Optimizing energy solutions for the BoP – Selco Solar

As part of our mission towards sustainable change at the Base of the Economic Pyramid in India, we present an exclusive Interview with Harish Hande, Managing Director, SELCO, India.

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Q. Congratulations on the awards and recognitions for Selco. What inspired you to start Selco; what problem and opportunity did you see?

A. Thanks! I lived for two years without access to electricity to understand what the customer really wants and what he/ she goes through. Selco is not a product company. What we do is assess the real need of the customer and hence address it with the right product, which is sourced from various partners. I started Selco and subsequently was joined by passionate, senior people. The problem we saw was that products which were made in order to be sustainable, were not addressing the customers real need. We addressed poverty alleviation creating a strong linkage between sustainable energy, social business and micro finance.

Q. How do you make Solar Energy affordable for the BoP?

A. Solutions like solar energy become affordable only when they are served by assessing the right need. Our teams understands the clients needs very well because often they eat meals together! In one particular case, a family wanted lighting at a certain period after dark. We studied the structure, created a small section in the roof and let the solar light in during the day time and installed a solution for lights which starts and switches off automatically after a certain period of time. Hence, solar energy was made affordable.

Q. Selco has been instrumental in creating the right awareness within the Local and regional Indian financial institutions, how challenging was the experience?

A. This is one of the interesting part of our work. Selco has created a sustainable model, working closely with regional banks and lending institutions, devising propositions for the low income customers at the BoP. Initially it was difficult, but overtime the banks understood that if they create supporting ecosystems for the families today, their future generations will in all probability continue to bank with them. We also had to keep a guarantee amount with the bank initially, which overtime has evolved into a sustainable model, making it easier for people to have access to funds and schemes.

Q. What makes Selco different?

A. Like many other companies, we are not a product company. But our strength is that we assess the need and hence create solutions which are the real requirements of the customer. We don’t satisfy wants or desires. It’s the right assessment that creates the most optimized solution. We established the Innovation Lab at Selco with the same purpose says Harish while sharing a very interesting incident of how he got the right most person to lead innovation at Selco. I went to this village one day to talk about the energy solutions and so stood out this gentleman from the group of villagers who asked me my background and he introduced me to the villagers as we both hailed from the IIT. This person went abroad to pursue his Phd. got married and then one fine day traveled across seven seas to find his calling in India and today has both his children and his Wife with him here!

Q. Any interesting lesson you have learned in this journey?

A. Affordability and sustainability are not the real challenges. It’s actually knowing the most optimized solution to a problem which the customer has. Eg: Harish shares how his team got into a dilemma of a couple who came to them with a unique issue, which was not related to energy though, while sharing his feedback on how he felt when they did not have a solution to the same. We were amazed to know how a family of four, with the man and the wife earning 50 Indian rupees each day, took a solution from us costing INR 8,000. What we made easier was for the family to understand their real need for energy. And then we got them access to funds. Its easier to pay 10rupees a day than paying 1500 a month for such people, hence we got support, custom designed from the regional Indian banks, who are now seeing the opportunity, with a longer term vision!

Q. What external support do you primarily seek?

A. Though funds are not a major requirement, we do seek innovative solutions. Crowd-sourcing is an interesting model. We look at making the right resources available to those who passionately create new and simple solutions to problems. We have been lucky enough to have international students to intern with us, but sadly this is not the quality we get from Indian shores.

We are thankful to Harish for the insights and time and invite you to create new opportunities for the millions at the BoP in India. Submit your business plan, if you have a solution for the Global Energy Challenge for India’s poor! Or win $3,000 by nominating a company with a solution!!

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