An Indian street vendor has shared his most valuable lessons about money with a social entrepreneur who is in the business of creating affordable energy solutions for the poorest people in the world’s largest democracy.
Harish Hande, co-founder of the Solar Electric Lighting Company (SELCO) has turned his business into an umbrella of organisations that addresses gaps in energy access through marketing, selling, installing and servicing products in homes, schools and health centres across India. Hande is a thus a front-runner in delivering “decentralised solar energy” to the poor in India.
According to Hande, Selco provided the street vendor with solar lighting that he could afford by paying a small amount every day, in turn helping to sustain the micro-entrepreneur, he said.
“The street vendor told me: I can’t afford 300 rupees ($4.60) a month, but 10 rupees a day I can manage,” Hande said.
An estimated 240 million Indian citizens have no access to power; apart from the millions more living with inadequate supplies of electricity from an unreliable power grid.
“The poorest spend a much higher proportion of their income on energy, because they can’t afford to buy solar-powered machines and lighting, so they keep using kerosene, which is expensive, dangerous and bad for the environment,” Hande added.
For more than 20 years, Hande has been trying to alleviate this by working directly with people in villages, towns and cities to determine the infrastructure and capital they need.
He also added that access to reliable energy is not just about providing electricity. “It’s a catalyst for true democracy in India, for providing business opportunities. With reliable and affordable energy, everyone has the chance to run a business,” he said.
Hande estimates Selco has reached 7.5 million people in India, and the model is being replicated in the Philippines and Tanzania.
On Thursday, Hande received the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.