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ISTI – on a skilling mission to empower & positively impact the lives of underprivileged & unemployed youth!! – EQ Mag Pro

ISTI – on a skilling mission to empower & positively impact the lives of underprivileged & unemployed youth!! – EQ Mag Pro


In special conversation with Abhilasha Goswami, Chairperson, AstonGreens

ISTI – The Journey

Launched in 2020, ISTI traces its roots back to 2013 when the parent company AstonGreens forayed into rooftop solar installations and small EPC solar projects. Abhilasha, who has led several roles in IT industry with TCS for 14 years, shared “Both, my husband and I being Electrical engineers, always had conversations around how the tech sector and the boom of renewable energy both go hand in hand and that there is a lot to do in the renewables space. Taking those discussions further in 2013, our family company AstonGreens was started which soon became channel partners with MNRE and carried on several Solar PV installations for rooftop and C&I.”

She recalls that during those years, amid uncertainties and changing regulations in solar sector, AstonGreens was fighting a plethora of issues like lack of skilled and productive manpower, abundance of unprofessional players, high overhead costs associated with retention of skilled supervisors during lean phases, cost of quality due to re-works or punch points closure and safety related NCRs which led to closure of their EPC activities. She further added, “We had realised that during the lean phase it’s very difficult to retain the manpower and finding a competitive and productive workforce is also a constant struggle as it’s very scattered and many times unskilled and inefficient.”

However, those were powerful learning experiences which fostered an idea that eventually got bolstered in 2020 amid Covid-19 situation and led to conceptualization of ISTI. Goswami stated, “I had already quit my corporate job in 2018 and intended to take our work head-on in another direction. Hence, with a dual objective of creating jobs and a sustainable income source for the families at the bottom of the pyramid who were the most affected during Covid-19 phase, coupled with an intention to help EPC Contractors who face most of the manpower related issues, ISTI was born in 2020.”


Abhilasha, through EQ Magazine announced, “ISTI has been selected to be a part of the India Accelerator Programme under GAN (Global Accelerator Network) in a tough competition where > 500 start-ups participated.” India Accelerator is helping start-ups realise their true potential by accelerating them into the next phase of growth. She’s currently undergoing a 6 months robust Cohort with the team iAspire which offers focussed mentorship, strategic support and peer group support with like-minded women entrepreneurs. Abhilasha expects their venture to gain further momentum with this program under the guidance of a solid team founded by her co-alumnus Mr Ashish Bhatia from NIT Kurukshetra.


“If you have a strong will, nothing is impossible… GoI has set highly ambitious targets in the solar sector and we are hopeful that they will not only meet the targets but also exceed them before time And we, at ISTI, want to empower the youth of the country and be a part of this growth story through our skill training course.” Our concept of empowerment is simple – “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach the man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” 

Challenges in Domestic Market & ISTI’s Role

1. Skilled Workforce: She highlighted, “To meet the ever increasing demand in RE, skilled and efficient workforce is missing. This is where ISTI steps in, as we are providing productivity and quality focussed training based on Time & Motion study which ensures that the demand of productive and skilled workers is met in the workspace.”

2. Lack of Centralised System: The workforce is very scattered as of now, and there is a lack of centralised system to tap that. ISTI marketplace App does just that – it connects contractors to the available trained workforce at the click of a button.

3. Retention of Workforce: During lean business phases, there is huge pressure on margins of contractors due to high fixed costs of holding manpower. Addressing this industry need is the ISTI marketplace App which provides one click access to the contractors for manpower and machinery on pay-per-use model which ensures that they don’t have to bear the cost of holding manpower/machinery in lean times.

4. Open Access in True Spirit: While GoI has put in place Open Access policies in many states, they are still not implemented in true spirit and RE generators are being blocked by local DisComs or regulators. This must be fully implemented across India to help end customers to gain from competitive energy tariffs that will make them globally competitive.

5. Manufacturing Capacity: GoI has put a lot of impetus on the ‘Make in India’ program, however investments in the end-to-end solar PV value chain have been delayed a lot. We hope that this will change in coming years and India puts up a solid manufacturing base and be the alternative to China.

Source of Financing

Since the institute is not charging anything upfront from the students most of whom come from the low-income strata of the society, ISTI taps into the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) funds and grants from GoI and International Organizations looking to create a positive impact at the bottom of pyramid. As part of India Accelerator program also, they have come to know that GoI has a lot to offer in terms of funds, resources and programmes.”

We are trying to tap into CSR sources of funding through NRI/HNIs as well by providing full transparency to them in terms of the impact created through their donations.


When asked about her achievements as a leader, Abhilasha humbly declines the term leader and mentioned that the driving force for her was primarily the will to bring positive change in the lives of people from urban and rural strata. ISTI has created a team to skill people, and by training them in the best processes, systems and tools, they want to create employment opportunities for them and ushers them to financial stability.

Her purpose is to create a ripple effect throughout the society until the wave of success reaches the last person. Quoting few of the achievements, she said “ISTI marketplace App provides one click access to the contractors for machinery and manpower on Pay-per use model. In the last one year of incorporation we have been able to provide employment to more than 200 students. In this way we have positively impacted the lives of thousands of people. In our first year of operation, we are able to gain patronage of six large contractors and technology partnership with two European companies and one Chinese.”

Importance of Skilled Professionals in Solar

As per Abhilasha, majority of contractors lose out on profitability due to two reasons: Unskilled workforce and low productivity of the workforce. She mentioned, “I think the industry is yet to recognise the power of productivity in this area. The feedback from the contractors for our workforce has been really encouraging. They have reported a 170% rise in productivity compared to the regular workforce available in the market and this directly translates to higher profits from the contractor side, due to significant reduction in the fixed cost.”

Adding to it, she said, “Through our institute, as we are providing productivity and quality focussed training based on Time & Motion study which ensures that the demand of productive and skilled workers is met in the workspace. As we have a fast-moving workforce, so it is a win-win situation for both the workers as well as contractors as the workers don’t have to sit idle and contractors don’t have to hold the manpower.”

Women in Solar

The organisation is accredited by NSDC and firmly anchored to support PMKVY and Suryamitra schemes of GoI. We have got the privilege of working with a very professional team from NISE and Council for Green Jobs. She mentioned, “I would like to thank them for all the support and also urge them to have preferential allocation of Suryamitra batches for women led ventures like ours who have been sincerely doing their best using latest technologies. Such preferential allocation will greatly encourage other women to join this social impact space and I firmly believe that they are better placed compared to men when it comes to care and social contributions because of our social fabric in Indian culture.”

Carrying forward the vision of Abhilasha is her eleven-years-old daughter who shares the same compassion and values of women empowerment. Narrating an incident, Goswami said, “While visiting our institute a few days back, my daughter saw the students getting trained and her first question was ‘Mumma, why are there no girl students in this institute’. I was taken aback by the questions and definitely it was a very valid question.”

Further adding to it, she said, “Right now we do not have any female students because this is a male dominated field. Since ours is a residential training program, parents have a hitch in sending their daughters for this training. We are changing all of this soon through digitisation of our training content whereby we are hopeful of making it more accessible from any location in the country in multiple languages and then girl students would need to come to us only for practical yard training for a few days only. This is underway and expected to be completed within one year.”

In her words, “Real progress in the society would be when we start seeing women not only at a higher level in the organisations, but also working for such skilling sector and at ground level as a blue-collar solar technician installing solar PV at residential roofs.”

India – Answer to World’s Skilled Manpower Needs in PV Sector

With ~65% young population, competitive wages and dedicated efforts of GoI through its Skills Program, India can be the answer to the world’s requirement for Skilled Manpower in the fast growing PV Sector. While Indian manpower can access labour markets in the Middle East, they are still facing challenges when it comes to accessing labour markets in USA, Europe and other western world due to tough visa regimes. “We urge Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship to negotiate through International forums a better access to labour markets in western world to make a significant impact in the lives of poor people through job creation while also helping western world to provide more affordable solar tariffs to their customers by significantly reducing their soft costs,” urged Goswami.

Use of AI/ML:

AI/ML is primarily aiming at two things, cost reduction and ease of doing business. These two are said to benefit all the stakeholders.

Anand Gupta Editor - EQ Int'l Media Network