Krishnan Pallassana: Change agents of social transformation

Reading time: 5 minutes
14 January 2016

As we close up our Bijli - Clean Energy for All project in India, Krishnan Pallassana, India Director, The Climate Group, blogs about his time visiting one of the Bijli project sites, shedding some light on the positive human impacts of our work to connect rural communities with clean energy - in a country where 350 million people still do not yet have access to energy.

A few months ago, I happened to visit one of the Bijli project locations in Shahada, Maharashtra. Nothing made me happier than to meet the family of Amber Singh again. Six months ago, the young Amber and his wife Usha with their infant son were hesitant, shy and unsure, having taken the huge risk of a poor family investing in a solar system. Today, I could see the transformation in the family. And I am not surprised.

While Amber was away at work, Usha was at home. The underweight, shy woman has been replaced by a healthy woman facing men from metros with confidence. Six months ago, their infant son was sickly, always in slumber and coughing constantly. Today, the wide-eyed toddler looks plump and hearty and was constantly trying to grab our attention.

The home solar system has helped the family increase their income. Usha goes to work and cooks under electric lamps. The family is happy and that shows in their face. I asked when they will buy the TV they wanted six months ago and peals of laughter follow: “soon, very soon”, Usha says.

The Climate Group is an agent of change, pursuing our mission to herald a new economic era that will usher unprecedented equitable social development and economic prosperity for all. Worldwide, our excellent team is committed to this shared mission, optimistic and positive despite the constraints and challenges we face on a daily basis.

As we constantly search for that ray of motivation to keep us going, nothing works better than visiting those people who are experiencing the transformation because of our intervention. In my past two decades of social sector engagement in various countries, I have always looked up to the people at the grassroots for inspiration, be it the rugged and often insecure terrains of Afghanistan or the serene calmness in the islands of Andaman.

Thus, after a longer period of slugging out in office and busy metros, I could not think of a better energy boost than to visit the villages where our Bijli project has made a difference. On December 23, I set out to Shahada in Maharashtra to be with the villagers and find out if the opportunities we provided to them have indeed been realized.

Last time I went to Shahada was in the peak of summer and I remember the unyielding sun, parched fields and dust all around, the extreme heat almost creating mirages at a distance. Six months later, what greeted me was greenery, pleasant and soothing to the eyes.

Bijli - visit to Shahada, Dec 14

Vinod, field representative of our partner S3IDF was grinning from ear to ear when I met him the next morning. He was smiling because they had completed the Bijli project that for him is turning out to be a grand success in every count, from on-time implementation to people’s ownership and acceptance. The business model of the Bijli program is surely working efficiently.

I had only one request to Vinod – take me to the same village where we went last time. I want to meet the same families and listen to them about the impact of our program. 

Kanti Lal, the solar champion of the village greeted us and recollected my promise of coming back to their village soon. Familiar faces greeted me. The immaculately organized interiors of the house of the happy school teacher Gulab Mitha Powra continues to astonish me. Gulab claimed that his children have improved so much in their studies since solar powered lamps adorned their homes.

There are other new enterprises out of this solar mission. Dama Ahanj, who has some health issues that does not allow him to do harsh physical labour has started a grocery within his hut, lit by his new solar system. His small business is growing and he has found a new vocation to sustain his family. His wares were prominent and shining under the white hue from the LED lights installed within.

For years now, we have taken energy consumption for granted, never realizing its true potential to enhance the productive capabilities of people. Electricity availability, in most of the rural belt, has been unavailable. Even if available, it has been erratic and unreliable. This has denied millions of Indians the opportunity to enhance their productivity and quality of life. Thankfully the Government of India has set a clear mission to achieve universal energy access as a means to drive equitable economic growth and social development, which projects like Bijli are realizing.

But Bijli is not just a project. It is a movement that demonstrates the potential of renewable energy to bring about dramatic transformations in people’s lives. Across the length and breadth of India, there are many such stories of success that inspires change.

Bijli has identified those social enterprise models that can scale up viable and affordable energy access through an enterprises-led approach.

As the project comes to an end in a couple of months, it has given not just hope, but also a solution to make universal energy access happen in India.

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