Magsaysay Awardee Harish Hande charging the youngsters: In My Journey series @ IWSB

Indus World School of Business (IWSB) has been very privileged to have Harish on the campus to interact with the young entrepreneurial managers and leaders. Here is a short profile of Harish and notes on his sharing that charged the youth on campus.


Harish Hande at IWSB talking to young entrepreneurial leaders and managers
Harish Hande at IWSB talking to young entrepreneurial leaders and managers

Harish Hande co-founded SELCO INDIA, a social venture, to eradicate poverty by promoting sustainable technologies in rural India. With its headquarters in Bangalore , SELCO has 25 branches in Karnataka and Gujarat. Today SELCO INDIA has installed solar lighting systems in over 120,000 households in the rural areas of these states.

Harish Hande has won the Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy 2005 and Tech Museum Award 2005. Harish has also received the world’s leading green energy award from Prince Charles in 2005. In 2007 SELCO INDIA won the Outstanding Achievement Award from Ashden Awards. The award was presented by Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States of America. Harish Hande was named the Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and the Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation. He was also the featured attendee and speaker at the Clinton Global Initiative 2007.

In 2008, Harish Hande was chosen by Business Today as one of the 21 young leaders for India’s 21st century. In mid 2008, India Today named him one of the 50 pioneers of change in India.

He was awarded with Asia’s prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2011, also sometimes referred to as Asia’s Nobel Prize.

Harish Hande was born in Handattu Kundapura Taluk Udupi District, Karnataka and raised in Rourkela, Orissa, India. After completing his basic schooling in Orissa, he went to IIT Kharagpur for his undergraduate studies in Energy Engineering. He then went to the U.S. to do his Master’s and later PhD. in Energy Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell[1]


Selco has 170 employees and our Model is “poor as asset creators”. They are spread across in the areas we work. More are aged. I get more invites for funeral.

There was an instance when “I wrote a mail to find whether one gentleman is alive. He wrote back saying that he is writing about world war II”

Our aim is to create a sustainable world in a sustainable manner. I was in Dominican Republic in 1991 while I was in the US. I saw people using solar lamps in that poor country. Came back to the US started thinking about what I experienced. Social Economics became an interesting area

From my childhood days in Rourkela to IIT, I have not felt what it is not to have electricity. So, I wanted to and I spent two years without electricity – in Srilanka for an year and half and followed by India one year

I have experience of Water issues that was solved by a panchayat, using Laptop powered by solar. Don’t sit in urban area and decide what the rural India needs. Make rural inhabitants the drivers of the business. Most of our problem solvers are 4th grade drop-outs! A person who once used to serve tea manages our Bangalore office.

If you see me in rural space, he will talk to me in the first name and not sir. Until we do not drive it, we will not be able to create sustainable model.

We will create hierarchy in everything. Does not the driver and maid have first name. Raghu who has driven me for two years is going to be the sales manager. What has SELCO given to him? Respect, self esteem. If the technician is not taken care of by a company, I will not like to maintain the relationship with the organization.

Hundred and seventy enablers at SELCO  – we do not know the qualification of the people. We do not look at their resume. Deputy CEO was an office assistant. He can talk to chairman of a bank or any ambassador, despite without any educational background.

Most of us have the arrogance of deciding on behalf of others and also decide what poor need. We need to look at poor as partners. How do you create value, do we? How many of us spend time with client. When we meet the client we look at him as our father…

We do solar. Solar is expensive for rich and affordable for poor. Rich needs subsidy. Average street vendor, who uses kerosene, spends 15-20 per day, Rs 450 in a month.. It works to 6.5 for solar for equivalent.

Poor spends more. About 190 rupess out of 1600 for the energy needs. Key is how to create financing for end user. 8000 rupees funded by paying this 190 to the bank and creating the asset.

We try to balance social, financial and environmental sustainability. I started with Lehman brothers. We did not have problems during the downturns. Lehman does not exist.

We do not want experts. We want people with common sense and jack-of-all-trades. They should think 300 in a month is expensive, 10 in day is fine. We need to help them to make things affordable. Panipuri guy may pay everyday, peanut farmer may be twice a year. We are experts in figuring out this. Tomato vendor is different from potato vendor. They differ in preferring the color of lights white light to yellow light

Biggest challenge is youngsters do not want to go to rural area. How many of you would like to? We had 295 apps from abroad and five from India; those five did not want to go to rural area. I have people from MIT, OXFORD, SLOAN but not a single guy from our schools…

Until we do not go to the rural area, we will be in the false 8% growth. We are living in absolute bubble. Each one of you will be responsible when the bubble bursts

Harish Hande at IWSB talking to young entrepreneurial leaders and managers
Harish Hande at IWSB talking to young entrepreneurial leaders and managers
  • One million die in indoor pollutions, 70% are Indians. Are we proud of it? All use the same old technologies – cooking – that have been since Iron Age. 47% of household still does not have electricity. Karnataka does not have 54% of the population experiencing electricity. A 65 year old falling on feet for a bulb
  • We are looking at cooking – 20mn girls collect wood every year, every day between 8am and 9pm.Will we allow our daughters to do it?
  • In Gurgaon the water table is at 950 feet, that was once 10 feet. We are sucking water of the nearby villagers. The farmer will send their children to Delhi. We then say that the slums are eyesores.
  • 26% of Delhi’s waste is construction waste. Worst city is Delhi. Max  – 30% of wastage of water in Delhi. We do not believe in protest. We can only do by providing solutions…

A begger is a customer. Real India has a great hope. Do not go and join in Big companies. Go out and create appropriate business models that we can apply the world.

We can become the innovation centre for poor. China will continue to be manufacturing capital. We have the largest number of institutions in financial space 40K. We need to create models.

Youngsters like you need to go to rural spaces. Even in cities and find solutions that can alleviate issues.

Go and write the business model of the street vendor. As we get more educated we become less and less risk taking. Street vendor will keep coming whether it is flood or fire. What should be the pricing strategy at what time? How does she survive?  How does she take calls for tomorrow? With all the barriers that she has how does she survive – haftas, cart pricing, kerosene, working capital interest @ 10percent a day… How do they survive?

When we look at them, we wonder and in fact it looks like mocking ourselves.

Which states?

  • Karnataka
  • Gujarat

Why in that place only?

  • I come from Karnataka, I can get subsidized food in the villages
  • In Orissa, we just started, so also Bihar…
  • Average Client base earns 3000 a month..
  • How do we create business models. We are an open source organization.


  • Sister would go to Afghanistan, so did not have much resistance
  • Either you do not get married or have an extremely understanding spouse

o    Selco… I used to see her once in two years

o    She never got to know whether we are alive or dead

o    More than my own mindset. Unlearning took 4 years..

o    North Srilanka.. 92-93 was an eyeopener when was surrounded by LTTE..

o    Challenges are from hierarchy

  • §     You will run away as you are young

No amount of Google search will solve you. Take the example of this lady who came to our office

  • We have only 2 sets of clothes. I want to talk to the Lady in the office
  •  During the rainy season, very difficult to dry
  • Clothes smell.. my husband cheats on me
  • Can you give me a good drier.. so that I can save my marriage

You spend 200 on Palak paneer and say 8% growth. Can you imagine what the vast majority is living on? We need to be very mindful of what we are doing.

You will the similar challenging environment in Gujarat…

  • Salt workers work in 50 DEGREES
  • Salt seeps into legs and he will not be able to stand
  • He sells salt at 3 paisa per Kilo… we buy at 14 rupees
  • In one hour you will burn, if you and I do that work

These are the barriers that we need to solve..Is the education system addressing it? No.

Tamilanadu – in a few districts you see girls having long hair – Why?

  • Flower plucking girls have long air…
  • kerosene lamp on the hair while they work
  • they are usually at 2-4am to pluck flowers to get fresh to the market place early morning

Gujarat – midwives helping baby delivery

  • Hole in the wall for light to enter
  • Use Lantern at night
  • How do you solve … minor torch at head with solar chargers

Beauty of India is.. you can solve the problems and export the solutions to Africa..


  • SELCO – Future plans?
  • After Magsaysay I have stepped back
  • I want more entrepreneurs to take it different places in the  country
  •  Go through training youngsters and help them fund the endeasvours
  •  Replication is our Mantra for scaling up


  • How do you help interested people to buy?
  • Micro finance is not good for financing for long term
  • 40 thousand rural banks… we have been able to convince them
  • 90% of clients are financed by rural banks


  • How do you reach the clients
  • In some areas we have been since 1995
  • Girls do not get married since husbands home does not have electricity
  • Local fairs, melas, those who have used will speak
  • We make sure the banker sits in the meeting. We do not have marketing and PR department
  • Not a single article written by us… it has to be a third party endorsement only

It was indeed a very charging session. Everyone was overawed by his passion and conviction. Many in the audience kept on discussing what they would like to do to address the issues he raised. In fact the discussion is still on, even after a week of his session. Let us make it happen.

Love and regards,

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