“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry. ” – Bill Drayton
Dr. Harish Hande, while doing his PhD on Sustainable energy at the University of Massachusetts, conceptualized this very idea of revolutionizing the Energy industry by the use of solar power. He along with Mr. Neville Williams, president of SELF (Solar Electric Light Fund) founded SELCO (Solar Electric Light Company India) in 1995. Based out of Bangalore, Karnataka, the sole purpose of SELCO is to counteract the three widely held beliefs namely: poor people cannot afford sustainable technologies, poor people cannot maintain sustainable technologies and Social ventures cannot be run as commercial entities.
As on 31st May 2015, the total number of un-electrified villages in India were 19706. This number was even greater in 1995. SELCO not only realized this problem which was hampering India’s social and economical development but they also saw an opportunity in this untapped market to work towards eradicating this social evil and also to earn out of it. Their main offerings were in the category of Solar Photovoltaic i.e. Indoor lighting, Solar Headlamp, Solar Inverter, they also offer Solar thermal water Heaters and Solar Cook stoves.
SELCO basically differentiates in its financial model in which every customer has to pay 25% as down payment and the rest has to be given in instalments. As of now, SELCO has electrified 125000 homes, two thirds of which are dwelled by customers who manage to earn Rs. 200 -300 per day. It was able to achieve this feat by tying up with various RRB’s (Regional Rural Banks) and micro finance institutions to facilitate provision of micro loans to villagers.
As most of its products are decentralized in nature, providing efficient and timely maintenance of installed units is the utmost requirement taking into consideration the customer’s low knowledge of product, nascent nature of technology and non availability of local services. SELCO, now a veteran player in the market, counters competition offered by the new players like D.Light Design, Mighty Light and Moser Baer by continuing to believe in its robust service model which focuses completely on providing better end service rather than just offering products.
It has also started SELCO labs, an incubation centre solely meant for mentoring, training and investing on sustainable energy start-ups. These centres provide a 12 months classroom and onsite training module to early stage entrepreneurs helping them in cultivating innovative ideas for solving the energy crisis problem.
SELCO’s success story is a great example depicting the fact that a business opportunity can even be conjured out of a social problem and be utilised in serving the society.
“You can always think of serving humanity or you can make them serve themselves”