Conversation with 
Dr Harish Hande

2011 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee
Co-Founder & CEO, SELCO Foundation
India

(Watch full interview here!) | Paraphrased excerpts below:

On Re-Imagining the Future through Grassroots Innovation

As individuals, we need to ask “What role can I play?” And I am not talking about money, not how much money you can donate. That is escapism. What I am interested to know is whether or not you are more useful than your money. Money is the easiest thing to give. As individuals, we need to gain knowledge of   what is happening to the 3 billion poor people in the world and ask ourselves how can we contribute? 

One way is to look at grassroots level innovation, grassroots level entrepreneurship and create centers of innovation in institutions. We need to create rural financing and long term finance for the poor to own assets. 

In India and the Philippines, the people who get a head start are those who understand “PowerPoint, Excel and Words”. Non-English speakers have absolutely no chance. No chance to innovate because they will never get good “failure money” to experiment. What if we can create vocational schools as centers of excellence and rural banks as high risk capital for enterprises and innovators to innovate? 

Watch interview clip here

Now is the time to make a Big Difference

If we don’t do this now, there’s no point running this foundation. I would rather see this foundation die now while doing this work, rather than saying: “I saved my cash for better days.” 

Businesses need to conserve cash, but a foundation needs to actually spend it for the sake of what it is supposed to be created for. This is what it is (all about).

This is where we should directly jump in and ask ourselves, “What is it that we should create so that the poor can have the resilience to get over the crisis?” This is when the foundation needs to play a role. 

So, I told my colleagues at SELCO Foundation that, this is it . This is the time where we are needed the most. Otherwise, it will be similar to having the doctors who are taking leave at this critical moment. This is not the time to take a leave. 

It is crunch time where a lot of lives are dependent on us. Any failure from our side to act will mean that the poor will go into abject poverty. For us, it is a pandemic outside. It is is not a stay at home vacation. It is not about the sharing of social media of what I did today, be it yoga or gaining extra knowledge. That will be extremely selfish. This is the time for you to dedicate 110% to make a difference. 

Watch interview clip here!

Seeking advice from real Crisis Champions:

The most educated people may not be the most effective mentors in this situation because they may not have any idea about what the challenges in the underserved areas are. During a life and death situation like this, when people’s lives depend on your advice and decisions, you need experienced advisors who truly understand how to navigate a crisis situation. 

This is the time when you should seek the wisdom of leaders who may not necessarily be highly educated or speak good English, but have personally gone through a crisis situation and came out victorious on the other side.

If I look at Manila, I would look to the people who handled the typhoon day in and day out and ask: How have you repatriated people? How have you rehabilitated them? What did it take to move people from one part of Manila to another? How did you help bring back the livelihood to normal?

While crisis has not happened in such a large scale (as the current pandemic), it has happened in smaller pockets. There are numerous local expertise that we can seek guidance from. If I talk to Don Bosco (Foundation) in Manila, I will get such an insight into how they manage crisis during Typhoon Hanna and shifted 6,000 people from the slums out. What did that take? How did they think? How did they create livelihood?

Or, what can you learn from the people who run to the refugee camp in Utopia and Iraq? There have been a lot of the farmers in rural India who have gone through droughts that are multiple times worse than COVID-19. Those are the champions we need to seek out for advice. Those are the crisis management leaders that we need pick up the phone and call and ask, “Sir, can you provide us your mentorship?” 

Watch interview clip here

About Dr Harish Hande

Dr. Harish Hande, a 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, is the Co-Founder and Chairman of SELCO Solar Light, a social enterprise that provides affordable renewable energy services to the poor in rural India. He is also the CEO of SELCO Foundation, an open source, not for profit platform creating solutions linking sustainable energy to poverty eradication. 

SELCO India is renowned for its customized product, door-step financing and service. To date, it has installed solar home lighting systems in over 650,000 households. 

Harish is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur and has a Master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts. He was a speaker at AFES 2018 on the Future of Energy. 

Learn more at selcofoundation.org