These young Australian entrepreneurs want to bring social change in India’s urban slums
Six years ago, six Australian entrepreneurs got together and decided to start a social enterprise called Pollinate Energy in the IT city of Bengaluru aimed at bringing social change in India’s urban slums and in the villages of Nepal. Today, the venture is all set to directly impact one million lives in the urban slums of India and underserved villages in Nepal by 2020. Pollinate Energy sells essential items to the people living in urban slums in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Lucknow. The company is also backed by University of Technology Sydney, (UTS) in Australia.
Alexie Seller from Australia, who is the CEO and co-founder of Pollinate Energy, always had a passion for low carbon energy. She had done her engineering in Australia, where she had focussed on renewable, particularly tidal energy. She had also worked as a project engineer at Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, exploring nuclear technology and design. It so happened in 2012 while working in Bengaluru with her co-founders, Seller met a girl named Lakshmi, who had been married at an young age of 12. She was living with her family of five, including her husband, in a slum in the IT city. Lakshmi, apparently, became Seller’s inspiration to do something to uplift the lives of families living in the urban slums.
“Till date we have successfully trained and empowered more than 500 women as entrepreneurs and door-to-door sales persons in India and Nepal, providing them business skills and confidence to deliver quality products to around 5 lakh people. We sell quality solar lanterns, improved cook stoves, water filters and solar fans at very affordable prices to the slum dwellers. These products have multiple year warranties and perform well. We also have very easy finance options for them. We found that many of these slum dwellers did not have access to electricity, especially in Bengaluru, and essentially needed proper lighting for day to day activities and for their kids’ studies. A majority of them are daily wage workers and have migrated from villages in north Karnataka. Some of them even have old parents staying with them,” Seller told THE WEEK. Seller, now a resident of Bengaluru, plans to empower around 1,000 people to sell her company’s products to slum dwellers and villagers.
Pollinate Energy has ‘Hive Managers’ who lead local sales teams to sell products to slum dwellers and villagers. The company has also launched its own training programme to help their Hive Managers for which they have partnered with UTS Insearch. UTS Insearch also funds more than 50 per cent of money required for the training over the next two years.
Belinda Howell, chief market development officer, UTS Insearch told THE WEEK: “At UTS we are committed to drive social change in the world and we have initiated a number of diverse social justice initiatives over the past decade. Our student-based programmes, focused research and innovative teaching practices deliver education and research opportunities to our students who also get the opportunity to become part of social upliftment initiatives like Pollinate Energy.”