65 million people currently live in urban slums in India. They lack access to basic amenities and often resort to harmful kerosene lamps for their lighting needs, drinking unclean water and cooking with dirty cook stoves. They have little knowledge of better alternatives and have no access to finance to purchase these alternatives. Pollinate Energy is a social business that sells these alternatives via their local Pollinators, who go door-to-door educating families about the benefits of the products. All products can be purchased via short term payment plans to improve affordability.
At the core of Pollinate Energy’s philosophy is the belief that enduring impacts require sustainable business models that involve the local community. As Anna explained, “the way we do things is quite intensive because we have to train our Pollinators, build trust door-to-door and generate demand for an unfamiliar technology, but this is how we create long term change.”
Pollinate Energy was created primarily to address the negative impacts of kerosene lamps. “The co-founders set out with a trial of selling solar lights themselves via a market stand, but they failed and realised quickly they needed to innovate”, Anna explained. This initial setback led to the Pollinator model that is the core of the business today.
Pollinate Energy has sold over 28,000 products and reached over 130,000 people across five Indian cities. Apart from the health benefits of avoiding kerosene, the solar lights saved each household an average of $1.52 USD per week, representing a saving of 3-6% of income for a household.
“Our Pollinators collect feedback about what products customers want. Different cities have different needs, and we’ve diversified our product line to reflect that, allowing us to increase our impact through our sales,” Anna said. Currently, Pollinate Energy Pvt is an Indian registered business supported by Pollinate Energy Ltd, a registered Australian charity. “As a social business, self-sufficiency is the goal. The Bangalore operation is already running at a profit and is fully sustainable. We expect that once we’re operating in eight cities and all Pollinators are meeting their targets, Pollinate Energy will be fully sustainable,” she said.
The most frequently reported benefit to customers was brighter light in the home which had flow-on benefits. “Women report being able to work longer hours and earn extra income because they don’t have to come home before dark to cook. Children study more thanks to the brighter light. The benefits are intergenerational,” Anna said.
Anna noted that in addition to the customers, the Pollinators also benefit greatly. “They are local men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds who want to start their own business selling these products and are franchisees of Pollinate Energy. We are proactive about recruiting women as Pollinators, particularly single mothers who often cannot find flexible work.”
There are environmental benefits too. Over 2.7 million litres of kerosene have gone unburnt because of Pollinate Energy’s products, leading to 6.6 million kg of CO2 emissions saved.
Additionally, through their Student Fellowship and Professional Fellowship programs, Pollinate contributes to the global social entrepreneurship movement. Find out more here: https://pollinateenergy.org/fellowship/
Anna McGregor, Australian National Manager
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Business Website: https://pollinateenergy.org/
Year Founded: 2013
Number of Employees: 11 to 50
Pollinate Energy is a social business that sells essential products, including solar-powered lights, water filters and clean cookstoves, to people living in India's urban slums via a distribution network of local door-to-door salespeople, known as Pollinators. They currently operate in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Lucknow and Kanpur, with the goal of having a presence in 20 cities by 2020. I spoke with Australian National Manager Anna McGregor about their mission, impact and bright future.