I arrived in Bangalore, India in the evening. A beautiful red sunset hung over the city skyline as I was driven to ‘the hive’, where our team was to live and work for the next four weeks. I was in India as part of the Business School's Community Placement Program, to partake in a month long fellowship with Pollinate Energy, a social business that enables access to sustainable technologies. Founded by a group of Australians, Pollinate Energy seeks to do social good by targeting groups of people that otherwise have no access to these technologies by making the technology affordable, and by remaining fully accountable to the customer and ensuring that the products are fulfilling their purpose.
Over 292 million people in India live without electricity. They rely on very crude technologies for their light and heat, most often kerosene lamps. These lamps are not only expensive to fuel, bad for the environment and a poor source of light, but they’re incredibly toxic. Indian families are forced to risk carbon monoxide poisoning and respiratory disease just to light their lives after dark.
Pollinate Energy has developed solutions based on solid research and community understanding. Not only is Pollinate fighting kerosene poisoning through the use of solar lamps, but by hiring Pollinators to sell and distribute the product, they’re creating employment too. They’re giving individuals in slum communities the chance to stand on their own feet and be stakeholders in their future growth.
My role was to work within a team to develop a strategy to sell a new product range of water filters, and to continue selling the solar lights to the communities around Bangalore. Unlike traditional internships, we were given a huge amount of responsibility early on, and it was up to us to steer the direction of the new product sales – a task that was daunting at times, but hugely rewarding. Our average day involved brainstorming ideas for the most effective way to sell the water filters, and then setting out into the communities in the afternoon and evenings to try out different methods to sell the products with local Indian entrepreneurs.
Perhaps one of the most confronting things about the working with Pollinate Energy was being faced with the sheer poverty in some of these communities and the obvious language barrier that existed. However, it was a joy to see that even though the people living in these communities lived in such adversity, they seemed so cheerful and happy.
I learnt a significant amount about social business in my time at Pollinate. As it doesn’t operate like a charity or a traditional business, the company has to carefully balance both the economic and social goals of the enterprise to ensure their mission and goals are met. In the case of Pollinate Energy, their goal is to reach more people by expanding their operations into nearly every major Indian city by 2020. They know they can’t do this by giving away products for free, so in order to reach more people and create a greater social impact, they sell the lights and other products to create more revenue, and therefore scale up their social impact.
It was hugely rewarding to meet our goals of selling over 50 water filters by the end of the month. When the solar lights were first presented to the communities, they took time to gain widespread adoption – and now they literally sell themselves. Hopefully we see the same result for the water filters, as a simple change in the cleanliness of drinking water could have a huge impact for the lives of the people in these communities.
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School