Development Dialogue Day 3 kicked off with a special speech by Harish Hande, founder of SELCO. SELCO is well known among India’s social sector, and I use SELCO as a true example of creating partnerships across sectors to build ecosystems that enable all of these other initiatives at the bottom of the pyramid. I had heard Harish speak at MIT at least three times, and it was great to see him in Hubli. The man has a very cool swagger about him, and he talks about business at the bottom of the pyramid not as a way to turn a buck, but rather to improve livelihoods. He keeps the social mission at the forefront and says that referring to the market at the BOP is “vulgar.”
Harish is all about holistic solutions that are affordable and income-increasing. He wants to keep money within the community, not suck it out by selling consumer products to the poor. He wants to make producers or employees, not just consumers. For SELCO, financing has been the key to making social entrepreneurship work. The company’s ability to facilitate rural bank loans for end users to purchase solar home lighting systems was a breakthrough.
Interestingly, Harish’s speech stood in contrast to Narayana Murthy’s on Day 1. Murthy was about scale; Harish was about “going deep,” or expanding scope in one geographical area. SELCO operates in Karnataka and does not seem to want to expand beyond the state. However, Harish wants to encourage other entrepreneurs to replicate SELCO’sprocess. Thus, he wants SELCO to be scalable as an organizational model, but not as an organization. And I think that makes a lot of sense.
After his talk, I found Harish and talked with him about Essmart. He said that our philosophies are different; he sells a service, and we sell products. I think that Essmart really needs to cling tightly to its goal of making essential technologies available to rural households. We need to understand the needs at a deeper level so that we properly address them through the right collection of technologies. We are not just a distributor. There are indeed real differences there.
Later, after lunch, I tried my hand at networking again. A new friend introduced me to the founders of BOPEEI(Bottom of Pyramid Energy and Environmental Innovations). BOPEEI is an India-based company that engineers, well, solar lanterns. I ended up with a free solar panel, light, and mobile phone charger to show off in Pollachi. I also met the Program Director for the Sri Siddhantha Foundation. Someone in that organization is really interested in technologies for rural areas, and the organization has reach all over the country. It might be interesting to pair with them as well.
I spent some time on the phone with a person handling d.light finances from Delhi. I had some trouble sending money over, but fortunately (very, very fortunately), it all worked out. The lights were shipped to Prashanth’s place in Chennai and were brought along to Pollachi.