January 2018 Member of the Month: Ms Sahar Mansoor (2013)

"What strikes me most about my time at Wolfson is that it was the most intellectually stimulating year of my life, filled with research symposiums and late nights spent in the library; but also tons of fun with Formal Halls, May Balls, Wolfson Howler nights, loud nights at the bar watching the football World Cup and the sheer happiness of being back in the warm at Wolfson after rainy bike rides from classes!"

Sahar Mansoor

How did you come to study at Wolfson College?

I grew up in Bangalore, India, and went to Los Angeles for my undergraduate studies. During my senior year, I explored universities for my graduate studies. While I explored many universities in multiple countries, Cambridge was the most exciting to me, and Cambridge was the only university I applied to. The mentorship of accomplished professors such as Dr. Gemma Burgess, paired with rigorous cross-disciplinary coursework focused on environmental economics and environmental law, created the academic setting I wanted to immerse myself in. Wolfson College was my pick, because of the diversity of the students, studies being pursued and nationalities represented.

What is your current occupation and how did you get into this role?

When I moved back to India after my time at Cambridge, I felt overwhelmed by India’s trash problem. I was confronted by it every day, seeing piles of garbage on the streets, and I spent time with local waste pickers and watched them sort through waste with their bare hands. I started to think of the environmental, health and social justice issues associated with our garbage problem.

I wanted to stop being part of the problem. I knew I had to address my own trash problem first. My solution was to live a lifestyle that best reflects the values I care about. I had called myself an environmentalist for about six years at the time. I studied environmental policy at the University of Cambridge and I had worked at the World Health Organization, but I decided I needed to live a life fully congruent with my environmental and social justice values. I needed to walk the talk, and I knew I had to start living a zero-waste lifestyle.

I have been living a zero-waste lifestyle for two and a half years now. In that time, I have produced only half a kilogram of trash, all of which fits in a 500ml jar.

In my zero-waste journey, I realized that it was impossible to find personal care and home care products that didn’t contain harmful chemicals and weren’t packaged in plastic. In response to this problem, I wanted to create a company that mirrored the values of zero waste, ethical consumption and sustainability. I wanted to make it easy for other people looking to consume more mindfully and to encourage others to produce less waste. Bare Necessities was born.

I am the Founder of Bare Necessities (BN), a zero-waste personal care and home care brand and a hub for awareness on waste-free living! At BN, we take a cradle-to-cradle approach to every product, from design to manufacturing, to distribution. All of our products are powered by natural, bare ingredients which have no harmful impacts on our health or our environment. Our raw materials are ethically sourced. All of our packaging is recyclable or biodegradable, which means nothing ends up in a landfill. All of our products are handcrafted and available at the click of a button. Additionally, BN is a completely women-run enterprise.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

I love what I do. I would have to say that one of my favorite parts of my job is spreading awareness of the zero waste philosophy through workshops and talks. Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles. The aim is to reduce what we trash in landfills and incinerators to zero – and to rebuild our local economies in support of community health, sustainability, and justice.

One of my favorite workshops this year was at Bangalore International School with students of the Learning Center (which caters to students with varied special needs). The workshop started with a mini talk on trash and ended with us making DIY bath salts and lip balms.

Additionally, I have organized workshops and talks at cafes and offices to spread awareness about overconsumption, the global garbage crisis and associated environmental and health impacts. Reducing waste means less environmental impact, less resources and energy used and saves money! In my workshops, I share tips on to how go zero waste and bust any myths you may have about a zero waste lifestyle being difficult or restrictive, and usually make lavender bath salts or lip balm.

Two of my favorite corporate talks yet have been at Google and Microsoft. I never thought a room full of techies would be so excited to talk about trash with me!

I love the medium of workshop talks; it’s a great way to gain insight into the minds of diverse audiences. They are typically super interactive and fun. I always come back learning something I didn’t know before.

How have your studies at Wolfson helped you in your career?

Wolfson taught me that there is no conventional career path and that age doesn’t matter when it comes to chasing dreams. I met people who were starting a medical degree at 30, I met a former Jehovah's Witnesses pursuing her PhD in architecture at age 45. I met one of my best friends at Wolfson – who started college at age 11, and was pursuing her third master’s degree at the age of 22.

What is your fondest memory of your time at Wolfson?

What strikes me most about my time at Wolfson is that it was the most intellectually stimulating year of my life, filled with research symposiums and late nights spent in the library; but also tons of fun with Formal Halls, May Balls, Wolfson Howler nights, loud nights at the bar watching the football World Cup and the sheer happiness of being back in the warm at Wolfson after rainy bike rides from classes! 

Which person (living or historical) do you most admire and why?

Harish Hande, Founder of a social-enterprise called SELCO, opening pathways to make clean energy affordable throughout rural India. SELCO’s unique approach to selling, servicing, and financing clean energy products for poor communities has upheaved assumptions around the ability of the rural poor to use, afford and maintain sustainable technologies. Through this 20+ year old enterprise with 40+ branches throughout the country, selling over 318,400 solar home systems, and providing power systems to almost 10,000 schools, hospitals and other institutions, Mr Hande has successfully demonstrated the benefits of renewable energy and its role in serving underserved communities.

Mr Hande is someone I really admire, because he started SELCO when he was in his 20s. He dared to dream big when the ecosystem for renewable energy was largely underdeveloped; for example, no bank in India had ever given a loan for solar energy before, renewable energy targets and policies were almost non-existent, and customers lacked knowledge about solar energy in the first place.

Which book has had the greatest impact on you?

This is a tough one. There has been a collection of books that have impacted my life:

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

Happiness by Richard Layard

Why We Should be Feminists by ‎Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling


Social Media Handles:

Website: https://barenecessities.in/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sahar-mansoor-a6aa3623/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/barenecessities_zerowasteindia/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Unofficial-Bare-Necessities-Zero-Waste-India-1893082314306296/


Meaningful Recognitions:

Google India’s Inspiring Indian of the Year 2017

Harper’s Bazaar Magazine India - Bare Necessities recognized as one of the top 5 Handcrafted in India Brands 2017

Femina India - 6 Millennial Women who are the Keepers of Hope

NDTV’s Swachh Warrior - “Yes, It Is Possible To Lead A Zero Waste Lifestyle Take A Cue From This 26-Year Old Bengaluru Woman”

Better Homes and Gardens Magazine India - The Innovators, Trailblazers and Pathbreakers of India (The 10 names you ought to know)