9th March 2015

£5000 award scooped by aspiring social entrepreneurs Manas Nanda and Irina Fedorenko


Soap nuts can simply be popped into the washing machine in a muslin bag as an environmentally-friendly alternative to chemical detergents.

Alum Manas Nanda (MBA 2013-14) and current scholar Irina Fedorenko (DPhil Geography & Environment, 2013-16), have been jointly awarded a grant of £5000 under the Oxford Social Entrepreneurship Scheme.


The grant, known as the ‘Build It Award’ is funded by Oxford University and HEFCE in collaboration with UnLtd, an organisation which provides support to social entrepreneurs. In addition to the financial award, Manas and Irina will also become Fellows of UnLtd.


Their award-winning project involves offering an alternative to environmentally harmful conventional laundry detergents made directly from a dried fruit – the soap nut – grown naturally in parts of Asia. Due to their high phosphate content, normal chemical laundry detergents are the cause of large scale river contamination. According to a study published by the European Commission in 2007, detergents used every year in the 25 EU Member States contained approximately 110,000 tonnes of phosphorus causing vast stretches of river, lakes and seas devoid of fish, plants and other aquatic life. However the use of soap-nuts – being 100% fruit-based – drastically reduces these negative impacts. The new social enterprise will import sustainably sourced soap-nuts from India and market them in the UK in consumer-friendly packs.


Thanks to the grant, Manas has been able to begin realising his dream of supporting the indigenous communities in his native state of Odisha, India, by establishing more viable ways to market the various forest products they cultivate.  He has set up a pilot project in one of the villages to begin the training of small groups of local people to  sort and process forest products (soap nuts in this case) which are then being marketed in Europe.


Meanwhile Irina has been liaising with potential buyers of soap nuts in UK including Oxfam Retail, Nature Shop UK and Amnesty Shop, as well working with legal experts -  made accessible through the UNLtd fellowship - to define how the business enterprise will be structured with in the UK. They are also looking to to expand the team to help improve consumer engagement and communication.


There are exciting times ahead for the Weidenfeld Programme's newest entrepreneurial duo!