Ved Prakash joined Gemini Corporation in 1999 to learn how to do business.
Today, he's director of the Belgium-based company's steel division which believes in the simple idea: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
This is his inspiring story.
The world, they say, is small village. And in Europe's largest port city -- Antwerp, Belgium -- one can find a flavour of Rajasthan at Gemini Corporation, a sourcing, inspecting, and logistics company for recyclables/renewables.
The organisation, which engages in recyclables, reusables, and raw materials in steel, plastics, timber and rubber, has an employee base of over 200 specialists, based in associated offices spread over America, Europe, Middle East, and Asia.
Despite the global presence, I was instantly attracted by the familiar Indian feel the organisation had.
The logo, a mayur or peacock, dominates the office; many employees hail from Rajasthan, the founders' native state; and umpteen office conversations take place in Marwadi.
Ved Prakash, director of the steel division in Gemini Corporation, says: "When I started at Gemini, the steel scrap industry was in depression, but somehow steel always attracted me. I persuaded the founder (Surendra Patwari, a native of Momasar village, near Bikaner, Rajasthan) to allow me to start trading in steel. He agreed; I was allowed to make a loss of $15,000 in the first deal to learn the business."
Ved has been involved with the Belgium-based organisation since 1999 and is carrying forward Surendra's vision: that a business organisation is incomplete with any contribution to social and community uplift.
The journey to Europe
Ved Prakash, a native of Rajasthan, who grew up in Bengaluru, never imagined that he would establish himself in Europe, 7,715 km away from his parental home.
"We are based in the heart of Europe where access to finance, logistics, transportation, warehousing, connectivity, and mobility is very competitive. Anybody with a strong will and vision can be successful and milk the available opportunity," he explains.
Ved graduated from a small town called Ratangarh in Rajasthan. His mother and grandparents always encouraged him to dream big, and he learned the lesson "nothing is impossible" early on. He derives his inspiration and strength from his mother who completed her class 10 studies 20 years after her marriage.
"When she got married, 48 years ago, she had only studied till class 9. Until I was in class 5, my mother always used to teach us at home. Afterwards it got difficult for her to teach us and she decided to restart her studies. I am very proud that she was the only private student who passed that year in my town. This encouraged her to study further and she completed her bachelor's degree at the age of 41 while doing the chores of a 15-member family," he shares with me.
After his master in marketing management in Bengaluru, he was mentored by Vimal Kedia from Manjushree Technopack and Murli Saraf from Shyam Plastics.
It is here that he developed a passion for plastics and recycling. In 1999, at the age of 23, he met Surendra Patwari and moved to Belgium to work with Gemini.
Today Ved is invited globally to present the recycling story to multiple universities, including Belgium's Thomas More.
Recycling = urban mining
When Surendra Patwari set up Gemini after completing his chartered accountancy in 1989, his aim was to "create value" by converting industrial and other waste into reusable material.
"Waste management around the world has crossed the trillion-dollar mark and is increasing by 100 million per day. Developing nations are seriously lagging when it comes to a dedicated recycling and refuse handling policy. To give you a small example, around 40 percent steel is being made from recyclable steel, which is less polluting and more sustainable than mining iron ore. In a nutshell, recycling is urban mining with great opportunities for entrepreneurs," Ved explains.
Recalling the beginning of his entrepreneurial venture in steel with Gemini, Ved says, "As I had no knowledge of steel, I called my friend at Port of Antwerp and requested him to give me a tour of where steel was handled. When I reached, I saw a gigantic vessel carrying 40,000 tonnes of steel. The name of that vessel was Gemini and I knew that one day we, at Gemini, would have a big steel business. Today, we handle around 8,00,000 tonnes of steel annually."
The company chooses to work for higher volumes in the business, rather than higher margins.
It sells raw material to recycling companies and purchases the finished product back from them.
The finished products are marketed in American and European markets to end-users. They also buy the stock from end-users to re-export.
"Our main strength comes from being the supplier of a customer while also being the customer of the customer," he says.
In the first month, the company shipped just one container of plastic scrap. Today, Gemini handles around 1.5 million tonnes of materials in 90,000 TEU containers through its 18 offices spread across the world.
The company initially started with trading recyclable plastic scrap. They worked on the concept of total recycling -- exporting plastic scrap to recyclers and buying back reprocessed output, which then becomes raw material for new products.
The divisions were expanded to multiple recycle verticals, including:
Paper: Gray paper, newsprint paper, magazine print, release paper, pre-printed kraft paper, silicon-coated kraft paper, adhesive, and metallised paper
Rubber: Baled tyres, shredded tyres, rubber powder and granulates (crumb rubber), Butyl tubes, buffing powder
Steel: Shredded steel scrap, secondary flat and long steel products
Wood: MDF, particle boards, melamine face boards, OSB, engineered wood panels.
They also deal in oleo chemicals, including used cooking oil, and agro and animal fat.
For the people
Gemini is also keen to "give back" and spends a part of its profits on social causes.
"We run several medical centres where around 400 patients are provided free medication daily. We have two schools for free education of 250 students. We have planted and take care of 1,00,000 trees in Rajasthan," Ved says.
In their endeavour to help benefit the vulnerable and build stronger communities globally, the company has helped construct a school building in Bangladesh, run a drinking water programme in Pakistan, and host a camp to provide free food to homeless people in Belgium. They also helped with materials, money, and people in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Afghanistan and Nepal.
"In 2013, I visited one of the villages in Rajasthan where we run medical centres with a permanent resident nurse and a visiting doctor. The head of the village was teary eyed when he told me how the nurse had helped so many women in the village to improve their health. These women would otherwise shy away from going to a doctor. The most important part of this story is that the nearest government hospital is around 13 km away, the nearest medical store is 9 km away, and the nearest road access is 4 km away. Our aim is to reach those who are not often remembered," Ved says.
Gemini also hosts several painting exhibits in art galleries in Mumbai every year; the funds raised by their events help further community development work.
Ved concludes, "We want to become a billion-dollar company by 2020 and engage ourselves to make this world a better place to live for the next generation. We want to achieve this by engaging in recycling, and being part of a circular economy and social work."