Kamal Kapadia 0:54
So I'll do a little intro. It gives me great joy to welcome and introduce Dr. Harish Hande. Harish is the founder of Selco India and he's also the founder and CEO of Selco Foundation. Both organizations are dedicated to bringing clean energy services to poor rural communities and sort of using clean energy as a way, as a catalyst for eradicating poverty across India and Harish has done some really amazing pioneering work with both organizations. And in recognition of this work, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award, which is actually recognized as the Asian Nobel Prize for his service to the poor.
As many of you know, I also worked with Harish in the very early days of Selco. And I was trying to think of a story that sort of really captures the essence of Harish, and I have many many stories, but one comes to mind, especially. So we were driving in South India, we were actually driving to some solar installations that that Selco had installed in this in this beautiful region of South India called the Nilgiris, which is the this mount, amazing, exquisite tropical mountain range. And as you were driving Harish, we are calling in the car and he said, Oh, actually, let's stop here we were on this road surrounded by these beautiful forests and mountains. So let's stop here because there's a coffee plantation, a coffee farm. And they have this really amazing small scale micro hydro system. And it's really transformed things for all of these coffee, coffee farmers here because they don't have access to the grid. So let's just stop and go check it out some interesting technology. Let's go look at it.
So we stop and we end up on this farm and we, we speak at the farm house a little bit and then we start walking and we're like walking it's lush, tropical, beautiful surroundings, and like what 5 minutes in Harish says, in his very sort of calm, cool way, he's like, don't freak out! But I think we should look at your feet right now. And we look down at our feet, and they are swarming with leeches. So each photo, we're not talking like one or two leeches, we're talking like 15 to 20 leeches on every foot and like swarming up your legs and like all the leeches of the Nilgiris kind of headed toward us, essentially. And at that moment, I thought, okay, I bet I'm gonna cry, or I'm just gonna scream, or I'm just gonna really freak out. But then I looked at Irish and Irish was just sort of calm as the Buddha. And he's like, well, we've come this far, we might as well just keep going another 10 minute walk. And somehow just because he was so calm and composed, and just kind of matter of fact about it, it felt like yeah, okay, we can do this. We can just keep walking with these leeches since warming up our legs, and we'll keep picking them off as we go. And so we went, we continued and we ended up at this micro hydro system.
I tell this story. It's an amusing anecdote, partly because it just captures like, sort of, I think one thing I really appreciated about Harish, sort of how he could take on any challenge in this very calm and composed way. And I think that was very valuable in the early days when we did face a lot of challenges. But another thing that I feel like it sort of captures about Harish is that he really leads by example. And what I mean by that is in the early days of selco, and even right, even after I left, even though we had a head office in Bangalore, Harish was never there. He was just always in the villages. He really, really built these organizations from the ground up. He really believed in doing the work himself. That was a very valuable lesson to me very early on in my career. I really appreciated that. So Harish, I'm going to hand over to you and just say thank you for all the learning and the fun adventures and yeah, I hand over to you, though.
Harish Hande 6:02
I was about to say when are you going to stop at all... No, come on, don't believe whatever Kamal said it's actually not true. Anyway, so thanks, thanks Kamal for doing this and thanks to your team for starting on this endeavor, I think which is very, very critical. So, I was asking Kamal a couple of times. So, should I give an extempore or should I do a presentation and so, so, I have a mix of of both, I will do looking at where it is and see today what she said about the leeches I think the issue is, those leeches are the most harmless leeches in the world. And the actual leeches are humans in many ways and, and the way we have looked at disparities and the way we have looked at basically the poor where we confuse between intellectual poverty and financial poverty. And I think something today we have, we have replaced the old school thought of colonization with the middle class and upper middle class colonization of the poor that is actually happening in the world.
That, in fact is what, what I think is the biggest concern. Once we are able to solve that thinking process, we would have absolute immediate solutions to climate in many ways. And so why we pick up sustainable energy just like if you look at COVID-19, or climate change, the biggest brunt that's going to be faced is by the segment called the poor. We , the world has gone poor agreed but actually the disparities have increased because the poor have gotten poorer by multiple more times than the rich getting poorer. The gap has actually increased.
And with the crisis taking a second phase from today, and this week, we're going to actually face much, much larger issue in the next next three to four months, where I mean, they say that I mean, the prediction is that India would have moved by at least a decade and a half. But I think it would be more that the last 15 to 18 years of work, and especially in poverty eradication has actually been destroyed in one way or the other with the destruction of the ecosystem. The beauty of sustainable energy is that like, decentralized form of solar, or any other decentralized form, it democratizes the delivery of health. It democratizes the delivery of education, democratizes the that the poor can be innovators and the poor can be, can be entrepreneurs.
That today what happened is we if you come from a country like India, the issue is who gets the money. It's a PowerPoint, Excel and Word. The non-English speakers have absolutely no chance to actually get the failure monies that all of us would get to do any type of failure in terms of risk investments or a new innovation or an application or an entrepreneurship, right and that I think somewhere, decentralized energy breaks that myth creates a level playing thing.
It's much more than just environment. The beauty of looking at decentralized energies, it not only puts development at the heart of the, of the of the subject, but also has the added benefit of solutions to climate. So today, we should not bifurcate climate and saying that oh it's climate, its environment and you need to do good. I think the issue is, unless you do not get social sustainability in order, other orders will act and and the beauty of social sustainability and equality is that the social sustainability and environmental sustainability going hand in hand. And and that's not like this or that as people keep speaking about. And so that's where I think we've been trying to push SELCO when we started in 1995, or 25 years ago, that time we started more from saying that, how do we use solar as a form of lightning.
But I think as as we grew over a period of time, we said lighting itself is not the solution. For example, just because somebody has light, I mean, classically in NGO language, or solar lights means education and children are getting educated. That's actually false. Because it's not about solar lighting, if solar lighting was leading to better education than every urban kid should have been sparked by now. But the issue is today, it's the ecosystem of education, lighting, schools, teacher, the whole gamut of things. And that's exactly what we need to look at livelihoods, the way we have to look at health services, the way we have to look at education and other social services. And sustainable energy is in the center of that glue. So just a couple of slides just to just to, what do you call it as to tell what I'm actually trying to say is here if you look at if you look at this oh Kamal, you're able to see?
Laney Seigner 11:13
Looks like it's still loading. But it's ..we see your screen. It's just not. It's blank so far.
Harish Hande 11:41
Okay so our whole centerpieces about how do you how do you look at poverty and how can sustainable energy play as a catalyst to eradicate poverty in a long term, on a long term basis using so so I mean, for example, what what what what contributes to climate change obviously if you look at Bangladesh, if look at West Bengal. If you look at central Maharashtra with drought, you look in Brazil, Egypt lost all of the power and poverty for example, if you if ...
Why does migration happen because whether the droughts and floods the repeated expenses on housing, and no predictability of income in terms of agriculture on anything else. Climate change is very, very linked to cyclic poverty, natural disasters, I mean, some of them are linked to climate change, but like things like earthquakes and tsunamis, which are not linked is also has led to skewed development because today, the development is in terms of whether it's too much urbanization or equal resources are not allocated to different pockets to people and very exclusive policies.
A lot of the policies are not ground up, it's very much what a person thinks at 35,000 and then you filter it down, and the policies are or and and so much on on what you call it a scale, scale and scale without looking at what the itty gritties of a process that is required for an intervention to happen in a in a democratic fashion in the rural areas, does not the policy policies are not under that obviously. And then the fifth one is social conflicts and war, which which leads to poverty.
And what we basically mean is that, can we create a, what we call it as a safety net, a safety net. See all of us who are on the webinar today, we have an inherent safety net in some in terms of whether our education qualification or an asset or a house, all our safety nets that we have some sort of a 90% confidence that we will not go back to poverty irrespective of what shock happens one way or the other.
But unfortunately 60 to 65% of the world's population does not have that confidence that if any shock happens, they will go back to not go back to poverty. COVID push back, climate change pushback. So so what we saying that can sustainable energy play a role in creating those safety nets, that prevents the people from poverty. See now if you look at the poverty line, we all talk about poverty line and stress on, we need to create an social sustainability line here is where we have all crossed that social sustainability line. Even if something happens, we don't fall back to line below it.
But today, when people say that people have gone up poverty, it does not mean have they gone out of poverty permanently, because if something happens like a Covid, they go back here. And so if a farmer commits suicide in Maharashtra, the family goes back here, it takes two more decades for the family to get back to above poverty. That means you've lost two more decades of work that or or the or the family has lost two.
And what we are saying is, we are saying there are different ways of looking at climate and and poverty angle is a very powerful angle of doing it in a way where we concentrate on processes that scales up, and it's like the ideal situation and see whether I have this.
The ideal situation for us is this as if the Ministry of Sustainable Energy, Ministry of Energy disappears. And you have some ministries in all other SDGs for example, if I have to look at SDG number 3, how can I link sustainable energy and health? How do I link sustainable energy and livelihoods in SDG 8. It is like Ministry of Energy disappearing in India, but you creating some ministries in Ministry of Women and Healthcare, sorry in Education in in Livelihoods, Ministry of rural development, so I don't have to think of sustainable sustainable energy as an afterthought, but how do I look at sustainable energy from day one
For example, if I have to look at computerization of rural schools today, typically what happens is Ministry of Education decides on a computer & then so we're going to do thousand schools. Oh, by the way 450 schools are without electricity. Can we ask the Ministry of Energy to provide solar for it? We're saying that stupidity because if you had thought from day one, you would have either thought, okay, what is the most efficient way of looking at computers, which computers, what computers are efficient, look at the building design, then look at solar energy. So it's a combination of if, and then most importantly, what type of content is actually required that leads to a better backup of battery. If there's good day lighting, I don't need so much of solar. So you you think about solar energy as a as a catalyst or an input and not the centerpiece. And now you have a quality intervention in a rural school with good building, good computer design, good solar design, with after sale service and with content.
That's what we need to look at interventions and that should actually come from the Ministry of Education and not from Ministry of Energy. We are saying that how do we make that categorization to happen? So what we basically into these, we basically say that can we shift the beneficiaries, the concept of beneficiaries to be partners today? It's not I'm going to help somebody, nobody wants help. We need partnership. Why can't the poor be partners with us are in this interventions?
And how do we create safety nets in terms of assets, these other women will all own a sewing machine cooperative, again, it just as an MD, it's an asset that belongs to all the women even if something happens, they cannot be thrown out, just like what and they don't need to walk thousands of kilometres. They have their own livelihoods within a radius of 150 kilometers. If you look at here, it's a hammer mill is like the hammer mill for, it's a solar powered hammer hammer mill for blacksmith initially what used to happen as you know, they would actually hammer it on a day to day basis. This powered by solar not only reduces drudgery, it encourages and inspires the next generation to pick it up.
And number three, it also equalizes gender. Because of unfortunate what strength it was required. A lot of women are not blacksmith blowers. But how do we make technology that also is gender sensitive? Now a lot of women have picked it up as a source of income of blacksmith in the rural areas. This is a milking machine or in this, this is street vendor, who who just wants light for four hours, he doesn't care whether it's solar, somebody can deliver the service with the good financing.
So it's a packaging of not only the creation of assets, innovation of technology, innovation of finance, and innovation of delivery models, with using and you making poor as partners, you make a very robust ecosystem that's very difficult to be what we call it as shaken apart. So just a brief, this is the four areas that we focus on on well being basic infrastructure of health. These are the in the livelihoods and in the education. And just to just to give an example where we are..Today when we when we design a solar power for a sewing machine, everybody says that a sewing machine is sorry, the solar is expensive. Nobody actually says the sewing machine is inefficiently designed. If a sewing machine was highly efficient, solar would have been no-brainer. But unfortunately the best friend of grid is inefficiency.
The manufacturers do not concentrate on the efficiency of any product because the electricity bill is paid actually by the third party. And so that's what we are saying that how do we reverse that? And and both in health as well as it's like a dental chair. A dental chair has 150 features. Because it has 150 features, you basically put it in a hospital, guzzles electricity even if you gave dental services free. It's not free for the poor to actually drive for or take a bus for two days. The incomes, it's a heavy transaction cost for the poor to take the dental services had somebody given as a DC powered dental chair with only four features foldable, we would have actually taken to the doorstep of the poor where the poor would have paid paid 1/5th of what they would have paid for the bus service. And thus democratize the delivery of health using sustainable energy as a catalyst. And that's what we do.
And this is and so we basically four parts to this organization that we have SELCO India is a for profit. It's a for profit with no individual owners. We have 60 offices, we are owned by three not for profits. The Lemelson Foundation in the US, the Doon foundation in Amsterdam and Good Energies out of out of Zurich. They are three foundations, their own hundred percent of the organization. We have 60 offices, 600 people, we may we've been profitable from the last 13 years and 100% we are not going to be profitable this year.
But the way we distribute profits as 20% of the profits is kept aside for employees, and the lowest earning employee gets the first hit at the profits. So the bottom 40% of the employees of Selco India get profits and not the top 60% of the employees, that's 20% of them. And another 20% of the profits is kept aside for disaster in terms of whether some some employee has lost their house in a drought, or a flood or or children's sickness or the parent sickness.
And the other 20% is kept for education purposes for the kids of employees. For example, many of for instance, out of the 600 people, our turnover of people is less than 2% a year. So a lot of colleagues have grown up with Selco and their kids have grown up and now they're reaching 16, 17 and 18. So we've kept the other 20% as an Education Fund for the kids of SELCO India.
The SELCO Foundation was created in 2010. And you think of Google now that the biggest subsidy that Google has got is the Internet. It did not pay for the creation of the internet who creates that ecosystem of better finance or better delivery or research on r&d on blacksmith blower. So that energy enterprises and energy not for profits in the civil society in sorry the energy not for profit should succeed and that is where Foundation was created in 2010 and focused on very much the poorer areas of the country like Orissa Jharkhand and the northeast and also in a way can be for example, lots of work that SELCO India has done in Karnataka is not applicable in Manipur, but what we do in Maniour is absolutely applicable in Tanzania for example, because the financial immaturity is similar, India being a paradox, so an over developed and underdeveloped country, can we take advantage and make India kind of an r&d of business models, financial models & technology in the end underserved areas using sustainable energy for rest of the world.
The floods in Assam, for example, the what you do in resilient housing using technology could be valid for the typhoon hit areas of the Philippines. So the Foundation works on those process and implementation of the process and creating the appropriate ecosystem that the process can be replicated leading to scale. And what I mean by process being replicated is like everybody talks about too big to fail. We are saying that the last mile delivery mechanisms whether it's a street vendor, or an energy access companies are too valuable to fail. Imagine a vegetable street vendor failing that means not only his livelihood is gone her livelihood, it's also that the cost of delivering vegetables for the poor actually becomes super expensive. Same way energy access becomes super expensive as the SMEs do not exist or they collapse. So in the COVID-19, what Selco has taken that none of the enterprises....it has it there are 50 other enterprises under Selco Foundation will collapse no matter what, because it's too expensive for them to collapse. And for the from the end users perspective.
Incubation is more about how do you replicate the efforts of Selco India over to specially in, whether it was with me Kamal Thomas everywhere where they're from the beginning, we all were so called respected because we spoke English. And we got the monies because we spoke English and not against English as a language. But we have created another caste system of PowerPoints in English, which is what we said can we create an Incubation which actually increases local entrepreneurs to actually be ready for failure monies, r&d money and investments, and that's where the incubation processes focuses on the Northeast.
And then the last one is Selco Fund, which is our weakest but unfortunately its something that we came out of frustration that many of the entrepreneurs that we were incubating were not meeting the criteria of the even the impact investors who wanted to know which what qualification did they have. And with that frustration, we said let's start the Fund, let's invest in these organizations in the rural areas of Manipur and North East and Jharkhand and show that this is where actual success lies, if we truly have to talk about climate change, poverty eradication and, and sustainable energy. So, these are the four parts of the what we call it as the of Selco.
And the way we and these four parts are run very differently with no what we call it as various Chinese walls and no hardly an interaction, but learnings are shared, but we believe that that's what an ecosystem means and if we truly look at climate change, it's not about how many coal is been burned or how much? Or if we look at poverty, it's not about are we educating its number of people. And on the other side of the paradox and the stupidity of impact measurement that how many people have you reached?
It's about how many, how much how are we creating the processes that are long, long lasting, and temp, and permanent. So it's not it's that any individual kid in the rural area or in the slums has the ability to become the next entrepreneur or an innovator in a manner that is, breaks the social status of a hierarchy of our society. If you if you don't break the social hierarchy of the society, you will not be able to solve solve climate change, irrespective what we say.
Because on one hand, we talk about huge consumptions and saying that the poor have to do that until you don't break those barriers the climate changes is a somewhere of a is a is a large. The word climate change itself is a huge climate washing bias. And so it's not going to solve it, we're going to solve it only if when we start looking at equality in a truest fashion, where we give the hands of solving them into the hands of the poor and sustainable energy actually is a very, very powerful tool of doing it. Kamal, is that enough?
Kamal Kapadia 27:26
Ah, brilliant. Thanks so much Harish? I think we'll take questions. So just to sort of explain, since we have a set of many people here who are not our students, we're going to first take questions from our students on our Slack channel and then we will open up the chat and members of the public can post their questions and and Harish are you able to stay a little longer if needed, like 1520 minutes longer? Great. Okay, thank you. So Laney, shall we? Yeah.
Laney Seigner 27:57
Yes. Thank you so much for that introduction to what you do and your perspectives on the intersection of climate change and poverty. I think that's really compelling and right on with what we've been talking about in our class over the past couple of weeks. So there's some great questions coming in from our learners. So Shelley, would you want to start us off with your questions that you posted?
Shelley Goel 28:25
Dr. Harish, so my, I have lot of questions. But so when you first started out, when SELCO first started out, what were the challenges you faced when approaching a new community? What kind of opposition's did you face from the governments? And what are the key learnings here?
Harish Hande 28:51
I think the biggest challenge, I would say, was my own learning. Um, there was no challenges as far as the government or the community was concerned, frankly speaking. It was more about I think I had to unlearn what I had learned in IIT. I had to unlearn what I did in Masters and PhD then felt that all the degrees were absolutely useless. And then also some that all realize that you went to IIT because 300 million Indians will not write the exam.
And so the question is, if the challenge was asked for my own, that I had compartmentalize the thinking process, this is what would happen, I think, and that took me two years is like, it's like when you take an auto rickshaw or when you when you are in a local rural bus, if the people don't treat you the same in terms of the auto rickshaw driver calls you sir, or madam, that is a gap. You will never be able to be part of the solution at all.
That the question for us, for a lot of us was it took us time where people would actually consider them that you are one of them. And that how do you reach to their level? How do you reach to their level of thinking? Like how do I reach a level where a farmer actually believes that he can, or she can talk to me in the same terms that he can actually talk to a neighbor farmer? And and, and I think for us education, unfortunately was a barrier. And that was for me the biggest challenge how do I convince people that I am just a friend, I'm not a I'm not somebody who's an outsider.
And for that to took some years to break. See the other other notions people say corruption, people say government, I think those are an excuse of people who don't want to do it. And it's purely an excuse. I think you need to jump the well find the depth I think the challenge in one itself and, and where we come with perceived brackets and conventions the way we are taught.
I am a mechanical engineer. I'm an electric engineer, I'm an MBA finance. No, you need to be a solution provider. Are you a solution provider in the rural area, or a slum or a street vendor? If she's selling tomatoes for many years, and suddenly the tomato prices goes up? Is she going to keep quiet and say, sorry, my expertise is tomatoes, I cannot sell anything but tomatoes, her three children will go to starvation. She needs to sell potatoes, then has to.. unfortunately as we get more educated, we get burrowed into our silo thinkings, which kills our innovation to be solution providers.
And then the challenge is then how do you then convince other colleagues to behave the same way? So that for me the challenge was on the middle class thinking of like, for example, even now, the challenges that I face when the youngsters join Selco when the parents come to me and say, oh, joined Selco social enterprise will they get a bride to get married to the salary levels his cousin is earning much more than that. It's like typically, Shelley is like moment you get 96 out of hundred. The first thing your parents ask is why did you lose your four marks? Not what we do with your 96.
I think that thinking was the biggest challenge. Others are, those are something that you enjoy those problems and i think it's it's that that. Yeah, the others are not not anything compared to this challenge. But if you really want to get into it jump, don't even ask the advice of anybody. And the last is don't ask advice of your parents, whether you want to do it, don't ask this. I want hundred mentors and three. And so the mistake we do is we asked 250 people, should I do it or not do it? Jump, jump. And that's it. That's the only thing you can do.
Shelley Goel 32:49
How do you scale without support from governments? Or what was your scaling model?
Harish Hande 32:57
See, the scale depends on three things. One is in the sector of health and education, I know I need to bring in the government. In terms of livelihoods, it's the local financial institutions and entrepreneurship and the last mile delivery, right. So so when you talk about scale, you have to first look at who are the stakeholders who are responsible for appropriately putting those pieces of the puzzle together.
Now, for example, if I have to look at a blacksmith blower, my the question is, what are the four things needed for a blacksmith blower. You need somebody to supply you with good technology, the hammer mill, high efficient hammer mill. 2. You have to make sure that the stakeholder - the end user, there are multiple end users who want to take it. How do you publicize that?
Number three is are you able to work with different banks to create the appropriate financial product for four different types of blacksmith blowers? Right? And that's.. so once you put those in these pillars in place, then the scale of the.. see, we need to think about not scaling the blacksmith blower. We need to scale the processes up. That instead of one bank financing, can 200 banks finance it? Right. Instead of one IPI or a training institute training on blacksmith, we should have 15 to 20 training institutes actually.
See we always focus on the how do we focus on product? How do we scale the blacksmith and then we forget that these are the processes that are needed to scale up. Once you scale up these processes, the other things actually... so the same banks can then finance a silk weaving or a sewing machine or a home lighting systems. So scale up, think of process mapping and scaling up those processes.
Same way government, you know, what we forget is... don't blanket the government as government. There are IAS officers that are champions. Who are the champions in the government? Pick up a champion. The first question we ask an IAS officer is how many more years have you got in that post... three years great? Let's work in three years what can we deliver using this champion? And then fundamentally cement that step in that particular department that no other future IAS officers or anybody can change it. It's all the question of how do you pick up champions to, to in the government and that's what that's why you scale up the processes.
Laney Seigner 35:25
Thanks so much for those those responses and questions, Shelley, and we're gonna move on to a few of the other ones. But if you want to ask any of your additional ones in the Slack, just repost it and I'll and I'll come back to you. Okay, so let's see. Next up, we have Benjamin. Ben, do you want to ask your question...
Benjamin Bolton 35:44
Well, thank you Harish for the talk today. And my question was around kind of the topic of inclusivity. So how can we ensure that new clean technologies are scaled and shared for the benefit of you know, many versus the few?
Harish Hande 36:03
See, fundamentally, today what happens, Benjamin is that it's even in the right frame of mind, inclusivity is only looked from an end users perspective, that are we, while the other parts of the six ecosystem are not inclusive, that sense that people selling or people creating those products are not part of the same community that is actually going to use it. So so we it's a two different strata of the financial, the economic system that its is actually serving. Unless we reverse that, where we reverse it and saying that, which is that strata that we are catering to, and can innovations and scale up happen within that strata itself, where the ownership...
See how many of us actually, we all it's like we classically come up with the problems. Sorry, we come up with a solution and we try to fit a problem to it. We are not we are not owners of the problem. We are only owners of the solution. Right? We never feel a social tension of if the problem is not solved, I'll move on to another job or my deliverable is coming to a blacksmith blower but I never feel the social tension that is the blacksmith blower is not done, I will lose my income and my family is not fed tomorrow.
See until we don't start owning the problems, we don't feel the tension. So what we're basically saying is, which are those glues in that sector of the include in like, for example, there is classically, if you look at where are you from Benjamin?
Benjamin Bolton 37:39
From the UK, London
Harish Hande 37:40
Oh, from the UK, just look at Europe, right? The fundamental development of UK and other European countries and US has been because of vocational schools. Okay. And vocational schools are unfortunately considered as schools in India well if you do not get any other option elsewhere when, in fact, vocational schools attract a lot of the people from the problem area sector where they own the problems. If many of these vocational schools are actually reversed and and the same subsidies that you offered to Cambridge or Oxford was actually given or centers of innovation in Oxford, like that was created in these vocational schools, don't you think a lot of the innovations would have actually happened in these vocational schools itself?
They have the makers, they are hands on, they're not just just research paper outputs, right? They are actually hands on people. And same way in India, we are saying that can be in mass scale. There are 50,000 vocational schools in India. Convert all the vocational schools, at least 20% of the vocational schools into vocational schools that are not only for skills, but for incubation and innovation, put in risk monies into those, in parallel work with the banks in the rural areas, to collaborate with these vocational schools to not only finance these young kids who come out, but also finance the end users that these young kids will reach out to. And that's when the scale can actually happen. Because the rural banks, as well as the vocational schools are all owners of the problems - how do we transfer the RND and the and the thought process onto people who own the problems, and that's when the scale of actually will happen.
Benjamin Bolton 39:21
Laney Seigner 39:23
Yes, thanks for those responses. Those are some great points Harish? Okay, Arthur, you're next up we have Arthur then Toral, then Cody, in our little question line up here, Arthur, go ahead.
Arthur Dias 39:35
Thank you, and I apologize for not having my camera on today. I wanted to ask a question regarding the connection of development and climate change. And, um, now that everyone is getting more and more concerned about the amount of carbon we have in the atmosphere. I wonder how you see the connection of development of lifting people out of poverty with sustaining a sustainable atmosphere and climate for us.
Harish Hande: See I'll take ….let's look at Covid19 itself. The issue of a country like India or Sierra Leone is to make sure that the last mile person has an access to health services but today there are multiple issues that those health accesses cannot be achieved, energy been a very very critical form.
What we are basically saying is that we can push companies like Philips GE and other smaller enterprises who are in the smaller equipment to come up with high efficient whether it's x-rays, dental chairs, autoclaves, operation theatres, shadowless lights. The moment they start innovating on low resource settings, you start to make sustainable energy as a viable input to set up a health center irrespective how remote you are. Using telemedicine medicine and teleconsulting you're also negating some of the higher HR that is required to actually go into the rural areas.
39:19 You can come up with sustainable energy pushes the thought process of efficiency, pushes the thought process of decentralization of services which leads to innovation of equipments which would not have happened. If you look at health industry, health industry, overall in the world is the fifth largest polluter fifth largest polluter and nobody's actually looking at efficiency of equipment.
You can come up with sustainable and it pushes the thought process of efficiency pushes the thought process of decentralization of services, which leads to innovation of equipments which would not have happened if you look at health industry, health industry overall in the world is the fifth largest polluter, fifth largest polluter and nobody's actually looking at efficiency of equipment. The poorer side of the world is going to push innovations of creating equipments in low resource settings that leads to better models of service and better health services, leading to a less carbon offraid and what's going to happen Arthur is that the poorer part of the world is actually teaching us what efficiency and low carbon world is actually going to look like.
And Sierra Leone for example, which is 2% electrified has the highest maternal deaths in the world - 6 million population can actually blanket it within the next five years using solar, decentralized solar creating X number of maternal health labor rooms with a high efficient equipment with the lowest carbon offprint and and making that 1100 and 10 deaths per hundred thousand to less than 20 deaths in less than five years. So Sierra Leone becomes a pilot.
And that same thing can be actually replicated in packs of Paris, Paris, London or or Washington. And that's where I believe that same thing in the drought affected areas of of India, solar powered drip irrigation is one. But if there are seven farmers who buy a pump that is powered by solar put their money into a storage tank where the water pump water gets stored in the water pump sorry the storage tank during the daytime and the irrigation happens for every seven farmers once in one seven days, leads to less evaporation because 40% of operation happens during daytime farming.
So you've created a technology model, water efficiency, efficient storage mechanism and a community based thought process of how do I use one water pump rather than seven water pumps. So the poor are actually going to teach us what sustainability truly means leading to less carbon offprint today rather than the giving the excuse that so much poverty exists in Africa, Latin America and India. We need fossil based backup. That's actually not true. Economics, as well as social sustainability is going to be more powerful in challenging some challenging those paradigm.
But just share the screen once for you. What I meant by that, Arthur is...So so just give you a background while I'm searching for it, for example in Majauli islands in in upper Assam, where there are more than ---it's the largest river island in the world. And what happens is like they have the so if you can see this.. Can you see the photograph?
So, yeah, so so this is, it's not a solar powered boat. Everything what used to happen this used to run on diesel and when they go to the islands behind, so there are doctors and nurses every two days they used to come back because see the doctors and nurses they stayed in the night. Young doctors and nurses are studying for their exam have to come back to the mainland because they had to fill up diesel because the fans and the lights. So first they came up to us and say, can you power up fans and lights because the boat has to be on the whole night.
We powered the solar and where not only the lights, the fans, the operation theater, the autoclave, the dental chair, the vaccine refrigerator. Now, they're not coming back once they come back only in one one since seven to eight days. So not only solar has made them to provide more number of services, but more number of patients that has actually led to less cost that the Assam government had to spend on these boat clinics. So solar actually made it economical for the government to provide health services.
And if you start replicating this concept, Shelley that you had asked in terms of boat to ambulances, for example, it would be it's the same if you look at this. We have like for example, same way in ambulances, right? So so you can scale it's a mobile, we should not look at how do I scale up the boats? How do I scale up mobility? What is transferred from the boat to this, but if you start looking at these scale of options, you directly link poverty eradication to to climate change, and also pushing in innovations of both the delivery of services and and, and I will not get into it right now when the question comes is also how do you redesign buildings? Is the next one, how do you redesign buildings for more efficiency, but so there's a very strong linkage between poverty and climate change solutions.
Arthur Dias 10:46
Thank you very much.
Laney Seigner 10:48
That was an amazing answer. And that one that I'll have to go back to and rewatch, I think, as it really, really directly to so much of our class content recently. Yeah, those are some really powerful examples. So moving on to Toral, do you want to ask, I think you have two questions in the chat. So feel free to ask both of them or combine them or whatever feels most most appropriate now.
Toral Varia 11:12
Thanks Laney. Thank you so much Harish, there's so much inspiration and so much of positive impact. It's like, when can I get out there on the field moment for someone like me? So thank you so much for sharing those stories. I actually have two questions. One is I'd like to really understand if you can elaborate a little more of your work in the north eastern areas of India. Do you know, how do we kind of navigate that space of the Seven Sisters, as they say, and second question is related to increasingly it has been seen that India is using the renewable energy as a foreign policy tool to exert its influence. In your view, what what's your take on the progress that India has made in in so far as expanding the renewable energy footprint is concerned?
Harish Hande 12:10
The first question is NorthEast. See if you look at the area of Northeast it's 45 million overall in the Seven Sisters, but if you break it out to Manipur is 2.6 million with 22,000 square kilometers of area and same in Meghalaya is 2.6 million with 22,000 square kilometres. Djibouti, next to Ethiopia is 22,000 kilometers with 1 million population. So so rather than looking at solutions of Karnataka and Manipur, can we look at solutions of Manipur and Djibouti right? If we look at Manipur and Meghalaya together is 5.2 million, Sierra Leone is 6 million with similar issues of health parameters as well as electricity right. So today unfortunately country boundaries are made by man man made boundaries and we are deciding on the..
Suppose we had a fight. We had a war From outside from Mars, we're not going to talk we're going to Indians are going to fight the Chinese or all the Americans, right? It's a war against humanity, the two things that are war against humanity that is climate change and poverty. And we need to and we are negotiating unfortunately on carbon footprint on the basis of country boundaries, which is ridiculous, it cannot I mean, and so, what we are saying is, is there a way that NorthEast becomes a hub of sustainable solutions for the world, whether you talk about the rice growing plains of Assam, how can the replication or exchange happened between say, Ethiopia, Philippines and Assam, per se, and the floods of Assam is very similar to when the Nile floods or the typhoons in Philippines for resilient housing structures to actually happen.
So for us, the way we are looking at Northeast is number one, how do we create solutions that lead to local solutions, local ownership and local entrepreneurship. Many a people, many a time, unfortunate migration that has happened of the skilled forces and unskilled forces from from others to Delhi Bombay elsewhere and and these are young bright kids who are unfairly brought to other parts of the country just because they are fair in color and speaking that's so racist in a different manner right? In a sense, how do we create an ecosystem within the Northeast where every so that's so we are looking at...See, Assam is very different to Manipur which is very different to Meghalaya. But the solutions of these three states per se and I'll talk about Tripura Sikkim later on our itself highly valuable for the other poorer parts of India as well as other parts of the world.
So so what we've done is we've created a we've got an office now in Guwahati, it's been three, four years and in Manipur. Manipur we have taken up multiple challenges of it is 32nd- it's the last in the country in terms of financial maturity of financing. We are saying that how can we blanket Manipur? What is Manipur's SDG goal of 2030 ...can Manipur and Meghalaya create come up with appropriate SDG goals that are implemented. And not much monies are required for those two states to be blanketed by 2030. So what we've done is created a 10 year strategy for Meghalaya and Manipur with the ambition can be blanket all SDGs by 2030. Then work on Tripura as well as Sikkim and Assam more as an entry or a gateway into the Northeast but excite in terms of in terms of problems, it just keeps you awake. Because of the diversity, the language the tribal structures. Well, that's reality, we can keep complaining. That's what was that's reality.
So let's, but that reality also gives us a huge option. Exactly Tanzania's 150 tribes in one area, the same solution that you do as a process, not about a technology solution, same process of community behavior, you can actually start working in Tanzania in different way. How do you pick up? So we picked up Northeast as a hub for the world. And that's how we are working with there.
The second question in renewable energy this the issue is, it's not about renewable energy, I think. Today what we are saying is just because your building has 10 kilowatts of solar does not give you the freedom that I'll have 20 air conditioners. See, sustainability is not about having solar power. Sustainability is about design of the building, consumption levels as well as solar power. It's not one part of it. Oh, just because I have solar power. can I buy everything else in the world?
No, that's not sustainability. I think the the leadership that India can actually take is more about solutions using poverty eradication in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner. That's where the leadership should be not about just renewable energy. Renewable energy alone is not going to lead to climate change because I mean, simple thing. If I put solar in a desert, just because the land is not valuable, who is going to put water to clean the water tables? And who's going to put the cost of water on sustainability to clean those solar panels? The best form of renewable energy is always the decentralized way. It's not the way that we do.
And we look at what PNG I don't know if you followed yesterday, right? I mean, come on. I mean, grid has no. And also one more thing Toral, we're also saying that what is off grid and on grid mean, when people say so many million people are on off grid, we are saying that, why are 700 million Indians still on grid, I'm not able to understand why they are still on grid because they are on grid, you're making it too expensive for people off grid to actually have appliances that are high efficient appliances. United States, parts of the United States I'm not, Massachusetts or Germany are completely going off grid. In essence, the rooftop is a different form of off grid and I think we should get away from this word off grid means like this second category, right? 300 million people off grid, we say 700 billion people are stupidly on grid. Why are they? So?
Toral Varia 18:13
Thank you so much.
Laney Seigner 18:16
I love that reframing of the off grid on grid. As someone who lives in an off grid tiny house, I do feel like I'm living not, you know, way behind or something in the Dark Ages. So yeah, that's that was a great, great answer. Great series of answers. Cody, do you want to ask your questions?
Cody Simms 18:36
Sure. Yes. Thank you so much. Um, so the question I have is somewhat, you know, barring a full enlightenment of the private sector around sustainability, and obviously, we can hope that the private sector continues to evolve, how how it operates, but I'm curious where today where does the private sector help your efforts and where does it hinder your efforts?
Harish Hande 19:02
It's.. see, again, the private sector, civil society, all again manmade structures where the incentives are in different ways the the private sector it again, it's very similar to I think Shelley's question was on scale up. Moment we get some champions in the private sector, who think that this is where it should be like, for example, if you if you look at Mr. Jamshyd Godrej, who is the head of Godrej Industries, he is very gung ho on efficiency of appliances, and he's ready to put in any resources to say that efficiency they have they're very high quality in refrigeration. And they said that if we can actually put the same engineers into refrigeration for low resource settings, but he thinks of low resource setting not only from a poor centric perspective from any centric, should we be low resource in the first place? So the private sector, it all depends on who are the champions that do because I also feel the challenges in the civil society.
Because in the civil society Cody as I've got more challenges is like Harish wait. my funder will not allow me to do that. My funder tells me not to do that. I don't have the flexibility. So the funder had to do it, why didn't the funder start his own NGO? Why aren't you actually having a different society one way? Right. I think it's all about champions and the nd and the I think the push the negative side has been, for example, people think that the California tech success or failure can be replicated for any other part and saying that the investments and and and the scale up strategies that have happened in California is the same thing that can be applied to any other sector without realizing that the net IRR of California is negative. So somebody is bearing the bloody losses.
The question is, it's 9 out of 10 companies go bust that leads to organizations like Google or to succeed. But in our case, people expect nine out of 10 organizations to succeed without putting the expensive monies to for that. I mean, the same example Google's success is because somebody else paid for the Internet. If Internet was not been paid, or subsidized, Google would not have succeeded. So the private sector also has to realize that oh, when they come the negative is like subsidies a bad word, but a tax incentive is a great word, but I don't know the difference between tax incentives and subsidies. It's the same thing on the balance sheet for example, right. So I think that the private sector also and also this recently is like, people say that people from private sector are more efficient.
So the question is, if you have to get in efficiency get people from the private sector, I can actually give counter examples of how inefficient they are in and that would not have led to world today's if the world if today, the day, the Covid started. Then you don't throw thousands of migrants outside that shows the inefficiency that you had not built in the structure. I think it's a it's a it's more about a mindset, Cody. I would go back to educational institutes that create this barrier of private and public sector. Are we creating managers who think socially doesn't matter? They join the social sector or the private sector, are they thinking holistically when that and that is where I would pick up the MBA schools to be to be the culprits rather than the private and the public sector.
Cody Simms 22:33
Laney Seigner 22:36
Thanks so much Harish. Okay, I'm going to turn it over to a question from the public audience. And, let's see, Arjun if you're here and able to unmute yourself, do you want to go ahead and ask your question?
Arjun Srihari 22:54
Absolutely. Thank you. Can you guys hear me? Yeah. Okay, okay. Oh, It's great to be here. And it's always nice to hear you Dr. Hande, I don't know, I'm you may not recall, I'm currently in Madrid. But I used to work in Delhi. And I used to be a, I co-founded a rooftop solar company. We were on grid, unfortunately. But we were doing rooftop solar at that time. And we did that for five years. And I mean, I relate very strongly with what you're talking about in terms of this on grid and off grid sort of divide.
One of the reasons why we stayed in the urban sort of sector was because we couldn't really figure out the tweaks that we needed to make for rural electrification to really work in terms of business model. And that unfortunately, that's not my question. I, I think that that one take a much longer sort of chunk of your time. My question actually is, is to do with what you're talking about today. I found it extremely interesting, what you're talking about in terms of three things that really stood out to me that you mentioned, one was social hierarchy, unlearning our learnings. And the third thing had to do with social innovation and I think to me, to my mind, that's something that's very interesting.
I was actually in a talk yesterday, but they were talking about cognitive biases and heuristics. And what you said actually speaks to me in terms of how you can use something like, you know, design thinking to actually circumvent social behavioral change and the nudges that really need to happen. And that's actually the bulk of my question is that, would you be able to give us maybe some tips and tricks as to how we can actually do these things to do with social hierarchy, to do with unlearning, and to do with the, you know, actually facilitating the social innovation because I think that's where most people actually get tripped up. And I think a lot of business models can actually be spawned just from these three things alone.
Harish Hande 24:38
See, thanks Arjun. A lot of people don't believe that. A lot of people think that we have a strategy, we actually don't have any strategy in SELCO. And, and our strategy is very simple. We, don't hire ,Don't take resumes for hiring. So, what we basically say that do you have a common sense and passion and doesn't matter and your salary structures are not defined on, on which college or where you graduated from. For example, like we keep saying right in a sense that if you and me did a PhD on paddy, we will be called experts on paddy but a farmer doing 45 years of paddy will not be called an expert because Arjun and padishah have a PhD degree. Right.
And they are more experts than a farmer who has done 40 accumulative even thousand farmers, we will have to speak 1000 farmers we will be on the panel but they will be sitting down thousand farmers, right? See that thinking right? The educational racism that we talked about like is what we need to break and and we said will not take in and we also said while it was called a little bit of a challenge idealistic way back in 1995-96. We basically said you could report to anybody in a sense that you could be reporting to in education qualification 10 times less than somebody who... your salary would be much less doesn't matter whether you're a fourth grade dropout or an MIT grad.
And so we started. Now we have around 600 people in in, in SELCO India, out of the 600 people Arjun,...590 people come from the client base. Okay, they're 590 the CEO comes from the client base. Right? And so who runs and he's unfortunately more known in the US than in India. And, and but he's, he, I mean, he's English, but he speaks Kannada when he speaks Kannada, Swamijis don't speak because his Kannada is so much of a higher level, right? And so he manages 600 people.
I have no idea what the education qualification although he's a CEO of the organization, the deputy CEO, or came to me, it came to me and said, Let's work together when he was 19 at the age of 20. He wanted to leave because he was very poor and he said, my parents are very poor. We said boss we will open an office in your house. Okay. I really don't care. If you're leaving, I will also leave. Right? He's like no nooo. I am a 10th grade dropout. What will you do with me? Boss? What 10th grade dropout I don't, I mean, now he's the second in command, he runs 60 crores himself a portfolio. Right.
So we said, boss, let us break this mix of, of hiring people on the basis of, of education and and break those barriers that if you can't report to somebody who's less qualified, then you don't fit into the philosophy. Also, second thing we do is we also make sure that the partners realize that and if partners don't be are not respecting my colleagues because they don't have a certain we do not have that. And I remember once with a Chairman of a bank, we who was financing that we cut off a relationship because he treated my technician colleague saying that he should not have come. At least a manager level person should come what call. We actually publicly broke a relationship that led to a lot of respect for our industry.
From the other side, we we need to stand clear for our colleagues and that's our hiring process very, very straightforward and also salaries. I mean, for me also tell people this is a salary and we cut off and the second what we do earn is that we we have six day working we say that the day the poor get Sunday holiday, you will get Saturday holiday. The poor do not have holidays, because we take holidays. And that's the problem. Why have they have to work seven days? Have you ever seen a poor man jogging? Have you ever seen a poor man actually going to the movies and I'm worked out. I'm overloaded, why? that's because unfortunately they are working for us. And that is not right. And it's mostly a selection procedure where we where we, where we do a two bit interview process and then we say boss inclusive has to be within ourselves and how the partnerships are also built on.
Well, thank you for that. And until it's all it's always great to hear you. And I'm so glad that I was able to, to even though I'm not a student, I'm so glad that I was able to tune into this and be part of the session.
Laney Seigner 29:20
Yes, thanks for that question and response. And there's one more question from the public zoom chat. Do you have time for maybe one more or so? Dr. Hande?
Harish Hande 29:31
Please call me Harish. Dr. Sounds like sorry.
Laney Seigner 29:34
Okay, well, yeah, I just recently got my PhD and it's jarring when anyone calls me Doctor Seigner. So, yeah, hurry. I'll turn it over to Mekin from the public audience if you would like to ask your question. And unmute yourself. Yeah.
Mekin Maheshwari 29:49
Yeah, thank you for the opportunity. So So Harish, I have moved from the VC backed startup high growth high risk states to working in with street vendors, small business entrepreneurs and running a social enterprise. My question to you is how have you what are the largest challenges you've found to decentralization? I think the, I find a lot of power in the idea, in the theory of it. In the practice of it, I encounter I encounter a large number of challenges and I'd love to hear your perspectives on challenges you face and how you've dealt with them.
Harish Hande 30:40
Right see initially the challenge is always finding irrespective how decentralized somebody is.. there is a glue, whether whether you work with the local rubber farmers as the glue becomes a rubber society or if if if if you if I work in Jharkhand & Upper, It becomes the Ramakrishna Mission is the glue, for example, right? Or if I work with the street vendors, there is always some, like, for example, if there is our who whom do they buy the vegetables from? Right? Is there a glue? Or who are they actually taking the money or the design of the cart, there is one or two institutions that are centralized in one way or the other. And we pick that centralized and for that, actually, I'm the wrong person to actually go and meet that happen.
So it's either my colleague, Prasanna Hegde, when he goes and stands that people think he's another street vendor, right? And they start talking to him in the same language and same issue. Okay, if I have to go forward, I have to I'll pick up 5-10 street vendors. Like for example, when we started in 2003, with working with the street vendors, and we had this guy Murugesh, who was a very poor street vendor. He said, I want to, I'm losing money, can you just give me four lights that I can rent out or to four other street vendors and make money a little bit then we did that. And then he said he wanted to grow to 10. And the bank was not willing to finance. What we did we put money in the bank against a guarantee. And now he's 250 street vendors that is service to his himself bought a office where we have moved in with our office after 15 years, but he's a centerpiece for all the hundred and 50 street vendors, right, this is the financing.
This is what is the glue, but I am the wrong person to I could have done it actually. I was the wrong person in 98. Then slowly somehow people into between 2012 which was my best years where people actually thought I was a farmer or a street vendor on our auto rickshaw driver. The moment I joined the Foundation and started traveling more internationally, I lost that I lost I've become so called on the other side again, unfortunately that people but how do you pick up people who can speak speak that and I would pick up who's the leader in the street vendor and my some of my similar colleagues would speak to them and said what is actually needed? Some of the rural bankers are brilliant, who come from the agriculture some of the ITI professors or teachers in it are brilliant in actually breaking that social barrier to find the glue and somewhat decentralized we find out people what are what are the decentralised people itself, who are who are leaders in those pockets to make that happen, it's a more of a social challenge. It's not a technical or a technology or any of it's a social.
Mekin Maheshwari 33:35
Laney Seigner 33:46
Yes, and we had one other follow up to your response to Aravind's question about whether you see anyone following SELCO's lead in that sort of model of you know, advancement within your career without irrespective of education. And all that data to achievement and cutting off relationships with people if they're not respecting the social innovations that you all are pioneering?
Harish Hande 34:11
Within the SELCO Foundation, there are quite a few people. And one of the biggest losses I would say is like in one of the biggest mistakes Kamal did was to leave this sector and go away. But no jokes apart I would say yes, there are quite a few people in in for example, in our own organization, but also if you look at the model of SEWA in Gujarat, if you look at the Self Employed Women's Association, which has created Ela behen, a pioneer and a legend in the sector in the social entrepreneurship-- started the labor union in the 1970s.
But the umbrella organizations has 110 organizations underneath --- Sewa Rural, SEWA Housing Trust, SEWA Bank, etc, etc. All of them have individually spawned who will break who broken the concept of inclusivity in the way would they have spoken about or Pradhan in India or it could be Saigot in Tanzania, same ATA in Ethiopia, a quite a few examples in the agri base in the agricultural sector that have happened, but not in the energy sector.
But the energy sector had a lot of those people in the mid 70s. The energy sector, the earlier pioneers of sustainability, whether you talk about Europe or whether you talk about the California hippies, many of those broke those barriers. And who truly talked about sustainability in the form of inclusivity was in the 70's and 80's. And as soon as we got replaced by the.. as solar became cheaper and you got more of the tie and suit guys, people coming into the inclusivity went away to bring that back.
Laney Seigner 36:03
Yeah, definitely. Yeah, that's actually sort of encouraging to hear that there has been times when it's been more of a model in the field to be so inclusive and socially innovative in terms of just getting the sustainability work done.
Harish Hande 36:19
If you look at examples like Dennis Hays, right, the founder of Earth Day, okay, Karl Po was former Sierra Club head if you if you look at Mary Houghton the founder of Shore Bank in Chicago, right all these are legends in true form. Though they were behind whether Sierra Club or Earth Day or you talk about Shore Bank, the fundamental basis on which they all started the movements was on inclusivity if you look at so
Laney Seigner 36:49
That's great. Yeah, that's that's a great sort of semi final point. And if we can just wrap up on the on your final thoughts on advice for our students as they find their way into climate related work, it adds a lot of motivation and ambition, but I think still a great desire for advice. So anything you want to share to them as they move forward on this journey would be great.
Harish Hande 37:11
No, I think it's COVID-19 has, again proven that decentralization and and climate related solutions are much more critical. So please, don't let people hijack saying that we need growth and we need economic growth and so that's why we need to go back to fossil, the COVID has eroded our economy. I think we are digging a grave further by listening to those also also I think, somewhere we lost the charm between activism and and and doing we've gone either becoming hardcore activists, but we are not being doers.
I think somewhere, we need to come up with solutions and because the solutions are the best form of protest, and I think I would, I would tell all of all of us let's create even if it can fail. Let's put more solutions on the ground because too many theories and too many papers like in the cookstove just an example that are more papers written than then there are enough cookstoves to burn them on. So I think the clean cookstoves in the clean cookstoves? Well, I think we need more solutions on the ground. So push guys. right time to be in. It was always there, but more than ever.
Laney Seigner 38:28
Yeah, totally agreed. Well, thank you so much Harish. This has been incredibly helpful and enlightening and thought provoking. So we really appreciate you coming to join us and giving a guest talk
Kamal Kapadia 38:41
From me too, Harish, thanks so much. Yeah. Brilliant. As always.
Harish Hande 38:46
Thanks.Kamal. Thanks to everyone.
Kamal Kapadia 38:50
Yeah, have a great rest of your day. Yeah. And thank you all for attending and making the time.
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