The Hilldaari Movement: Nestle India’s Commitment to Building Sustainable Hilltowns

Hilldaari movement Nestle India

It is a normal day in the life of Susheela Ji. She walks down the narrow pathway, armed with gloves in her hands, ringing doorbells of homes, collecting waste, and scanning the QR code on her mobile to confirm the collection. She is part of the Hilldaari movement, kick-started by Nestle India, embraced by the citizens of Mussoorie, the popular hill station of Uttarakhand in Northern India.

Waste collection Hilldaari Mussoorie
Susheela ji collecting waste from slopes

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Krishna Devi stands proudly in front of her mural on a wall, in the bustling market area of Mussoorie. She is another waste professional, who has gained recognition for her efforts through the Hilldaari movement. “Hum koode wale Nahi hai, hum safai wale hai. “ (We are not in charge of garbage, we are in charge of cleanliness.) she says, with an air of pride and confidence. She is a celebrity in her own right and the charcoal mural only validates it.

Hilldaari movement Nestle India Deewaron Pe Dastak Murals
Krishna Devi, a waste professional whose mural was made by Harshada Kerkar

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Hill station visits in India are synonymous with a piping hot bowl of Maggi. There is a Maggi point at every bend and on one such Maggi point, overlooking the valley, we see a glimpse of Upendraji’s creativity. Within seconds, Maggi packets are transformed into a robust rope.

How waste is a resource in Hilldaari movement
Upendra ji with the rope (Waste is a resource)

In the background, Pyaare drives a van and collects Maggi packets from each Maggi point. While Upendra Ji demonstrates how waste is a resource, the Plastic Express gives a deeper insight into the number of stakeholders in the Hilldaari Movement, like different spokes of one big wheel.

 

About Hilldari Movement: 

The mountains are always calling. But this time, mountains in Mussoorie called me for a reason. The reason was Nestle India’s invite to know about and be inspired by the Hilldaari movement.

The Hilldaari movement is an initiative by Nestle India that brings together several stakeholders in hill towns for effective waste management: segregation, recycling, and using waste as a resource.

Committed to care Nestle India
Visiting the mountains with a purpose

The name “Hilldaari” stems from “Zimmedaari” or responsibility and “Dildaari” or large-heartedness.

It is an integral sense of ownership that locals have for their town.  While I saw the project in full swing in Mussoorie, the Hilldaari movement has spread its wings to two other hill towns in Northern India: Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh and Nainital in Uttarakhand. While the narrative remains the same across, the expression changes at each place.

 

The stakeholders: Collective sense of ownership

“Will you do it?” Turned into “Let us all do it”, “But that is your job!” transformed into “This is our job!”. 

Hilldaari truly brings out the collectivism of several stakeholders of the project: right from the implementation partner – Stree Mukti Sanghantan, the technical partner – Recity, waste workers who climb down steep slopes to clean the trash to the local supervisors of KEEN ( Keeping the environment ecologically natural) who ferry the waste from homes to segregation centres, the Municipal Corporation, which also plays a major in enabling the Hilldaari movement power through.

Stakeholders also include the citizens, the local municipality, the hotel and restaurant owners, retailer associations who have come together to create this sustainable model that ensures both behavioral change (e.g.: the way we see waste as well as waste workers) as well as visible change. (e.g.: ensuring source segregation, zero waste institutions and lesser use of landfills).

The stakeholders in each town vary, but the integrity, the goal of building a resilient city, and the collective sense of ownership remain the same.

Recognition and empowerment:

Normally in most Indian towns, portraits of celebrities or prominent people adorn the walls. But in Mussourie, as a part of the Hilldaari movement, waste workers gained recognition through Murals: DEEWARO PE DASTAK.

Walk in these bustling streets of Mussourie and you will find yourself face to face with huge charcoal portraits of Krishna Ji, Satpal, Deen Dayal, Dabloo, and others. Harshada Kerkar of MOG- Museum of Goa sketched seven such stunning portraits over a month. She interviewed the waste professionals (door to door collectors, workers who clean drains, sweepers, waste sorters), studied their day-to-day challenges, and sketched these as an ode to their work.

Hilldaari movement Nestle India Deewaron Pe Dastak Murals
Deewaron Pe Dastak: Visible change

Neha Sasikumar of the Hilldari team shared interesting anecdotes. She said locals and shop keepers got curious when they saw these being painted, some thought these were spiritual gurus and paid respects. Recognition and gratitude are two things that stem from this initiative: Deewaro pe Dastak. Not all doors are tangible; some are intangible ones that make you want to knock on them.

Neha puts it brilliantly, “Deewaron pe dastak dete rahiye, in main darwaze ban jaayenge”. (Keep knocking on these walls, you will find doors in them). These Deeware (walls) are indeed Darwaze( doors) that knock into the minds of several who see these portraits and recognise the work of these local heroes! 

COVID Impact on the Hilldaari movement and collective problem solving:

So did the Hilldaari movement pause when COVID struck?

No! And this is one of the biggest inspirations I have drawn from the movement.

Hilldaari movement Nestle India
COVID was another test to stand together

While the world swung into uncertainty due to the pandemic, there were several unforeseen challenges that could cause significant hindrances for the stakeholders.

These challenges included the safety of the frontline waste professionals, adapting to newer ways of monitoring, including social distancing in the procedure, and finding a way to ensure seamless collection and sorting while keeping the movement restrictions in mind.

There were quick efforts made to safeguard the 284 waste professionals working at the frontline in all three locations: Mussoorie, Dalhousie, and Nainital.

Committed to care Nestle India
Effective communication sent out during COVID
Image source: Hilldaari page Instagram

Improved working conditions had to be ensured as the frontline workers were at risk. This was done by providing safety equipment, PPE’s, Uniforms, collection bags, and bringing safety SOPs in place. Food and sanitization kits were provided to these waster workers and their families. These were designed to provide for families of up to 4 members.

Committed to care Nestle India
COVID measures

Recity adapted to a digital monitoring module to monitor the collection as well as provide incentives. These performance-based incentives are rolled out based on digital monitoring through the app. The app facilitates direct transfer of payments to the bank accounts of the waste workers thus making them feel empowered and help maintain social distancing as well.

Committed to care Nestle India
Online Monitoring app: Image credit: Hilldari Team

The genesis of the Hilldaari movement was collective problem solving and COVID was another test to ‘collectively’ stand for and by each other. While all the stakeholders came together during the pandemic, the safety and security of the workers were paramount.

Additional precautionary measures were introduced, including gloves, masks, and bringing in a new normal: handling domestic biomedical waste effectively. Shifting from in-person training sessions to digital training, waste professionals were guided on segregation and safe handling of waste.

The communication shifted to WhatsApp, phone calls, radio jingles, and vehicles playing messages emphasizing the importance of social distancing. Online training sessions and capacity building sessions for workers were facilitated to adapt to the new normal.

Hilldaari movement Nestle Capacity building sessions
Capacity building sessions: Image Credit: Hilldari Team

Apart from dignity and respect, which Hilldaari already aimed at, waste worker professionalization is given importance in this period. The workers are provided with social security and this is enabled through formal identity cards that help them avail insurance schemes and other government schemes.

Another development in the pandemic was how the Hilldaari movement embraced the nation-wide sentiment of GO VOCAL FOR LOCAL. The walls of Dalhousie are used to creatively promote the local Chamba art, while the message of waste segregation is effectively conveyed through these paintings painted by Mr. Parikshit, a local artist from the region.

Hilldari movement in Dalhousie
Go Vocal for Local: Paintings by Mr. Parikshit in Dalhousie

 

Waste is a resource: 

I stand in front of the massive 150 feet wide, 12 feet wide, vibrant Wall of Hope in the village Bungalow ki Kandi, near Mussoorie. The citizens of Mussoorie with the help of Mr. Kerkar from the Museum of Goa build this colorful wall with over 1500 discarded plastic bottles.  One of the biggest behavioural changes brought by the Hilldaari movement is the way people perceive waste.

Wall of hope in Mussoorie
The Wall of Hope in the village Bungalow Ki Kandi

Upcycling waste and using it as a resource can be seen effectively in the Wall of Hope. Similar initiatives are taken in Dalhousie, where plastic is upcycled into benches, translating into visible change.

The narrative is the same, but the expression changes based not the tone of the city.

Learnings from Hilldaari movement: Building sustainable cities and inspiration for travellers:

The Hilldaari movement aims at building sustainable, resilient cities by enabling various stakeholders to collectively come together and handle waste effectively and efficiently.

The pandemic has increasingly made us aware of the importance of sustainable systems and how waste management and hygiene cannot be taken for granted.

What I have learned as a traveller: What overwhelmed me in Mussoorie was the integrity of all the local stakeholders who came together with a vision of a better, more effective waste management system. Working in tandem, facing logistic challenges of hilly terrain and the sense of ownership was deeply inspiring for someone who values conscious travel and propagates leaving a place just like you found it.

What overwhelms me now is that even in this pandemic, the stakeholders in these three towns are relentlessly working, adapting to the new normal and ensuring that the goal of resilient cities is achieved, one day at a time.

I have learned a lot from each of these stakeholders:  From the drivers, the waste workers, the sorters, the facilitators, the village girls who told stories about the Wall of Hope: everyone is an inspiration.

But a special kudos goes to Nestle India, for not just nudging these citizens to rise to this cause, but also enabling them, helping them, being the “Hub” to the various “spokes”, giving the movement wings and letting the stakeholders take the flame ahead.

A special thank you to Tulika, Shashank, Neha, Meha, Arvind Ji, and the entire Hilldaari team for sparing time and patiently giving a glimpse into this deeply inspiring movement!

Disclaimer: I had visited Mussoorie on the invite of Nestle India in October 2019, and all the learnings, experiences, and inspirations drawn are my own!

 

wall of hope Mussoorie

 

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24 thoughts on “The Hilldaari Movement: Nestle India’s Commitment to Building Sustainable Hilltowns

  1. The spirit of the Hilldaari movement was so infectious. I could not help but implement a few of their changes in my local community. Beautifully written, Divsi

    1. Absolutely agree Ami! Their spirit is inspiring and commendable 🙂 Thank you so much for reading and also for being awesome company during this trip!:)

  2. I love the fact that Nestle is so sensitive towards waste management and always takes up that issue under their CSR wing. I visited something similar in Una in Himachal and their work is commendable. You have portrayed the entire project very well.

  3. SO happy to read this! I love our hill stations but am dismayed when I see rubbish strewn around. Thank you, Nestle. What a great project. I do hope this movement will spread all over India. And thank you, Quirky Wanderer for highlighting this.

    1. Thanks for reading Roshan 🙂 Me too! So disheartened to see the beauty of hills stained with rubbish! Glad Nestle is making this turnaround in hill towns and I am earnestly hoping too that this movement spreads all over India.

  4. This is such an inspiring movement! Sadly, I feel Maharashtra would rank last in terms of awareness and initiatives concerning environment. You’ve captured some wonderful facets of this movement. Himachal, Uttarakhand are especially way ahead of other places in terms of cleanliness. NE also does a great job of it. Good of big giants like Nestle to promote such initiatives.

    1. Thank you so much Kala! It is indeed an inspiring movement and I really hope many other organisations follow suit. I am so glad you liked it and I agree that HP, NE and Uttarakhand are way ahead maybe because they know the perils of improper waste management in hilly terrain!

  5. I had kept a track of this tour of yours through your social media update last year and great to see such an informative blogpost on the same. thanks a lot for writing this and wishing many more such initiatives from responsible companies and also many more such trips to you.

    1. Thank you Anindya for always encouraging and pushing me to be regular. So happy you liked this one and found it informative. I wish the same, that we increasingly turn responsible towards the environment and not take it for granted!

  6. This is such an inspiring story. So good to see that big brands are now taking up these sustainability issues and people are wholeheartedly being a part of it. Deewaron pe dastak is such a good idea to boost their confidence and further encourage them.

    1. Thanks a lot Antarik! 🙂 So happy you liked it. The Hilldaari movement has inspired me a LOT on a personal level. I loved Deewaron pe dastak, it was such an overwhelming feeling to see smiles on the waste professionals faces when they posed in front of their murals!

  7. I had seen that wall of hope pic of yours on Insta and since then I have been very intrigued by this initiative. This goes to show that people really want to do good, there is just a need of that idea and direction! ^_^ Hope this movement spreads all over India!!

  8. I had read your earlier article on hilldaari movement last year, and it is a significant change that inspires confidence, though small. This needs to spread like wildfire!

    1. Thank you Hemal! I had visited Mussoorie last year and seen the movement at the grassroot level and was in awe of how well it was executed by the local stakeholders.

  9. Interesting. I do feel that a massive movement is required to do away with platics. We need to discard and minimize plastic use even though this might entail inconviniences.

    1. I completely agree. We need to find sustainable alternatives to minimise plastic use and even better if these are local alternatives to support smaller businesses.

  10. This is amazing. Even more amazing that it is in India! I love that the front line workers are called waste professionals giving dignity and validity to the work, and I love that they have their portraits around the town. Hugely inspiring – may it spread to other Indian towns. Only just today I read that when the head of the biggest ashram in Rishikesh introduced public garbage bins people complained that they were making the place too westernized! Anyway I hope other towns follow the Hilldaari Movement.
    Alison

    1. Thank you Alison. So happy you liked it. I found the movement extremely inspiring too, especially the social recognition for waste professionals. Seeing it at ground level was hugely comforting: their enthusiasm and dedication. It has spread to two more hill towns, I wish they take this to Rishikesh too.

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