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Environment and Equality

AIRSWEEE participant Monalisa Panda works to support and improve environmental practices through her Odisha-based start-up.

Monalisa Panda serves as a director at Sai BioCare, a leading environmental consultancy firm in eastern India. Located in Odisha, Sai BioCare is an accredited, multi-functional commercial laboratory that works to support and improve environmental practices through a variety of services. These include providing in-house water quality checking, laboratory analysis of herbal and Ayurvedic drugs, wastewater treatment plant designing and commissioning, and green building certification services. Such services are enormously in demand these days.

“Invest Odisha campaigns are soaring high and drawing in a lot of foreign companies to start their industries here,” says Panda. This influx of activity necessitates the liaison and consulting services that Sai BioCare provides. “Our pollution control board can help businesses in obtaining licenses, NOC [No Objection Certificate] clearance for establishing manufacturing houses, along with relevant document preparation, online filling of forms and other consulting services,” she says.

As a participant of the All India Roadshow on Women’s Economic Empowerment through Entrepreneurship (AIRSWEEE 2.0), Panda understands the importance of continuing to foster the place of women in leadership roles within India, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and other traditional male-dominated fields. AIRSWEEE 2.0 is a Public Affairs New Delhi grant program implemented by the U.S.-based nonprofit organization The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE Inc.) and its India chapters.

“AIRSWEEE 2.0 was a great learning experience,” says Panda, “and it provides a practical teaching model for start-ups.” AIRSWEEE 2.0 combined practical advice and a real sense of the possibilities and potential that can come from putting together a start-up as a woman. “When I had started out by myself, I wish I would have gotten these power-packed women to guide me,” says Panda.

“It’s tough for a woman to get into business,” she explains, adding that “a woman as a scientist is more easily accepted. But, when this role blends with profit-making, it’s much tougher.”

A lot of the challenge has to do with a tendency to view women as less competent, particularly in settings that are assumed to be more appropriate for men to occupy. “The major obstacle that being a woman causes in my business is around site visits,” says Panda. “This is especially true if it’s something like a mining area. These can be the toughest. Officials at client sites can sometimes be judgmental and doubt a woman’s capability.”

Despite the challenges, Panda has enjoyed the ups and downs equally, and believes that knowledge is the real antidote to prejudicial behavior.

“I always believe that knowledge is power, so at Sai BioCare, we are always ready for new technology upgrades and developments.” She advises other women who may be entering STEM fields to “focus on establishing the right process, take care of human resources and, most importantly, believe in yourself.”

And, there is a lot of work yet to be done.

Waste recycling, be it solid or liquid waste, and the water crisis are, according to Panda, among the most pressing concerns ahead. “The groundwater layer is dropping very fast and pure drinking water is a problem. It would be a travesty if we let this happen and do nothing about it.” Panda and Sai BioCare are committed to facing these issues head-on. “We must commit to water recycling, so that our rivers and underground waters do not become polluted. We at Sai BioCare can address every industry issue directly, with care and with a high level of customization.”

Trevor Laurence Jockims teaches writing, literature and contemporary culture at New York University.