Harish Hande, famously known as Mr. Sunshine is an Indian social entrepreneur who has lit up the life of people living in rural areas of Gujarat and Karnataka. Hande was awarded prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2011 for his efforts to put solar power technology in the hands of the poor.
Harish Hande, an IIT Kharagpur undergraduate, co-founded SELCO India (Solar Electric Light Company India) in 1995, a social enterprise to eradicate poverty by promoting sustainable technologies in rural India. Headquartered in Bengaluru, today SELCO India has installed solar lighting systems in over 120,000 households. SELCO has 25 branches in Gujarat and Karnataka and is currently India’s leading solar technology firm.
Hande after completing his undergraduate studies in Energy Engineering from IIT Kharagpur went to U.S. to do his Master’s and later PhD in Energy Engineering at University of Massachusetts Lowell. Hande wanted to do research in large solar (projects). In 1991, while doing his Master’s, his professor at the University of Massachusetts told him to study rural electrification in the Dominican Republic, where he came across households using solar power paying small amounts of money. After this visit, Harish Hande realised that he wanted to do something in the socioeconomic space and switched to small solar. A group of friends, including SELCO co-founder Neville Williams, also helped him change his mind.
Hande believes that the energy needs of a pani puri walla are very different from those of a paddy field farmer. One requires a certain type of light and fuel on a daily basis, while the other requires it on an annual basis. Yet, we continue to apply standardised procedures that have worked with the 1 million haves, to the 5 million have-nots. It’s the inefficient processes that cause losses, and solar power bears the blame. SELCO helps lightning up by decentralizing the process and creating personalized solutions based on people’s different needs. Their simple but effective innovation has killed the fallacy that solar energy is expensive and impractical.
In 2008, Hande was chosen by Business Today as one of the 21 young leaders for India’s 21st century. India Today named him one of the 50 pioneers of change in India. Besides this, Hande has won the Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy 2005, Social Entrepreneur of the year 2007 by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and the Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation.
For Hande, an employee who came to clean the table and serve coffee in 1998 is today SELCO’s Bangalore office branch manager, talking to bank chairmen and providing solar solutions is the moment of pride for SELCO India.
In the future, Hande is looking forward to replicate the SELCO model across India and creating 6 labs by 2016-17 as centers of innovation for the poor.