Solar Power to IndiaElectricity will be one of India’s largest concerns in the next few decades. The population is both increasing and urbanizing. The International Energy Agency predicts that India will have almost 600 million more electricity consumers by 2040. Currently, India’s power grid coverage is inconsistent. About 360 million people live without electricity because the grid does not extend to their homes, while another 20 million people have only an average of four hours of electricity per day. With India in desperate need of new, efficient sources of energy, solar power is in demand. The Indian government encourages solar power and offers subsidies for small businesses and individual homes. For India’s poorest citizens, solar is still a major investment that can be difficult to afford. SELCO offers solar power to India that is affordable and made for India’s poorest citizens.

SELCO Solar Power

Harish Hande and Neville Williams co-founded SELCO in 1995. Headquartered in Karnataka, India, SELCO has more than 500 employees in operates in rural areas of Karnataka and surrounding southern states. SELCO offers a range of off-grid, completely solar-powered machines targeted toward rural Indians.

Its unique, localized financial model also means that it is able to provide products to people who traditionally would not be able to afford them. As stated on its website, a key myth that SELCO wants to dispel is that poor people cannot afford or maintain sustainable technology.

Affordability of Solar Power

To successfully bring solar power to India, SELCO argues that poor people cannot afford the traditional financing necessary to pay off these technologies. It has seen success from customizing payment plans to individual situations, which allows people to pay installments in sync with their own schedule instead of a bank’s set schedule. Today, Hande lobbies banks to allow for greater financing flexibility and international institutions including the United Nations now provide financial assistance after seeing the success of SELCO’S unconventional financing methods. This has allowed SELCO to grow at an annual rate of 20%, providing 450,000 “solar solutions” in the region.

It operates 25 satellite branches and a technician is less than two hours away from every customer. Technicians speak local languages to foster trust. Limiting its reach allows SELCO to adhere to its mission while making a profit. While institutions such as the World Bank have doubted whether providing solar to the rural poor can turn a profit, SELCO’s model allows it to defy expectations.

Flexible Solar Solutions

Just like its financing, SELCO’s products are successful because of flexibility. For example, Hande learned that many people needed light in multiple rooms but could not afford that many lights. So, SELCO devised a plan where it installs multiple electrical points but provides only one or two lights. The idea is that they don’t need lights on in every room at once and can move the bulbs from room to room. Sales soared. Being in tune with community needs allows SELCO to understand the needs of India’s rural poor and tailor solutions that other companies might not consider.

Besides lights, SELCO offers a range of solar-powered commercial and home products, from water heaters and sewing machines to milking machines and photocopiers. SELCO’s goal is to provide a new solar option every month. With the solar industry only expected to grow in the foreseeable future, expect SELCO to be at the forefront of bringing solar power to India.

– Adam Jancsek
Photo: Flickr

Despite India’s growing economic success, a recent study by Oxford University found that over half of India’s youth lives in acute poverty. Of the staggering 528 million impoverished Indians, almost half are under the age of 18. The study looked at their access to health care, nutrition, clean water, education and other standards of living when assessing poverty in India.

According to the study, of the 689 million impoverished children in the world, 87 percent live in South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. This study was designed in accordance with the United Nation’s primary Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating poverty in all forms. By addressing youth poverty in highly-populated areas such as India, global poverty could be greatly reduced.

There are many possible explanations for why so many of India’s impoverished are those under the age of 18, including policy issues, general values and the mindsets of India’s citizenry. Rural areas, in particular, are vulnerable to cultural issues such as early marriage and pregnancy, as well as a lack of educational access for girls. These issues are more complex than simple economic reform.

Additionally, author and former Indian Administrative Officer, Anirudh Krishna, addressed three overarching explanations for this phenomenon: healthcare deficiency, insufficient state support of citizens and the upper class’s prejudices towards those in poverty in India. These issues are attributed to India’s particular value system and a lack of opportunity for families living in rural slums. Children from these families lack access to the same opportunities as higher-income children, depriving India of potential economic resources.

The results of this study are particularly astonishing in the context of India’s economic boom. In recent months, India’s GDP grew at seven percent and is set to continue growing to about eight percent in upcoming years — primarily due to its digital boom and healthy startup economy. Despite this growing GDP, India’s rural youth population remains in a state of economic strife.

However, young professionals are beginning to look at the problem as fellows trained to study issues of poverty in India. These fellows study rural areas to understand which resources they lack most and which issues affect children the greatest. Their work focuses on how higher standards of health care and education, as well as access to electricity and technology, are achievable in rural India.

Investing in education is of high importance; it equips children with skills to enter the workforce and might effectively challenge potentially harmful values in rural communities. By addressing this lack of basic needs in rural areas, India can cultivate a generation of healthy, educated and productive citizens. Investing in modern education, technology and opportunities for rural youth could provide India with a great economic return.

Julia Morrison

Photo: Flickr

Developing Economies

Social impact technology company, United Needs, works under the belief that the world is at its healthiest when interconnected. In order to disrupt cycles of poverty for rural farmers while simultaneously strengthening Earth’s food system, the organization is introducing new mobile technology to bring together advanced and developing economies.

In the next 34 years, the world will see an increase of 2.4 billion citizens. To feed this population the global food supply must increase by 69%, which means that finite agricultural resources must be used in the most effective way possible.

At the same time, the increase in population presents an exciting opportunity for smallholder farmers to play a large role in the expanding food economy. The United Needs website calls this “convergence of market forces” a chance for impoverished farmers to “grow their way out of poverty.”

In the current climate, small farmers in developing countries struggle with a variety of challenges. While small farms can be extremely productive, too few selling opportunities exist and farmers often lack access to traditional credit facilities. When market options are available, several levels of middlemen often consume most of the profit.

Research by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector showed that improving the financial state of the rural poor is one of the most effective ways of reducing poverty at the bottom rung of the financial ladder.

United Needs works on projects that seek to empower rural farmers as a means of alleviating poverty and building a sustainable food economy. Their methods involve breaking down barriers to profit by connecting developing economies directly with advanced ones.

With the motto “high tech with a high purpose,” United Needs keeps technology at the heart of its strategy. In order to “cut out the middleman” preventing smallholders from accessing credit and capital, the company created a mobile app that allows farmers to directly contact microfinance institutions and buyers. Customers interested in buying in bulk can bundle crops from multiple small farmers together to build large orders.

This high tech process is creating a more connected global economy by offering opportunities for advanced and developing economies to support one another through food production and consumption.

Jen Diamond

Photo: Flickr

Despite the fact that Belarus has one of the lowest poverty rates of the post-Soviet states, poverty, though not extreme, threatens the welfare of her people. Only 1% of Belarusians are living on less than $1 a day, but a more concerning 27.1% are below the poverty line, with 17.8% living below the minimum subsistence level. The “minimum subsistence level” is defined per the Czech Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs as “a minimum level of income, which is considered to be necessary to ensure sustenance and other basic personal needs at a level allowing the individual to survive.” The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Belarus identifies the “rural population, children, and single-parent households” as the most vulnerable victims of poverty.

Fortunately, the UNDP is executing a poverty reduction plan in Belarus that fosters the development of small businesses and, therefore, encourages a vibrant private sector. The plan is spearheaded by multiple players, from the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank to the Belarusian government and small rural Belarusian businesses. The UNDP hopes that the installation of an agricultural business sector will rejuvenate rural Belarus and bring an end to poverty in the Eastern European country.

Rural initiatives are especially necessary in former Soviet territories where local economies have declined due to the rocky transition from collective to private farming that occurred after the fall of the USSR in the early 1990’s. Agricultural workers were completely unprepared to grow crops on their own. This resulted in a situation in which uneducated farmers with limited resources in a now free-market economy were unable to maximize the productivity of their land.

Part of the UNDP’s strategy has included the establishment of the Rural Business Development Center outside of Minsk, the nation’s capital. The Center is the legal hub for the development of former Soviet collective farms into efficient private enterprises. The director of the Center, Alla Voitekhovich, describes the day-to-day activities of the Center as including the “registration of small enterprises, the conducting of market surveys, (and) the facilitation of job creation,” among other efforts. The RBDC also holds workshops for small business owners and entrepreneurs and has recently begun to encourage local farmers to exploit agro-tourism as a means of job creation in the region.

The UNDP says that rural poverty has been significantly reduced in Belarus in the last decade, stating “From 2000 to 2009, the share of poor households dropped by 7.4 times in rural areas.” Surely, the UNDP has made great strides in Belarus, breathing new life into an agricultural system that only a short time ago seemed irreparably broken. The success of the UNDP in rural Belarus is truly a testament to the resourcefulness and efficiency of the United Nations.

Josh Forgét

Sources: UNDP Belarus, CIA World Factbook, Czech Republic Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
Photo: Spotlight


The World Travel & Tourism Council predicts that travel and tourism will be one of the world’s fastest growing industries between 2013 and 2021, and the best part is – this will create about 66 million jobs.

According to the World Tourism Organiza­tion (UNWTO), international travel to developing countries is on the rise and the tourism boom is driving development, exports, and jobs. Tour­­ists are increasingly looking for cultural and natural attractions in rural areas, thereby exploring more developing countries. Overall, two-thirds of people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas, so these communities will benefit from this pro-poor tourism according to the Rural Poverty Report 2011 (International Fund for Agricultural Development).

Tourism requires local labor and thus presents more employment opportunities for even low-skilled people. According to the UN International Trade Center (ITC), “tourism offers superior poverty reduction opportunities.” And the UNWTO points out that women and young people, who are generally proportionally disadvantaged, have more opportunities to find jobs within tourism.

It is not all trouble-free, tourism is vulnerable to natural disasters and political instability, and poor communities do not automatically benefit as some companies prefer to import supplies and services. But the ITC is taking measures to promote “inclusive tourism” and elevate the priority of this industry with international organizations and corporations. In 2003 it launched a project in Brazil’s Coconut Coast to increase capacity building activities for  agriculture, arts and crafts, the hotel business, computer science, English, environmental education, design, and culture, all as part of the tourism industry. They even installed an organic waste processing plant, providing balanced fertilizer at subsidized rates to 300 farmers. Today, 70 percent of the 3,000 beneficiaries of the project have found employment (mostly in nine five-star partner hotels) and the monthly income of 390 local women artisans has risen from $40 US to $250 US. The portion of the population earning less than one minimum salary has also decreased from 40 percent to 28 percent. The success of this and other projects confirms the fact that tourism represents an important opportunity for developing countries in their fight against poverty.

– Mary Purcell

Source: UN ITC