Two AWE Alumni are Helping People Switch to Environmentally Friendly Products
Article by Naomi Hampton, intern with the U.S. Department of State, currently studying History and Politics of the Americas at University College London.
[United Arab Emirates, January 2023] Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) alumni Namrata Budhraja and Sukriti Verma are shaking up the sustainability game and helping people transition to eco-friendly products through their company Shift Eco.
Shift Eco is all about helping consumers make eco-friendly choices. The company, which is headquartered in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), identifies businesses that are aligned with their “Green Code,” or those that are using sustainable production methods to make everything from toys to toiletries. Shift Eco features all of those companies’ products on their website, allowing customers to put their product choices together in a virtual shopping basket. Then, Shift Eco can package and deliver everything right to the customer’s doorstep.
Budhraja said she wanted to do something for the environment after using her first bamboo toothbrush. When she saw it in a local grocery store for the same price as a plastic one, she thought, “Why not make the switch?” Budhraja was shocked at how easy it was to make a small environmentally-conscious choice like switching to a sustainable toothbrush. So she started looking for other ways to shift her lifestyle to be more eco-friendly. During the pandemic,she made the choice to go into business with Verma and to create a business that would help other people to make more environmentally-friendly choices, too.
“We saw that people want to be mindful of their consumption, so we asked ourselves why are they not following through?” Budhraja said.
Sisters-in-law by chance, business partners by choice, Budhraja and Verma started Shift Eco in late 2020. After having a group of their friends and family come up with the name, they launched the online website and began personally testing products from various sustainable brands to promote to their consumers.
“It’s important that it is easy for our customers to make the change to eco-friendly products, so we look for durable goods at an affordable price,” Budhraja said.
Since it launched in 2020, Shift Eco has grown a lot. It currently operates with 15 employees divided into 4 operational divisions, with a warehouse in Dubai. The company ships products throughout the UAE and Saudi Arabia, with plans to expand to more of the Middle East.
Benefitting from the pre-existing high level of online shopping in the UAE, Shift Eco partners with InstaShop, the biggest quick commerce platform in the country, to get products to customers efficiently and make it even more convenient for people to make sustainable lifestyle choices. The company also partners with the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank as a rewards partner, meaning that customers will get air mile points for making eco-friendly choices by making purchases through Shift Eco.
Budhraja and Verma both attended the AWE program as part of the 2021 UAE cohort after hearing about it through startAD, an Abu Dhabi-based business accelerator which has implemented the program in the UAE since 2020. Budhraja and Verma participated in the AWE program that gave them knowledge and tools to improve their finances and structure their business plan. But according to these entrepreneurs, the biggest benefit from being in the AWE program was networking with so many other women in business.
“We still regularly contact each other, asking questions or giving pieces of advice,” Verma said.
The AWE and startAD teams have also opened new opportunities for Budhraja and Verma to speak at public events, further spreading awareness about their products to new customers. Speaking in public is something they want to continue doing in the future, along with expanding into new regions, to promote their EcoShop and to educate more people about the ease and importance of sustainability.
“We want to keep a balance of education and products to ensure that everything is easy to implement so that it is easy to make the change,” Budhraja said.
Shift Eco targets not only consumers, but also helps other companies make sustainable changes to their business models. Budhraja and Verma have created Shift Eco For Business, an extension of their main company focused on helping businesses make greener production choices and go plastic free. Partnering with companies such as United Bank in the United States, Shift Eco not only helps businesses incorporate eco-friendly products in their buildings, but also reaches individual employees through sponsoring corporate giveaways — with the proceeds from these giveaways benefiting clean water programs around the UAE.
Not stopping there, Budhraja and Verma are also using the Shift Eco website to educate their consumers on the value of sustainability. Shift Eco has a “Learn with Shift Eco” section on their website to provide customers with a variety of podcasts, product promotions, and DIY tutorials to help them develop environmentally sustainable habits even if they cannot afford the products Shift Eco offers.
Every month, the page highlights other eco-friendly brands and environmental advocates. Budhraja and Verma said their educational resources demonstrate that the environment is more important than profit. The women have also collaborated with professionals to host in-person educational community events attended by up to 100 people, about environmental sustainability and how small shifts in product choice can make a big impact.
“To us, it is important to build a conscious community of consumers,” Verma said.
The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, a U.S. Department of State program, gives thousands of women like Budhraja and Verma the knowledge, networks and access they need to launch and expand successful businesses. Since 2019, AWE has advanced women’s business skills through the online learning platform DreamBuilder, which was developed by Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and Freeport-McMoRon Foundation. AWE is helping to empower more than 25,000 women entrepreneurs in 100 countries to follow their entrepreneurial dreams. Implemented in the United Arab Emirates since 2020, AWE has helped 29 businesses and 64 Emirati women grow their businesses and reach their full economic potential. The results speak for themselves. To date, AWE graduate’s businesses in the UAE have raised $7 million in funding, generated $41 million in revenues, and created 481 jobs.
For more information about AWE, visit: https://eca.state.gov/awe