Episode 4: Waiting
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Perseverance and Patience …
Speed was the core topic of the last episode. And now??? Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Maybe I’m getting used to it. Or not? It is for sure a personal experience, which triggers me to reflect. And ideally I’ll learn something out of it. That is my basic attitude - you can and must continue to learn. Making experiences and reflecting will result inevitably in learning. And only this way you keep developing. Or adjust to changed conditions. Because sometimes it is your environment that changes faster than you think and if you haven’t changed, well then likely you stand somewhere in the past - still. And ultimately it is boring not to learn anything new!
But why do I philosophize at all about this topic? In my last blog at the end of November I promised to do better next time and had promised regular reports. And now it’s again early March. THREE MONTHS after. Incredibly many things have happened since as you will read further down. But currently we’re in a phase which to the most extent consists of waiting. We have prepared everything for the next steps in the project, have established new contacts, have prepared concepts. What we’re missing now is the commitment of one of our potential sponsors, that they’ll supply a big chunk of the needed money. But that takes time. And it requires a great deal of perseverance and patience. And I can’t do much more than once in a while checking in to see what the status is. If I ask too often and create too much pressure, the sponsor might consider me being a pain in the a** with whom they might not want to work. Or even to the contrary? If I step on their toes often enough, I might be proving perseverance. But I also don’t know my counterparts well enough to assess. So I try to find a balance.
What keeps crossing my mind is the aspect of cultural learning. I think I can say about me that I have some quite German habits, which are even more pronounced than usual. I pretty much have bats in the belfry when talking about “being punctual”. I have for example a distinct capability in predicting how long it will take until I’ll arrive with my car somewhere. Or in general to estimate how long something might take. Or which meetings are still somewhat meaningful to take on without getting into a hectic rush. And my second favorite topic is “structure and a certain level of order”. I love analyzing and structuring complex problems. ‘Everybody can do the easy stuff’ is my slogan. And I think I even have a tendency to overdo both topics. Punctuality and structure.
I learn from Senegal. And I mean this absolutely positive! Sometimes there’s a situation where you have an appointment planned for 2 pm in Dakar with some others. But then comes some friend at noon, who wants to talk to you. And then you talk to this friend. Social contact and solidarity are important! And the human is important! And yes, you might be late by half an hour for your planned meeting. But nobody really turns mad about this.
And thinking well structured ahead and doing planning also doesn’t always lead to the desired outcome. Some questions find completely different solutions. Senegalese solutions. I never would have guessed this way, but it works. Maybe sometimes even better ...
I do learn a lot by working with the people in Senegal.
What happened until now?
Let’s start where the last episode of this blog series ended. We were again in Senegal.
We had no idea. Oh yes, we had. But seeing the pictures or experiencing the hard reality is something different. Accidently I had read before our departure, that there’s the world’s (!) largest open air landfill close to Dakar in Mbeubeuss. Almost 70 hectare. Was for 40 years a wild landfill and became controlled by the government in 2015. 2500 people live (!) and work here. It actually could only become really bad, but we wanted to see it with our own eyes.
A never ending large space with a huge mountain of waste. Truck after truck drive in and brings still more. From the distance you can already see the smoke clouds rising over the area. You come closer with your car and everything is covered by a thick layer of dirt. We manage to visit the area and even get a sort of tour. We drive with our car along the same way as all the waste trucks. Simply up and down across waste - driven solid by the trucks. Sometimes we need to stop to let the oncoming trucks pass. Again and again people left and right of the way. They sort waste. Tin cans, glass, wood, … just everything, which seemingly still has some value. Makes total sense in theory (circular economy). But when I see that the coating of cables is burnt away in order to getting the copper cable ...
The picture which kicked me right into my stomach was an about five years old girl playing at the edge of the waste truck driveway. With waste. Her mother cooking three meters next to her likely lunch, maybe the only meal for the day. Next to something, that looks like a hut - even though that’s too much. Rather a shelter. She’s cooking in a pot on open fire. I do not want to know what she’s burning. Five meters further, two men are sorting waste. 30 meters further along the way, the waste is burning left and right. Again and again such little fires. That’s the way it is, just happens. It always stinks here like this. I need to cough from the smoke. We drive on. After half an hour we turn back. We haven’t even reached the other end by far, but we have enough. We can’t stand this any longer.
If now someone says to me “imagine apocalypse”, then I know exactly what I’ll be thinking of ...
The evening is very depressive. Sabine and I keep talking for hours about this. Does it make sense at all, what we’re doing here? Can we achieve anything at all? At the end of the day, defiance and willingness to fight wins. Doing nothing is not an option!
Visit in the German Embassy
The until now only virtual contacts are being transformed into real ones of flesh and blood. We meet the representative of the German Embassy for economy aspects together with his counterpart from the team of the EC representative in Senegal. And we get to know the German Embassy from inside at this opportunity, because we kindly are allowed to have our meeting there. We present the big picture of Aventurin Waste, i.e. the motivation, the direction we want to go, what our current plans are and we’re receiving very valuable hints and further connections.
Cooperation with GIZ
We meet with three of the employees of the GIZ (Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit), whom we only knew before via email. Now we can sit in the same room. We introduce Aventurin Waste and jointly discuss the best way forward for the upcoming two weeks on site. The knowledge about local circumstances and contacts is of priceless value for us.
We start our series of meetings at SAR, the “Société Africaine de Raffinage”. SAR could become a customer of ours for our final product, the pyrolysis oil. They also show us sample containers, which products they produce in their refinery.
After presenting our project, they are on the one hand extremely positive about what we’re doing, but on the other hand they don’t see how they can include our currently still small quantities in their huge material flows in a meaningful way. Also if this for us is obviously a pity, we can somehow understand that. But at some point we’ll talk again with SAR about this …
We meet with people of the Total Senegal Foundation and introduce them to Aventurin Waste. The Total Senegal Foundation has supported in 2019 about 30 projects out of which more than half was around plastic waste. And for 2020 they plan to invest even more in these activities so crucial for society. They like our approach a lot. Maybe we’ll find a way into a partnership.
We meet also with CEOs of other companies with whom we talk about our plans. We do find quite a bit of support here. At the moment we’re having conversations possibly leading into a partnership with a Senegalese company. GIZ again has provided us with tremendous support with their connections. And in parallel we benefit from all the contacts and network established since our first activities in summer 2018.
We meet in Cheikh’s laboratory for a workshop with the chemistry students he’s accompanying as well as professor Kane from the university in Dakar (UCAD). It is a very intensive exchange about Aventurin Waste, the technical aspects of pyrolysis and what one can do to advance the environment in Senegal. We’re really excited about these students. They are the future.
Mbour center for handicapped and school
We visit the “Centre Khady Gueye” for handicapped in Mbour. Additionally there’s a school on the same terrain. Everything was built up by Senegal Hilfeverein of Doris Racké. We’re amazed. The people in this center produce beautiful Senegalese products and we pick different things from this assortment as thank-you gifts for our donors.
And obviously we had to go to Kaffrine in order to meet again the newly won friends from spring time. It was a very warm welcome. We also went to see how the organic farm of Chris is progressing.
And we talked to Lahat and Camille about how we can support SEN-ECOKAF. Lahat is organizing a debate competition with six local schools. Because this is exactly our approach (learning instead of relearning), we agree to work together. We will dedicate an own blog post for this topic.
But we were also active beyond the Senegal trip.
Presentation in the SAP AppHaus Heidelberg
Thanks to my connections to SAP, I could present Aventurin Waste in the SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg. A very cool location. Organised by SAP NextGen, every month there're startups presenting themselves, who advance in one way or the other the UN SDGs. You can find the video recording of the presentation on YouTube.
Alliance to End Plastic Waste
As we’re also contributing to the “ActOnPlastic” initiative, I got to know Daniel who does support the initiative and the participating teams as sustainability expert. Daniel works for a company, which again is part of the AEPW (Alliance to End Plastic Waste). And this alliance again does provide quite some financial means in order to support and finance projects around the globe from many different approaches and perspectives doing something against plastic waste. Sure thing that we submitted a project proposal and are now waiting for their feedback.
In January I was again in Dresden visiting Biofabrik and had the chance to attend a trial run of the installation. And I could take a freshly tapped sample with me.
And with this we’re sort of up-to-date again and look at what’s ahead of us.
We focus currently as much as we can on the financing topic and open up parallel routes. Besides the Total Foundation and AEPW we’re also in touch with DEG (subsidiary of KfW). And we’re actively working on further options.
As soon as we have a confirmation, we will again go to Senegal and trigger the next steps there.
Founder Summit Wiesbaden
Based on the presentation of Aventurin Waste in the SAP AppHaus, another opportunity unfolded. We will show up on April 18 and 19 with an own little booth via SAP NextGen with other projects in the sustainability context at the “Founder Summit” in Wiesbaden. According to them, it is “Germany’s largest event for start-ups, entrepreneurship and personal development”. This is again a huge chance for us to find further supporters and dramatically expand our network.
Nobody said, it’s gonna be easy, but definitely worth it and rewarding from many perspectives!
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In the next episode ...
In the next episode we will tell more about how things advance with our donors and which steps will be executed next based on this. And which region and location we select. And with which partner we will build up Aventurin Waste in Senegal. And with which legal form. And with which further enthusiastic supporters.
All the best, Sabine und Achim