARE, Hasiru Dala, Sambhav Foundation, Save the Children, Social Alpha, The/Nudge Institute and WaterAid