The man who set up CRISIL and HDFC Bank in India wants to plant a billion trees per year with his venture, Grow-Trees.
Setting up the credit rating agency CRISIL, in 1987, was no mean feat for Pradip Shah, so it was not surprising that many countries approached him for know-how. “I helped Israel, for which they honoured me with a garden of 100 trees in my name and gave me a certificate for it. That was the origin of my idea for Grow-Trees,” says Shah.
When his son was thinking of starting a business of his own, Shah told him to start the unique tree-gifting venture instead, and promised to support his business idea. At current count, Grow-Trees has planted over 6 lakh trees across the country and is aiming far higher. “Wishful thinking is that we plant a million trees a year and someday plant a billion a year. In Israel, they plant 2.5 million trees per year. Their population is a fraction of ours, yet they manage it. We have a long way to go,” says Shah, who realizes that his small company may soon have to invest in advertising. He admits, “We are amazed at the response from the youth, although we realise that age group cannot always afford even Rs 85 (the cost of planting one tree). The younger working class has shown a lot of interest, but many don’t know about us.”
What is heartening, however, is the senior citizens who plant as many as 10 trees a day, without wanting anything in return. Shah is also pleased to see the messages people share on their eTree Certificates — from ‘May your love grow as these trees grow’ on weddings to ‘You have passed away, but these trees will live on as a memoriam’ as condolences. Shah brings up the example of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the Paris Climate Conference, where he promised to regenerate our forests to absorb 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. “The government is making an effort, but we need to supplement it. I’ve got calls from Gujaratis in Portugal who wanted to plant trees after reading about us in a Gujarati magazine. They’ve probably wanted to plant trees since childhood, but never had the opportunity. Where in the big cities can plant trees these days? You’ll need so many permissions,” reasons Shah.
Not surprisingly, most of the projects undertaken by Grow- Trees are in areas where poor tribes can benefit from the job of planting them, or in sanctuaries and wildlife habitats. For instance, a sponsor came on board to have 1,00,000 trees planted in the forests of Kanha and Pench in the first year, and returned to plant another 1,00,000 the following year. In Kumbhalgarh, a 40,000- tree project for sloth bears was completed because rocky terrain prevents the growth of termite mounds, which the bears rely on for protein intake. Scientists studied the kinds of plants they turn to instead for nutrition to figure out the ideal mix of species.
Similarly, Grow-Trees has taken up a project of 1,00,000 trees in Sitamata Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan, where 25,000 trees are designated for the endangered Indian Giant Flying Squirrel. It also helps that the Chintamani project has inadvertently been a boon for another extinction-threatened species, the Kolar Leaf Nosed Bat.
At the outset, Shah was clear that he wanted an easily accessible and mobile-friendly website. “We are social creatures who must greet people on occasions, and even to condole or remember someone. So the idea was that planting a tree with us should cost the same as buying a greeting card,” he explains, adding that financial stability was another concern. “We decided that I could support the company up to a point, but it had to become financially viable. We drew some money from my own funds and started with a rate of Rs 50 per tree. Only about three years back, the team managed to return all my interest-free loans, and are now running on a self-financed model.”