Emerging Entrepreneurs

Ashwidea: How a chemical engineer is helping connect corporates and NGOs

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on May 11, 2020

Ashwin Subramanian, Founder and CEO, Ashwidea

Ashwin Subramanian curates projects in the sustainability and development sectors

The blog was a birthday gift in 2013 to Ashwin Subramanian from his wife Preethy Iyer. Named Ashwidea – pronounced Aashw-idea – the blog documented their efforts towards embracing sustainability at home. And, when Ashwin turned an entrepreneur with a focus on the sustainability and development sectors, he decided to retain the blog’s name for his venture.

A chemical engineering graduate from Punjab University and an MBA from Symbiosis Centre for Management and HRD in Pune, Ashwin, now 39 years old, started his career in a brand management role at pharmaceutical company Nicholas Piramal. He somehow felt that this was not the kind of work he would like to do. His passion for environment took him to Emergent Ventures, which was into carbon credits and climate change consulting. After a couple of other jobs including one at ITC Infotech that had a software for sustainability, Ashwin decided he had had enough when he was tasked with selling IT products and services. “That was definitely not my cup of tea,” he says.

The trigger point

He had by then moved to Bengaluru and around 2015, when the couple were expecting their child, Ashwin decided to take a break. He used the break to read up on corporate social responsibility (CSR). He had also been in touch with non-governmental organisations that wanted him to freelance for them and help them figure out how to reach out to large organisations for projects and funding. He freelanced with an NGO called Wildlife Trust of India on conservation. “The foundation for my company started there,” says Ashwin.

He secured a three-year project for Wildlife Trust of India on mangrove conservation in Kerala, with funding from Apollo Tyres. He says he remotely managed the project and coordinated between the trust and Apollo Tyres. He was also involved with WTI with a few other projects in the country.

CSR projects

He had by then started freelancing with quite a few NGOs, helping them get in touch with large companies that were looking for projects for their CSR spend. In December 2017, he transformed his blog into a venture that now connects corporates that are looking for projects for their CSR activities with NGOs in the areas of conservation and sustainability that are looking for funds.

Ashwin, Founder and CEO, Ashwidea, says there is a lot happening in the CSR space, either mandated or otherwise, but much of it was not being properly planned. More often than not, there would be one person in a company who had half a responsibility towards the activities, he says. It is here that Ashwidea steps in, making the CSR work more organised for the companies and identifying NGOs with domain knowledge and expertise. Ashwidea curates, creates and manages the projects, says Ashwin. It gets paid by the NGOs on a project basis. It works with about 100 companies on projects across the country.

In the coming year, says Ashwin, he wants his venture to move into sustainability in a different way. “We want to look at driving sustainability within an organisation. Products was one thought which we had, but that is not working. We need to figure out if there is any other way we can engage with companies on sustainability,” he adds.

Published on May 11, 2020

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