The Man who Lighted the Street
Selco may not strike a chord to most of us, but to lakhs of households and business who brave the realities of life with a simple on the face, across Karnataka and Gujarat, , Selco is literally the light giver.It gives me immense pride to mention that the man behind this wonderful organization is an IIT KGP alumnus. Let me introduce you to Harish Hande(Energy,NH,1990), an entrepreneur, a leader, and a beautiful human being. He was recently awarded the Boldness in Business in award by the Financial Times Group.
Harish started off with his story after IIT, on how the concept of Selco emerged out of his Ph.D, on rural electrification.(Your’s truly was late to the meet and missed out the initial few minutes, so will continue from there).
By the time I reached the meet, Harish was talking about his experience with the street vendors and how Selco solved their problems. A typical street vendor needs 3-4 hrs of lighting in the evening. He spends about 15 INR/day for renting out a kerosene lamp. A solar charged light with which would last about 6hrs can be made available to him at about 10 INR/day. Surely that is a winner.
But the challenge has not yet started. How does Selco make an expensive solar equipment affordable for the street vendor, who has no fixed income, who does not fit on the loan radar of all the banks, who is deemed a high risk? The answer to these questions is the story of Harish, story of Selco.
Early on they realized that great technology which is not affordable is not useful. They had to understand the cash flows of the poor man. Harish provided a little insight into this. The poor don’t have the cash / financing abilities to make an upfront payment or guarantee a high monthly payments. But that does not mean they cannot pay, in fact they pay more for energy than we do. In the above example of the street vendor, he pays 450 INR/month!!.
How do you solve such problems? Understand the customer.
They sit with the customer, understand their problems both technical, social, financial, observe the conditions and come up with a solution. One outcome of this was the creation of entrepreneurs who provided solar technology at an affordable price and in the process profitable. In the street vendor case, one person provided the vendors with solar charged lights on a rental basis, and he was financed by micro finance institutions.
There were numerous other examples of midwives in Gujarat, the salt farmers in Gujarat, the flower plucker’s in Madurai, the street vendors of Bangalore, the farmers in Karantaka. Each of them a different challenge and each a different solution.
Harish says, that one of their philosophies at Selco has been “Not to take, No as an answer”. They strive to come up with practical solutions, than backing away saying technology does not fit in.
Another interesting aspect that Harish addressed is the people in his company. How he insists that all those who join Selco understand the finances of the poor. Narrated an incident where the CFO rejected a hike in salary as the company did not reach the goal.
Harish has a built a great team with him at Selco, most of his technical staff though low on qualifications are among the best when it comes to what they do. Harish makes it a point that everyone in the company grows. This includes the office peon, who is trained in technology and now is an expert technician, the driver who does sales and so on. This itself speaks of the company culture. Though they can earn much higher salaries, the employees are still with Selco because of their passion to what they do.
If I were to write on what Harish shared and my interpretations of it, I can write a book. Here, I will summarize his speech:
Think in terms of a solution, not just a product.
Technology is not useful, if it is not affordable.
Have respect for individual and what they do.
Innovation is finance is a key for creating sustainability.
Develop practical solutions.
Understand the user and develop products for them.
Think long term.
Long term takes lot of hard work, no quick solutions.
The following phrase which Harish mentions sums up Selco, “”.
TAA Bangalore chapter organized “Interface with Harish Hande” on 18th April 2009. We started of at 4:30 and by 5:00 There was a motley crowd of about two dozen people. We ended the evening with the senior most alumni present V Seshmani(1969) presented a memento to Harish on behalf of TAA Bangalore.It was snacks and catching up with the junta. It was 3hrs worth the time spent. We congratulate Harish for all the great stuff and wish him good luck in the all his future efforts. You can find the photos from the event on flickr.
The following are a must read to know more about Harish and Selco.
Ramjee Ganti (NH, 2003)
Photos: Kimi ( RP,1992)
Cross Posted on: www.iitkgpblr.org, www.iitkgpblr.wordpress.com
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