Lessons From 20+ Years Of Social Business with Harish Hande on the Sustainable Jungle Podcast #sustainablejungle

Podcast #11 · Harish Hande · Lessons From 20+ Years Of Social Business

“The poor are not beneficiaries, the poor are partners… can we come up with a solution together? Unfortunately, that’s what we’re fighting today in the development space, we go with a solution by trying to fit a problem rather than articulating the problem and coming up with a solution together.”

Harish Hande

Harish Hande is the definition of a social entrepreneur. In 1995, after learning about the power of a distributed energy model, he founded SELCO India, which “provides sustainable energy solutions and services to under-served households and businesses” and recently won the 2018 Skoll Foundation award for social entrepreneurship. Harish has won numerous awards over the years and has an incredible amount of wisdom to share. Today he also heads up the SELCO Foundation and SELCO Incubation Center which support start-up social entrepreneurs working to alleviate poverty. The SELCO family helps the underserved out of poverty and eliminates the environmental and health impacts created by today’s kerosene, coal and wood energy sources.

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Read our article about Harish and the SELCO Family here.

Harish struck us as an incredibly pragmatic, approachable and solution-oriented leader. We learnt a lot in our hour with him and covered the following:

  • Harish’s background, his studies in India and the US and becoming an energy engineer (~1.15)
  • Social injustice, barriers to a level playing field and how Harish developed an interest in social empowerment and poverty reduction in India (~2:50)
  • Harish’s ‘lightbulb moment’, noticing decentralized solar power when travelling to the Dominican Republic in the early 90s (~6:10)
  • Overview of the SELCO business model and proving 3 key myths wrong in serving the underserved (~8:00)
  • How providing electricity to the underserved acts as a catalyst to improve quality of life (~10:00)
  • Why using solar power in India is a better source of energy than the status quo of coal, kerosene and wood (~10:45)
  • The modular nature of SELCO’s offer and how a customized ‘needs-based’ approach serves SELCO’s customers better (~12:00)
  • SELCO’s system design and how the battery works to store enough power for each customized use taking into account weather patterns and energy requirements (~13:10)
  • Harish’s “humbling” experience setting up SELCO, finding a way to unlearn a “false sense of hierarchy” and understanding the difference between education and learning (~14:20)
  • How a street vendor taught Harish the importance of a customized daily financing model to match daily cashflow, help the underserved build assets and becoming part of the formal banking system in India (~17:20)
  • Creating a holistic and sustainable mechanism to enable the poor to get away from poverty permanently (~19:10)
  • Harish’s early experience in the 90s explaining the model to banks and getting taken seriously (~19:45)
  • The 3 key myths SELCO set out to prove wrong, the difference between intellectual and financial poverty, creating service centers run by local people and the importance of being financially viable as a business (~21:20)
  • Importance of meeting social needs to be financially sustainable over time and how the extreme capitalist model is not working (~23:20)
  • How Harish attributes the awards he’s received to being able to speak English and the hierarchy of English and non-English speakers (~25:20)
  • The latest stats on SELCO’s impact in India (~26.35)
  • How solar electricity is becoming the benchmark for the next generation (~27:30)
  • Harish’s most memorable moments over the last 20 years that have reminded him of the impact SELCO is having, how SELCO is part of society and how the SELCO team feels like family (~28:25)
  • Harish’s thoughts on scaling up slowly with the right team in place (~30:40)
  • The energy market in India, historical reliance on coal, how solar is making headway faster than expected and how India has the opportunity to take the lead on solar innovation to drive social and environmental change (~32:00)
  • The price of solar vs coal and oil on a level playing field in India and taking into account externalities (~34:00)
  • Democratizing energy through a decentralized model (~35:45)
  • Innovations Harish is most excited about in India that the underserved can use to improve their standard of living (~36:30)
  • SELCO Foundation, the SELCO Incubation Center and the SELCO Fund: What they do and how they’re helping young entrepreneurs to fail fast (~37:55)
  • Key lessons learnt about solving the world’s problems over the last 20+ years (~43:00)
  • Thoughts on thinking long term and having patience (~45:25)
  • Go to recommendations to better understand social entrepreneurship (~47:00)

Notable Links

SELCO India:

SELCO Foundation:

SELCO Incubation:

Harish Hande:

Lessons From 20+ Years Of Social Business with Harish Hande on the Sustainable Jungle Podcast #sustainablejungle

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