Lighting Up One Billion Lives in India

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By Sangeeta Haindl

74 million rural households in India do not have access to electricity. Children study in harmful kerosene lamp smoke and women struggle with household work. However, things are changing. Solar electricity is being taken to thousands of villages in one of the India’s most ambitious grassroots projects. Teri (The Energy and Resource Institute), a not-for-profit where ‘teri’ can also mean ‘you’ in Hindi, is now literally taking these rural homes into “the light,” with cheap, decentralised electricity via powerful solar LED lanterns that use the latest batteries and panels.

Teri launched its Lighting One Billion Lives initiative in 2007. Now, more than 2,000 villages have ‘charging stations’, each offering 50 or so long-lasting, high-quality solar lanterns that double up as mobile phone chargers. Teri does not make, distribute or sell the lamps. Instead, it acts as a combined social enterprise project where its scientists and designers work closely with more than 20 manufacturers to improve the quality and reliability of the lamps, and lower the cost. It also works with villages, organisations and banks to identify people to run the charging stations; and helps to set up repair shops, train people and provides technical support.

It is trying to improve the quality of the lamps and build up the chain of local entrepreneurs; it helps seed and catalyse the market. People can buy the solar lamps on microcredit, but in the villages, most rent. Plus, Teri along with other not-for-profits, businesses, Bollywood film stars and others either partly or completely sponsor a village’s lanterns, after which a local villager runs the operation as a business, renting them out for no more than they used to pay for kerosene. Villagers drop off the lamps to the charging station in the morning and the lights are charged when they return in the evening.

People can have bright, clean, non-polluting light with clear health benefits. Education improves because children can continue their studies later. Livelihoods too advance as all these villages now have ‘entrepreneurs‘ running the solar charging stations. Light has also helped the advancement and empowerment of women; energy is clearly the missing Millennium Development Goal as it underlines development that can further so much more: it has many co-benefits as clean light that raises people’s development ambitions with a knock-on-effect.

In Tentala, a remote tribal community, Hinsi Hazda, like most other women in her village, used to rush to kitchen to prepare an evening meal before dusk, as afterwards there would be no light. Hinsi’s husband was the sole bread earner for the family of six, earning about Rs. 2,500 ($46) per month. Now, through the solar lamps, things have changed. The extra hours of light allow women like Hinsi to work at night by stitching sal leaves to create ‘Kholi,’ a plate made out of leaves. Hinsi now earns more than Rs. 2,000 ($36) per month, which is almost the same amount as her husband’s earnings, and feels empowered because she can contribute to the household income. Teri has taken women like Hinsi on an incredible journey towards becoming self-dependent and shaping the future of their communities. It is now expanding its scheme to Afghanistan, Burma, Pakistan and African countries.

(Article Published under 3BL Media-INDIACSR Partnership)

Sangeeta Haindl: I love being a staff writer for 3BL Media/Justmeans on topics – Social Innovation, Social Enterprise and Social Entrepreneurs. When I am not writing for 3BL Media/Justmeans, I wear my other hat as owner of Serendipity PR. Over the years I have worked with high-profile, big, powerful brands and organisations within the public, not-for-profit and corporate sectors; and won awards from my industry. I believe in the power of serendipity for business. Do e-mail me if you would like to know more and what this means. I also am a Twitter lover and believe that social media lets people into our lives. I would also describe myself as a Spiritual Entrepreneur, Conscious Explorer and Futurist. I enjoy helping others, paying it forward and being a mum.

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