The story behind Saaf India

Shammy Jacob 5
Article by: Shammy Jacob
The story behind Saaf India

Saaf India is a foundation that is currently being set up as part of my accelerator project. 'Saaf'  means clean in Hindi,  the national language of India and understood across most languages spoken across the country including English. The objective of the Saaf India foundation is two-fold:


  1. To inspire Indians to respect and care for common spaces with respect to trash, and,
  2. To provide world class waste management systems that can bring back a kind of pristine and pure beauty that India once had.


Making a difference in India with respect to the environment was always something that I wanted to do. Every vacation had a frustrating end  knowing there was so much to do but so little time. The idea of designing a waste management system for the Indian railways started taking shape during one of my many train rides in 2009, where I watched passengers carelessly throw all the trash they generated out of the moving train into the beautiful landscape we were cutting across.  The passion remained stuck in the back burner for a while.


It all changed on March 7th 2011 when I walked into THNK for my intake interview with my future coach Elly.  Each participant was requested to bring a game-changing project as part of their SOP.  My project originally was a digital platform to crowdsource designs to revive excess clothing stock. Elly wasn't impressed. It wasn't THNK-worthy enough. During the course of a typical participant-coach conversation Elly managed to bring the Saaf Train project out into the open to be tried and tested with the THNK methodology. The project was officially born on March 7, 2011.

Saaf India

With the help of his leadership coach and various THNK tools, Shammy finally landed on a strong project idea: the Saaf India Foundation.

Over the next few months, back while going through the main forums, challenges, and feedback sessions, Saaf Train evolved into an overarching umbrella organization called Saaf India which will house future projects like Saaf City, Saaf Beach, Saaf Education etc and Saaf Train will be the first project, under the Saaf India foundation.

Being at THNK has really put wheels on this project, with many participants and faculty giving it their full support. Menno and Bas, brainstorming with me during the early months, Dinesh Sonak jumping in, has been extremely supportive in putting together the framework for the foundation and buiding a community of sponsors and experts, Rachna Dhall, providing her great insights and Brand visual identity for the foundation and project, Rupa skyping all the way from Stanford D-School,  providing advise on customising the THNK tools to make it relevant in India, Auke Ferwarde being an observant mentor to making sure the team is moving forward and Pepijn van Dijk stepping in as a wing man to use his skills of high-level communication in the government and policy circles to support the project.

Our immediate goals are to set up the foundation and have some of our advisory and supervisory board members invited, acquire initial funding to get us through our research phase in India and participating in one of the biggest design forums, the India Design Forum in March 2013. We hope to have initial prototypes for both objectives by mid-2013 and hopefully the first clean rail system by end 2014.

Stay Saaf, stay tuned.

Shammy Jacob is one of the many inspiring leaders participating in the THNK Creative Leadership Program.

To join the upcoming program and focus on your own ambitious project or venture, visit the program page or contact us at