Connecting to the Source
In life, most of us are on a journey to unveil what our true purpose is. Sometimes we envision the path as linear, but as we go through life, we embark on windy turns and unforeseen roads. In the end, most will find that the answer to all our questions was always right in front of them. This was the case for Pankaj Agarwal. After spending close to 20 years in the corporate world, Pankaj could tell that his destiny wasn’t quite fulfilled. He knew he served a deeper purpose, one that gave back to the community that raised him: India.
India is a unique land of colors, landscapes, history, and people. Unfortunately, there are major issues that inhibit India from fulfilling its potential economically. Some of those challenges revolve around poverty, pollution, and inequality. In 2013, Pankaj and his wife, Richa, knew it was time for them to be a part of the change they hoped to see for India.
Just Organik grew from an idea into a business once Pankaj and Richa Agarwal realized the solution to their home country’s problem resided in the ground, literally. Agriculture is the largest employer in India but also provides the lowest income. On average, farmers generate $150 a month. In return, 70% of this income goes back into the field through chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As farmers continue to utilize intensive agriculture techniques, including continually adding of chemical fertilizers, soil health is tipped out of balance and the land becomes a major emitter of carbon, accelerating climate change. In turn, a changing climate negatively impacts the social and economic sustainability of farmers. Just Organik provides a solution for smallholder farmers in India by providing three different types of support:
1. Educate farmers that their traditional chemical-use farming is not good for them, the environment, or the consumer.
2. Cover the cost of certifying that their farms are employing healthy farming practices and provides farmers training and documentation throughout the process.
3. Help farmers to connect to accredited markets to sell their produce.
As a team, Pankaj and Richa have built an enterprise that makes safe and healthy organic food more accessible and affordable for consumers, creating sustainable wealth for farmers. During the pandemic, Just Organik was also accredited as one of the 50 leading responders to the COVID-19 crisis. Just Organik works with 3,000 farmers in the far-off Himalayan region and tough terrain of Uttarakhand, where it’s a great challenge to provide access to basic health care. Just Organik was able to provide COVID-19 medication, thermometers, and other health equipment in various villages.
Pankaj’s journey to becoming an entrepreneur has been tilled, watered, and cultivated much like a well-managed farm. The fruits of the Pankaj’s labors, Just Organik, is a true representation of how tending to our planet is tending to
Pankaj was born in a small town named Sambhal, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, about 150 miles north of New Delhi. His family specialized in business, but Pankaj had dreams of becoming an engineer instead. After being the first boy in his village to qualify for the engineer entrance exam, Pankaj was free to pursue his dreams. Pankaj’s engineering career took flight in 1995 when mobile telephones were on the rise in India. During this time, he went back and forth between India and the U.S. Collectively, Pankaj spent 20 years in the corporate sector and quit in 2011, a year after a life-changing event.
In 2010, Pankaj can specifically recall being on a 6:30 a.m. flight heading to Bangalore from Delhi, India. He was enjoying a nice, cool lemonade until he started shaking and sweating profusely. The last thing he remembers is asking for more ice before his world went black and he passed out. Eventually, he opened his eyes to business class and an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. The attendant debriefed Pankaj on his incident and emphasized how lucky he was to be helped by a doctor traveling on the same flight. The doctor spoke briefly with Pankaj and requested that he meet with him upon his return to Delhi. After four days, Pankaj finally met with the doctor. On his visit, the doctor determined that he was fine at that moment, but in need of a wake-up call.
Pulling out an hourglass, the doctor pointed his finger to the grains of sand. The doctor would go on to explain that sand grains are limited, and everyone has limited grains. If one widens the gap of the hourglass, sand rapidly moves from the top to the bottom. The stress that Pankaj was putting himself under was widening that gap. And as a result, Pankaj was putting himself at risk of developing serious health conditions. After 18 months of ruminating thoughts around the doctor’s advice, Pankaj quit his job in 2011, and embarked on his path to becoming a sustainable entrepreneur.
Despite removing one barrier, Pankaj was met with many others as he made the transition from the corporate world to entrepreneurship. He had to unlearn everything; no longer was he greeted by a taxi man/woman holding his placard in the airport nor could he rely on his corporate network. After hearing Pankaj created an NGO, most of his corporate contacts wouldn’t take his calls anymore.
Even worse, Pankaj lost his sense of security. He put all his life savings into his business. Every first week of the month, Pankaj made employees’ salaries the priority. Just Organik was bootstrapped, and Pankaj intended to do everything he could to keep it that way.
But most importantly, the hardest sacrifice came at the expense of Pankaj’s family life. Given that Pankaj and his wife co-founded Just-Organik, it was hard to maintain balance between quality family time and growing a start-up that he said was like a newborn baby. Pankaj could not give the time he wanted to spend with his family, especially during a time when his kids were growing up and going to college.
Pankaj eventually found there was great reward in doing the right thing. In the first few years of Just Organik’s operations, they catered to a group of farmers in a little valley by the name of Devhal. Devhal is a small Himalyan state, where farmers were selling grain at 20 cents per kilo. Devhal agriculture was generating extremely low profits, and as a result, there was a significant migration of young Devhal workers to other Indian communities. Just Organik worked with Devhal farmers for 3 years. Once Devhal
farmers were organic certified and operating their farms in a sustainable manner, the price of their produce reached 40 cents per kilo. A 2x increase in product price was enough incentive for young workers to stay in Devhal and work for their family farms. Families were united and the Devhal community was notably happier as their agricultural economy prospered.
Aside from Devhal, Just Organik has helped many farmers and communities around India, especially through dark times such as COVID-19. During the pandemic, people were more conscious of their health and what factors would strengthen their immunity. One of those factors was food. Just Organik gave consumers in India and around the world security in knowing that the food they provided would strengthen their immunity, not weaken it due to unhealthy residual chemicals from pesticides and fertilizers
By persuading and helping more than 3,000 farmers to relinquish their use of harmful chemicals and convert their farmlands into certified organic farms, Just Organik is developing an agricultural system that decreases carbon emissions.
Like any well-seasoned entrepreneur, Pankaj has noteworthy wisdom to impart to aspiring entrepreneurs. Through these three lessons, Pankaj feels eternally blessed to know that “great sense of achievement comes not from having a lot of money in one’s account but instead through being able to touch so many lives.” The following lessons, in the words of Pankaj, are as follows:
1. Having half good knowledge is worse than having no knowledge. For the first four years of founding Just Organik, Pankaj did not hire anyone from the agriculture industry. At the time, in 2013, organic farming was an unfamiliar concept. Naivety was his best friend, and the only way he and his team could think outside the box is if they had no baggage.
2. From day one, try and make a sustainable business. Pankaj was never focused on funding when he and his wife started Just Organik. With external funding, Pankaj knew stress and pressure would inevitably steer their company in an unsustainable direction.
3. Think about the milestones you want to achieve and conduct a temperature check in between. What he achieved in nine years, Pankaj believes he could have achieved in three. One can see more clearly what different decisions to make if they are in tune with their milestones and progress.
In pursuit of his own lessons, Pankaj envisions a three-year plan for Just Organik. The product line will no longer be limited to food and instead diversified into other product categories. In three years, we can envision Just Organik as the most trusted, ethical, and sustainable brand in India. During the next phase of his journey, Pankaj will continue to cultivate his own life of meaning.
Check out organic products on Just Organik’s website: https://www.justorganik.com/ (also the image source)
Stay up to date by following their Instagram and LinkedIn: @JustOrganik