Akash Singh, based in Gurgaon, is training prison inmates on how to upcycle temple waste to create eco-friendly statues thereby creating opportunity for the prison-term serving individual while repurposing the ever-piling temple waste in a sustainable manner.
Born in a village near Jewar, Uttar Pradesh, Akash Singh is a 20-year-old innovator and entrepreneur, who did not have the easiest of beginnings. The village he was born in, like many rural communities across India, did not offer many opportunities for scientific innovations. Aakash was always fascinated with science and its applicability in real life. Not having enough exposure in his village, Aakash chose to forgo high school education in his village after 10th grade, and enrolled in a 3-year diploma course in Civil Engineering, in a government college in Gurgaon.
During his time in Gurgaon, he often visited a local temple with his friends so he could enjoy the beauty of the lake around it. But he noticed that the lake was deteriorating rapidly. As an admirer of nature, he was dismayed. A quick investigation revealed that the lake was polluted due to the disposal of temple waste materials. The most polluting of these was the ash from incense sticks. He decided to talk to the local priest who explained that temples usually dispose of their waste materials in water bodies because these materials are considered sacred. Akash had learnt about concrete technology during his Civil Engineering course. So, he spent the next six months researching and developing. In his research, he found that waste ash from incense sticks when mixed with coconut husk can produce a concrete-like material. He found the solution. Next, he used this new concrete material to make statues, and it worked wonders. The status looked and felt exactly like the POP statues in the temples. The good part is, this new material was completely biodegradable.
With his new material, Akash solved two problems at once. First, he could also provide a better alternative to the common POP idols. Second, he came up with a clever solution to the temple’s problem with handling the waste of sacred materials. Now the sacred idols in temples could be made out of the sacred-ash itself. Akash then started installing bins with separate compartments for flowers, incense stick ash and coconut husk in temples in Delhi and NCR region. By the end of this process, Akash finished college and was offered a generous placement offer from a Japanese firm. But he declined the offer and chose to continue with his project.
In the first few days, support was hard to come by. Despite everything, he chose to press on, and things started to turn around for him. He registered his idea as a startup by the name Energinne Solutions, and in no time he found support at the Atal Incubation Centre in BIMTECH. With access to co-working and co-living spaces, he continued his research. Parallelly, He also started validating his sample statues. He discovered that people loved his eco-friendly solutions, and there was plenty of demand in the market. His idea was validated.
While doing all of this, Akash constantly pondered on how this activity can be used to engage and impact more people. Aakash with the help of the incubation centre, came up with an idea to engage prisoners to make statues. The incubation centre helped him connect with the GB Nagar District Jail where he started a 15-day trial with the 22 prisoners. Energinee Solutions would pay the prisoners to upcycle the temple waste and convert it into statues and handicrafts. Soon, almost every prisoner wanted to join in. In addition to the monetary benefits, this work has also been beneficial for the mental health of prisoners.
Till now, Akash Singh has trained 46 prisoners to 60 different types of statue products. His startup also helps prisoners with rehabilitation outside the prison walls. They help prisoners find employment in various NGOs by vouching for them. In addition to all of this, his startup employs 24 people young innovators, all under the age of 25. What started with a few temples, the team is now looking to expand to 400 temples by the end of 2020. His work impressed noted filmmaker Rahul Ranjan. Ranjan directed a documentary titled ‘Ashes to Idols‘ on Akash’s work that’s currently creating a buzz on Amazon Prime.