Here we delve into the philosophy behind Selco – what makes the company what it is. We explore not only the operations philosophy, but also some of the social and cultural philosophies of the company.
SM: Can you explain the business of Selco at this point to us? HH: The whole philosophy of Selco is to provide a reliable energy service at the doorstep of the underserved. The people who need it are those in the rural areas of India. We believe that in anybody’s daily life, reliable energy like solar electricity or solar lighting can lead to a better quality of life. It can also lead to increased savings by reducing cost of fuels, or it can lead to increased earnings due to extra hours available for work.
Overall, reliable electricity enhances productivity.
SM: You could be talking about a woman in a village who makes a living by sewing blouses. HH: Yes, the light can increase the number of hours she has to work with. Additionally, instead of pedaling a sewing machine and doing all of that manual labor, she can now use a solar powered sewing machine and enhance her productivity.
SM: Looking back, what were some of the big crossroads you have faced? HH: The first crossroad was finding a couple of technicians who were already working in the rural areas who could do the installations.
SM: How did you find them? HH: I went through the villages and stopped at some of the TV shops. I described what I was doing, and asked if anyone was interested. There were a couple of people who wanted to see the products, and they introduced me to some of their uncles and aunts who had no electricity to see if they wanted it. They gave me confidence that we could make a team.
The second milestone we crossed was financing. Like anything else which costs multiple times your annual income, financing is needed to afford it. Many of the financial institutions were not aware of the technology and did not know if the technology made sense.
They had apprehension that solar lighting could be linked to income generation in the same way as other products which they had been financing. So, the second milestone was getting financial institutions to start lending.
That happened in late 1996, Malaprabha Grameen Bank was the first one to start financing. They elected to finance 100 systems, probably because they were getting fed up with me more than anything else. I took the letter which stated they would finance 100 systems to other banks, and asked them why they were not doing the same. After that, banks opened up. That was our biggest code to crack, since our entire model is based on banks providing the financing.