He’s pioneering an upcycled mindset!
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
Walking into the office of Rescued Glass with Manish Sethi, a charming, eloquent social entrepreneur with a passion for sustainability and a million ideas running through his head; my eye is immediately drawn to a painting of a lone man sitting on a bench. Done with a breezy hand in eye-catching colours, it’s at once peaceful and evocative: “it reminds me that entrepreneurship can be a challenging path,” Manish explains. “Many of us often see the end results and achievements of entrepreneurs, but we don’t often see the journey, struggles, and process of getting there.”
Despite having only 22 years of life experience under his belt, Manish is clearly someone who can’t rest on his laurels; his vivacious energy is constantly looking for the next passion project to sink his teeth into. He walks me through his first one, Rescued Glass, a socially-conscious business focused on repurposing glass bottles, which was born from a CAS (Community, Action and Service) project during his years at NIST International School, and which was revived during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Sustainability and how to make a difference was taught to us a lot in school growing up,” he explains. “From this, you realise how important it is for businesses to keep sustainability in mind, and not just focus on making profits. This mindset was ingrained in me from my education and my upbringing by my parents, who always showed me the importance of giving back. Ever since I was a kid, we’d often visit orphanages and old people homes, which made me realise how important it is for us to give back.”
As I look through the impressive array of repurposed glassware in their office – a beautiful drinking glass made from the bottom of a Belvedere vodka bottle here, a wine decanter with eye-catching curves there – I notice in pride of place is a poster of quotes, which Manish tells me are ones that have inspired people in the office. “Chase the vision not the money, the money will follow you,” says one, “Don’t be afraid to start over, you’re not starting from scratch. You’re starting from experience,” another advises. In a nutshell, this is what they do here, and what Manish clearly has at the forefront of their mind: “Thailand’s home for me,” he says simply. “I wanted to find a way to give back – to students, and to others. No matter how small or big the impact is, it’s important to put in that effort, to learn from others and give back. And that’s what we try to do at Rescued Glass: learn, learn, learn.”
Beyond this passion project, Manish has started a handful of other businesses, and is also working with a climate tech startup in London, where he’d studied Business Management at King’s College London. He credits his time at the latter with solidifying his mindset of giving back through community empowerment and sustainable practices, and he tells Masala a little more about his journey to where he is today.
You said that university was a formative time for you in developing your current mindset. Tell us about the ways that you leveraged your university education to change your approach to business and entrepreneurship.
So many people focus so much on trying to get the best grades in university. But from my experience, what’s also important is making the most of meeting new people, and being involved with different projects. I was involved with King’s Business Club, with the Indian communities in university, and a lot to do with social entrepreneurship. For example, I was part of a platform called Enactus, a platform for social entrepreneurship with universities around the UK, where we shared our struggles, successes, and ideas. What I really got from university was what I learned from others; the mindset of putting myself out there, meeting new people, learning, making mistakes, and getting comfortable with making mistakes, which I’m still learning to do now.
How do you ensure that every aspect of your Rescued Glass, from production to packaging, maximises social and environmental impact?
We are always finding innovative ways to upcycle and repurpose glass bottles that would have end up in landfills. For instance, with a Heineken bottle, we cut the bottom part into a drinking glass. However, we were wondering what we could do to make use of the top part. Something exciting that we’re doing is making trophies out of the top part of the beer bottles – this is an initiative that our team of students in Bangkok Patana School have just finished, and our trophies were used in SEASAC (the South East Asia Student Activities Conference) for their golf tournament.
We work with many leading international schools to provide a platform for students to be involved with social entrepreneurship and create awareness of glass waste. The students lead their own teams and all the profits that are generated are donated to a charity or initiative of the students’ choice. As Rescued Glass is a passion project, my role is to support the students and guide them however I can.
We also try to maximise our impact with our packaging. We made a conscious effort to choose a partner who was sustainable as well. Our amazing partner is called Second Chance Bangkok, and they work with underprivileged women in the slums of Bangkok, who upcycle old clothes into unique and beautiful packaging for us.
What challenges have you faced in running a social enterprise, especially one that you started at such a young age? And how have you overcome these challenges?
Honestly, when I first started, I thought it’d be easy. After having seen success stories on social media, I thought, “how hard can it be to lead a team, and to start a social enterprise?” I thought we’d grow 10x in a few months. But it’s been a great challenge, which has been a great learning opportunity.
The biggest challenge was knowing how to get started – we had a mission and vision but we were unsure how to get there initially. We’ve realised that to overcome this is to put yourself out there, and to ask for help. It’s also getting over the limiting beliefs, the voice that asks, “how am I supposed to know what to do?” Another thing I’ve learned in this process is to be patient. I’m usually so impatient; I want everything done now. But after having done this for almost five years, I’ve realised that it’s a slow and steady process.
You mentioned that Rescued Glass is a passion project for you. Aside from that, you’re a man who wears many hats, and this isn’t the first time that you’ve shown your entrepreneurial side. Can you tell us a little about those?
I think ever since high school, I’ve always been trying to learn, make mistakes, meet new people, and do different things. One of the things I noticed was that there’s a gap in VIP bodyguard security. I’d met a bouncer at a club and I really liked his mindset; his desire to learn and grow. He came to the Rescued Glass office where I’d teach him English, and I learned from him about the security industry. I helped him build a brand called Pom Private Security, and together, we helped him to develop his skills in communication, how to get clients, and use social media. It’s another passion project of mine. I also used to be a personal trainer, with a handful of clients, and I really enjoyed that. Fitness has been a huge part of my life, and it’s transformed me, in a sense. Weight lifting really shaped my mindset of ‘resilience, consistency, and discipline.’
On top of that, I enjoyed hosting parties while back in university in London, and I’d work part-time hosting Bollywood events which turned into a full-time events management gig for a while after graduation. But the lifestyle, working till around 5am in the morning, was too crazy for me. [Laughs] One of the craziest weeks we had was when we hosted three Holi events in one week, all while juggling classes!
You’re also working for a climate tech startup in London. Can you tell us a little about that, and the work you do there?
The CEO of my current company was my mentor, helping and guiding me through creating an impact with Rescued Glass. This start up opportunity came through him. We help companies report, reduce, and remove business travel emissions. I’ve been working with them for a year, but I’ve been working remotely since I moved back to Bangkok six months ago. It’s been an exciting learning opportunity to be part of a fast growing start up helping large corporates around the world to become more sustainable. We’re trying to educate our clients and big businesses why it’s important to have sustainable business travel.
Any advice for those wanting to enter the world of entrepreneurship?
Not being afraid to ask for help and being vulnerable is so important. It’s ok to doubt yourself during the journey, but what really helped me, and I think will help other aspiring entrepreneurs, is to ask for help from people who’ve done it already or who have more experience in that field. It’s mostly about community. Our community is already so strong, but there’s so much more we can learn from each other, including advice on entrepreneurship, sustainability, and giving back in general.