Since winning the Young Champions of the Earth prize in Asia and the Pacific in 2019, Sonika Manandhar’s big data solution has taken off. Her Green Energy Mobility platform strives to combat climate change in Nepal by helping women own and upgrade their three-wheeler electric minibuses through low-interest impact financing.
Decarbonizing transport, with a focus on electric mobility, is one of the key actions to limit global warming to below 2°C by the end of this century, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 2019 Emissions Gap Report.
Short journeys account for two thirds of transport emissions in urban areas, and electrifying vehicles can help lower pollution levels.
Rob de Jong, head of the Air Quality and Mobility Unit at UNEP, said: “To improve air quality and meet the Paris Climate Agreement we need to shift to zero emissions transport—for all modes and in all countries.
“This will only happen with local initiatives. Three wheelers electric minibuses can replace old fashioned vehicles that are old and polluting. UNEP is working with many local start-ups like Manandhar’s that will make a large contribution to this global shift to clean mobility.”
We asked Manandhar about her progress since winning the Young Champions of the Earth prize, and for advice for anyone wishing to apply in 2020. Here’s what she said.
Can you update us on developments since winning the prize?
Our recently-signed agreement between Aeloi, creator of Green Energy Mobility and a Safa Tempo company, has been expedited since winning the prize because our brand has got a lot of recognition. The agreement gives us access to a network of 200 minibuses around the city. Now, Green Energy Mobility can go to this pool of electric minibuses to start our pilot.
What benefits have you noticed since winning the prize?
Making my country proud, building my company’s brand, and of course the funding for my project. Also, the Young Champions prize is a respected recognition and brand, so people take me more seriously. The prize also presents a great networking opportunity, with access to a vast network of investors, environmentalists and more.
What is the most memorable thing you encountered as a young champion?
I met the director of the Green Climate Fund during the award gala and I was invited to talk at a plenary session in New York about finance for good. One of the moderators was a shark from Shark Tank, and another was the president of COP25. I was very surprised to be invited to talk on that platform but I made it through alive! I also shared a table with the UN Secretary General, the founder of Mahindra and other dignitaries.
Why get into green entrepreneurship?
Because that’s the future. That’s where the money is in the future. If there’s no environment there’s no money. The impact investment sector is valued at 502 billion dollars, and there’s the huge problem of climate change facing us—as well as a lucrative opportunity to solve it.
What challenges you are facing in green business?
Regulations. As a start-up working in the fintech sector, there are no clear guidelines on regulations. Many people think of us as cryptocurrency, which, by the way, is banned in Nepal, but we are a digital fund management tool. Even our tokens are sometimes misunderstood, and we need to help people understand this. It’s also a challenge to get people to understand that the Earth is our home. People often think of home as Kathmandu or Nepal, but I’m thinking big!
What are the next steps for you?
Next, we will build the booking platform so that commuters can book Safa Tempos. We are also launching a campaign called Climate Icons, that impact investors, individuals and celebrities can participate in. The goal is to upgrade green mobility technology for microentrepreneurs, through pledges which will go into purchasing a new lithium ion battery for a Safa Tempo woman driver. It will be good to have major celebrities involved to sponsor batteries.
What challenges do you see ahead and how do you expect to overcome them?
We need to conduct more market research and build a sales team. Finding a suitable financial institution to partner with is another challenge. We plan to overcome this by reaching out to financial institutions through our networks. The other challenge I see is in finding celebrities and big names to be our climate icons. We expect to overcome this by tapping into our existing networks such as UN Environment Programme.
Stay tuned to the Young Champions of the Earth website to follow Sonika and for more updates coming soon.
The Young Champions of the Earth Prize, powered by Covestro, is UN Environment Programme's leading initiative to engage youth in tackling the world's most pressing environmental challenges.
Do you have what it takes to be a Young Champion of the Earth? Applications open in early 2020. When you apply, you also become part of our change-maker community. Stay tuned!