It Took a Village to Build India’s First Zero Waste Guesthouse

Hara House was a zero waste guesthouse and social enterprise investing 20% of profits into local community development projects in the Bikaner region. Between 2017 and 2020, it had 3 full-time staff, 5 part-time tour leaders, 5 interns (who helped develop tour programs), 2 properties (Hara House and Hara Hub), multiple volunteers, and hosted over 200 guests.

Photo by Akhilesh Singh

I believe the greatest gift I was given in this life is that I’m not afraid to take a risk. A risk worth taking isn’t actually a risk at all. It’s a step in a new direction down a path that is meant for you. I may have no idea what I’m doing most of the time, blinded by passion and the thrill of what could be, but that’s part of the journey.

(Does anyone really know what they’re doing until they’re doing it?)

I remember the day I thought of Hara House. It was Spring 2017 and I was working as the Executive Director of a youth-led nonprofit in Mississauga, my hometown in the Greater Toronto Area. I sprang from my chair and outside to make a phone call. I was dialing Manoj all the way in Gajner, India before I even opened the door. 

“Manoj, I know how we can continue our work in Gajner… “

The nonprofit I was working with was a social enterprise model, a newer concept to the world of impact that I had been studying for the past five years. The organization focuses on mobilizing youth for social justice, leveraging the arts as an outlet, while the zero-waste and fair-trade cafe serves as a revenue generator for the educational and community-driven activities it leads.

It had been just over a year since returning from India after walking away from a contract with the NGO I had been working with. Not only were operations straying from my values, I was having to take the lead on projects and tasks that weren’t ethical. I had a really hard time saying goodbye. 

Sometimes we’re guided down paths that don’t bring us much joy but they lead us towards opportunities and experiences that serve our higher purpose – even if we don’t see it right away. 

Everything happens for a reason.

So, I’m on the phone recapping everything Manoj, our team, and I had built together in Gajner throughout 2015, pitching him on the idea (as if he needed convincing). I connected our passions for hospitality, and how tourism dollars could impact our work and the needs of Bikaner, and we immediately began to think of what to do next. He was onboard.

That phone call changed the entire direction of my life. 

I absolutely loved my job at the nonprofit, but I knew I was being called to start this project. I knew in the heart, the job was just the door to another opportunity. 

By June, I had decided I would exit the organization and work toward what would become Hara House. Making that decision was terrifying – again, I had no idea how I was going to make it all happen, but I let the board of directors know I would complete my employment at the end of August and would be on my way.

Then, incredible things started to happen.

Up until 2019, I ran a conscious travel and lifestyle blog called Sunshine and Raine. I was always quite punny with my name. I also ran a nonprofit in my late teens called Raine for Water. I ran my blog for about 9 years, launching it shortly after the nonprofit began when I started documenting our story and traveling to learn more about nonprofit management and social entrepreneurship. By 2017, I became quite well-known for my adventures and the stories I would share of incredible and innovative entrepreneurs and experiences around the world. 

When I decided to leave my nonprofit job in Mississauga, I didn’t have any other work lined-up. I had been doing quite a bit of marketing consulting and paid content on my blog, which I figured I could leverage, but I didn’t want to commit to anything else because I wasn’t sure of the Hara House timeline yet.

Within 4 weeks of leaving my role, I secured a press trip to Cuba with a partner organization that was working with the Impact Travel Alliance (I was their volunteer lead of the Toronto chapter at the time), a few smaller other opportunities local to Toronto, was hired to work as a Program Lead in India for Operation Groundswell in the summer of 2019, AND was sponsored to attend the Impact Travel Alliance’s (ITA) summit in New York at the UN Headquarters.

Everything was falling into place, yet I still had no idea how I was going to start Hara House.

Fast forward to November and I’m starting day one of the ITA Summit. I jump on the subway from the Upper East Side and head down to Brooklyn for a morning tour filled with arts and culture. In just those few hours, I met so many incredible people. I was so energized and inspired by all the wonderful work these travel leaders were doing around the world. I couldn’t help myself but introduce my project – “I’m working on a zero waste hostel in India!” They were also equally amazed (and had no idea I was just blowing smoke with no fire to keep it going).

That afternoon, I sat down at UN Headquarters and watched as the Executive Director, Kelley Louise, plastered my face across the big screen with a quote about my experience in Cuba – a trip focused on learning from, and supporting, local farmers pivoting to permaculture initiatives after the devastation of Hurricane Irma. I couldn’t believe it. Me? My big face? UN?!

I don’t think I slept at all that night, I was so excited to jump into day two.

I could write for hours about the people, conversations, and guidance that summit gave me in starting my journey, but there was one particular gentleman I met who ran a homestay project in Nepal that really inspired me: Shiva Dhakal, founder of Royal Mountain Travel. Hearing him speak and getting to chat with him one-on-one sent me into this clear direction of exactly what I needed to do to get started.

When I got home, I sat at my computer and wrote out an entire project plan, booked my mom and I on a flight to India, and started to close up the loose ends of my life. I was going back to India. 

This probably all sounds very magical and fate-like, but there was nothing easy about choosing this path. At the time, I had an apartment, I had a car, I had a dog, I had a boyfriend of almost three years. I knew I was having to say goodbye to my entire life knowing it would never be the same and never knowing when I’d be back (note that I wasn’t able to see my family in Canada until March 2023 because of COVID restrictions, and the birth of my son in October 2022 – that’s 5 years away).

Being so in the moment and feeling guided to keep pushing forward to make Hara House happen, sometimes I reflect back and think I could have been more delicate about how I left, but I also believe that if I had lingered too long, I might have held myself back.

Those two weeks in India at the end of 2017 were busy. The goals of the trip included securing our property, building new and nurturing existing relationships with hospitality and tourism professionals in Bikaner, and putting our financial projections together. Even though I headed back to Canada knowing we needed to raise about $10,000 CAD to secure renovations, equipment, furniture, design, and 1-year of operations, I never told myself it was impossible. Ever.

Thanks to the Summit in New York, I had connected with a team leading a responsible travel booking platform (sadly, it shut down during the pandemic as well) who were in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign aiming for somewhere around $35,000 USD. I absorbed everything they told me about developing and launching a campaign. By February 2018, we had our Indiegogo campaign live with an event to celebrate and contribution deals available for our community to stay and travel with us in Bikaner. 

(I hadn’t much experience at this point with crowdfunding, but if you want to see where it all began, click here.)

No, we didn’t raise $10,000CAD just through Indiegogo. I’ll admit I was bummed when it didn’t all come in within those two months of the campaign, but I kept faith. 

When the campaign went live, I reached out to all the amazing conscious travel, lifestyle and social entrepreneur platforms I knew to get the word out. I am still so grateful to everyone who shared the story, and continued to after we launched. By building this global network, we continually received inquiries, donations, grants, sponsorship, and I was even able to host one of my Operation Groundswell programs at Hara House two months before we officially launched. 

The momentum of the project eventually got us what we needed over a period of nine months so we could successfully launch on October 21, 2018. 

But it didn’t just stop there with raising a bunch of money. We had a lot of shit to do!

That’s when the goddess crew of incredible women I met over the summer – Kelsey, Ivonne Nirvana, Sarah, Ocean (they all deserved to be named!) – dedicated their love, sweat, and painting and cooking skills to turn what was once a mess of broken tile and paint chips into what became Hara House.

The 15 months that followed the opening at Hara House were some of the greatest, most influential, and powerful moments of my life. 

Now, four years later (as I sit and write this on October 21, 2023), it’s hard to believe I was once just a 17-year-old girl with a nonprofit, no more than $100 in our bank account, and a dream so big, I smile thinking about her ambition. If she had been scared, if she had thought “I’m not the person to do this”, if she had held herself back and played safe, Hara House, Hara World, Hara Academy would have never been.

So, to answer the question I get in my DMs just about every week “how did you build Hara House?” I didn’t. It took a village.

Passport Perspectives, Travel Column with Jazzmine Raine

About Jazzmine Raine

Jazzmine leads from a background of over 10 years in project management, social impact, and experiential education. She is the proud founder of Hara House, India’s first zero waste guesthouse and tourism organization, and has been recognized globally for her work in the sustainable tourism sector.

Her diverse career has spanned across multiple countries with a strategic focus on providing young people the tools and knowledge needed to solve global challenges. With a love for storytelling and leading social impact, she thrives when coaching students and young professionals in leading new, innovative ideas.

Jazzmine has been a key leader in many unique social projects such as Causeartist, Sustainable Travel Network, Studio.89, CanGap and Hara World. In her spare time, you will find her writing short stories and drinking chai on her balcony at 8000ft in the Himalayas.

You can read all stories under the ‘Passport Perspectives’ Travel Column here.


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