Dr. Harish Hande on Solar Social Entrepreneurship


What is the greenest thing you do in a day?

Work on linkages between poverty eradication and sustainable energy.

If you could make one sustainable innovation dream come true, what would it be?

Linking all income generation for the poor with sustainable technologies!
What is your motivation for supporting a sustainable economy through positive environmental initiatives?

Poverty eradication.

Who is your Green Hero of the planet?

Local farmers around the world – who know how to conserve with little.


According to Dr. Harish Hande, we could all take a lesson in sustainable development from local farmers around the world.  Through necessity, these farmers have learned how to develop sustainable resources with very few.  The SELCO India managing director has demonstrated the same ingenuity by using solar technology to help eradicate poverty and stimulate economic growth in India.  Rather than light up India’s fast growing middle class, Dr. Hande chose to provide solar power services to the poorest people in India.  Today, SELCO is the leading solar technology company in India.

For all the media coverage and rewards, Dr. Hande has not forgotten why he started the solar electric light company. “The majority of the world’s 1.6 billion un-electrified population lives in India. More than half of the women and children who die in the world because of indoor air pollution are Indian,” he explains at the World Economic Forum.  While his colleagues secured comfortable positions in private equity firms investing in hot technology startups, Dr. Hande used his doctorate in energy engineering to install solar systems in rural India.

Today, a regular presenter at prestigious economic forums among Nobel Prize winners, Dr. Hande is promoting an important economic growth model.  This social entrepreneur believes that the transformation to a sustainable economy can alleviate poverty by putting people to work developing sustainable energies.  It is a model that many world leaders and economists are promoting but Hande is one of the precious few who have actually put it into practice and shown that it can work.

Dr. Hande’s pathway to head up India’s leading solar company has an ironic twist.  The Energy Engineering department that gave him his B.A. specializing in solar closed down in 2007, as its most successful student developed one of India’s leading solar technology companies.  This poignant yet eye opening story underscores the disconnect between government policy in training and education and economic realities.  The results point to a promising future for solar .  SELCO, which has installed 120,000 solar systems in India, employs  hundreds of people, and continues to add to its workforce as it expands into new regions.  What does not show up as easily in the numbers is the improvement in the quality of life of millions of Indians, through access to cheap electricity and jobs.

Significantly, SELCO is a social enterprise successfully running as a commercial business and model for others.  Dr. Hande has shown how a commercial enterprise can operate more effectively by thinking like a social enterprise.  “Restructuring the thought process from technology towards needs means you not only give people what they actually need, you also give it at a reduced price.  Supplying technology to people without understanding their needs is out of place.  At SELCO, we extend a service to people not technology or product.” Times of India



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