This evening I attended the fifteenth anniversary celebration of SELCO India, a social enterprise established in Bangalore that provides energy solutions and services to households and businesses that do not have access to electricity. The man at the center of evening, founder Harish Hande, downplays his role in the company’s success with humor and deference to the efforts of all the employees and supporters of SELCO. Humility notwithstanding, Harish’s guidance from SELCO’s first solar lamp installations (which he installed himself) to an operation that deploys 170 technicians through 25 regional service centers is nothing to laugh at.
SELCO’s product, efficient indoor lighting powered off cells charged by small solar panels, is nothing unusual. What makes SELCO unique is the effort put into post-sale service and organizing financing that allows customers to afford the technology. As Harish put it, many of SELCO’s customers cannot afford 300 rupees a month, but can do 10 rupees a day. Harish’s efforts to convince local banks to offer loans with terms that mirror recipient cash flow were key to making the lamps attainable.
The solar lamps replace kerosene, which is rather dim, unbelievably dirty, and has a price that fluctuates in and out of affordability. The payments for solar lamps are often comparable to those for kerosene, and once the loan has been paid off, the energy is as free as the sun. SELCO has since added solar thermal water heating and cookstoves to its product offerings. At 100,000 installations and growing, SELCO has improved the health and lives of many that would otherwise continue to be passed over by the providers of modern technology.
One might be forgiven for not realizing this is a for-profit company. Harish shows us that with the creativity to do what was previously thought undoable, and unwavering dedication to mission-based goals, business can be a force for overwhelming good. Here’s to many more years of growth and success!