“It’s a myth,” said Harish Hande, co-founder of India based solar company SELCO, about the notion that businesses cannot be social enterprises. Hande has been debunking this myth since he started SELCO in 1995 with the mission of making sustainable energy accessible to poor communities in rural parts of India. Today, SELCO provides affordable solar energy to one million people.
Harish Hande, co-founder of India based solar company SELCO
For Hande, doing business is about more than making a profit; it is about creating what he calls, “generational solutions.” He wants SELCO’s technologies—from solar panels to solar-powered sewing machines and bread-making machines—to lift their clients’ families and communities out of poverty for generations to come.
SELCO works with their financial partners to design creative financing methods tailored to each client’s needs and budget. “We have installed over 450,000 so called ‘expensive’ solar solutions for the poor which have been paid for by the poor,” said Hande.
Sustainability goes beyond renewable energy for Hande. SELCO is predicated on the idea that businesses that last the longest are those that are embedded in their communities and care about their members’ well-being and future. “One of my colleagues who has been a technician for many years recently got married. Two hundred of our clients came to his wedding. That is sustainability,” said Hande.
The majority of SELCO’s 520 employees started out as clients. “These are the people who didn’t have access to energy in their homes as kids … they own the problem and are the best ones to come up with solutions.” Looking to the future, Hande hopes young people from these communities will get more opportunities—and funding—to start their own businesses and create innovative solutions to the problems they know so well, like poverty and climate change.
Up and coming business leaders are exactly who Hande is hoping to meet and collaborate with at ANDE’s Annual Conference this September in Leesburg, Virginia where he will be a featured speaker. “ANDE inspires young entrepreneurs,” said Hande, “and I get inspired by their new thought processes.” He hopes his speech will encourage young entrepreneurs to start their own ventures, take risks and not let the fear of failure stop them. “If you want to do something, do it,” said Hande. “We need to celebrate failure. It is necessary for innovation.”
Register to attend ANDE’s 2022 Annual Conference, September 13-15 in Leesburg, Virginia to continue the conversation with Harish Hande, and many more social entrepreneurs, in-person! Join us for energizing conversations about this year’s theme, resilient entrepreneurship, and member-led sessions on the latest research and reports regarding urgent issues like climate change, gender equity, and decent work and economic growth. Check out the full conference agenda here.