Professional Fellowship September/October 2016

The professional fellowship brings the perfect setup to take some time off of your current job and get a first experience with a social business and apply your professional/personal skills in a social project of 2 weeks time.

International fellows came from Australia and New Zealand but with different origins like Germany or Ireland which is always good to create an enhancing experience for all the participants. The amazing local fellows were from Amity University and from Shri Ramswaroop University.

The focus of this program was to expand the potential markets of PE Lucknow. We looked at expanding our markets with two clear differentiate strategies;

  • New products: One group of fellows gauged which products will fit better the needs of our customers in Lucknow after offering them solar lights. Knowing our second and third product to procure and start its distribution in LKO would help to reach the sustainability of the company much in advance. 

  • New markets: Another group of fellows assessed new potential markets inside of Lucknow like street vendors or food stalls which currently are using batteries with a light bulb and who might benefit from our solar lights. Last group of fellows performed a few days of scouting of Kanpur to figure out how viable and sustainable would be for PE to expand our operations over there. 

We found a Hive

I found real estate markets a little bit “dodgy” business worldwide and my experience in India has not showed me otherwise. Plenty of oldish websites showing nice houses which at the end were not that beautiful, well, at the end I thought if we were visiting the same house or not.

Our days were basically meetings with random agents from all over Lucknow and go in a "incredible beautiful" journey of visiting apartments. No matter how much we emphasised on our requirements 4BHK ( 4 Bedrooms, 1 Hall , 1 Kitchen ) that agents showed us whatever they had in their portfolio, which wasn’t a nice way of spending our days. I could write a book on the apartments I saw; unfinished apartment, furniture and building falling apart or the amazing universe of dirty disgusting toilets.

After some weeks of a rollercoaster of emotions we found a our perfect Hive and decided to establish our offices/place to live. The hive is a new building located in Gomti Nagar close to main roads, big enough to allocate two city co-founders, up to 10 fellows during programs and to have set the offices of PE Lucknow, moreover is close enough to Lohia park where we can be surrounded by nature and with almost no honking.

And City #4 is ... Lucknow!!!

After surveying 179 communities during the scout fellowship it was time to look at the data and decide which city would be the most viable for Pollinate Energy to expand. Lucknow with more than 7.560 unelectrified households and 66% of its communities being unelectrified or partially unelectrified was a key fact to decide for city #4 (Pollinate Energy sales are 90% focused on solar lights). Moreover, there were other factors like local competitors, localization, tax and compliance situation that were playing in favour of Lucknow.

Lucknow is the capital and the most populated city of Uttar Pradesh with more than 4.8 millions of habitants. Referred as the city of Nawabs, Lucknow is famous for its cuisine, arts and particular dance and music. The tile of Nawab was awarded as a personal distinction by the Mughal emperor to persons and families who ruled the state and offered various services to the British Government. 

Scout Fellowship July 2016

Big thanks to you all! You made this project a reality!

One of the main pillars of Pollinate Energy is to make social business mainstream and we achieve this by running fellowships for international and indian students. 

During the last three weeks, 5 international fellows from Australia, Malaysia and the States and 5 Indian fellows have conducted surveys in more than 180 slums communities between Bhubaneswar and Lucknow in order to decide which will be the next city. The scout program helped us to put on the map where the slum communities are, how many households they have and what it is the electrification status just to name a few. Moreover, the scout fellowship brought the perfect environment to meet people from those communities and to understand how we can help them further.

A part from gathering market information or working on different projects for Pollinate City #4 we had a lot of fun! I cannot count how many times we ended some surveys laughing with the interviewee or having a great cup of Chai. I am sure that these countless great moments will stay here as the positive impact of all of us. 

My partner in crime

Jeremy graduated from the University of Leeds in Human Physiology in 2009. From there, he took the unlikely path into emerging markets investment support, in London and NYC. It was a short social business fellowship programme in Ghana which gently nudged him into exiting the corporate world and upping sticks to India. Jeremy joins Pollinate Energy as City Co-Founder and hopes to bring a fresh pair of eyes to products and processes. 

 

Finally In India ... Again! 

I still remember the first time I got out of the Mumbai airport four years ago; chaos, noises everywhere, an insane number of people on the streets and food stalls with no understanding of what a bacteria was. There are two options in India; you can embrace all of its traditions, languages, flavours and nonsense thoughts, or you can try to change 1.276 million people and their ancient history and behave without getting crazy on your little endeavour. 

A few extra years inside the Pharmaceutical Industry trying to find a fulfilling position were needed in order to make a big career shift and join Pollinate Energy and work for a Social Business in India. Opening city #4 will be my big project for the next year, big challenges and adventures are around the corner, so let's enjoy them and make a positive impact on Indian's urban poor population!

Why India? After a few countries on my passport I can easily say that no country in this world had surprised me like India, each day is an adventure, a new day to learn something new, to try something new, to meet someone new, or perhaps to get crazy with a new nonsense thing. As they say... This is India my friend !!! 

 Kids from one of the communities in Bangalore 

Kids from one of the communities in Bangalore 

 In the holy city of Varanasi

In the holy city of Varanasi

Pollinate Energy and the other side of the economy

Professor Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, defined the concept of social business as:

  • Created and designed to address a social problem

  • A non-loss, non-dividend company:

    • It is financially self-sustainable and

    • Profits earned by the business are reinvested in the business itself (or used to start other social businesses).

Pollinate Energy was founded in 2012 with three clear mission points: 

  • Improve the life of India's urban poor by providing access to affordable and sustainable products that make their life easier and better.
  • Empower Indian people to work with the disadvantaged communities in urban areas. 
  • Make social business mainstream in India by raising awareness about the communities we serve.

Companies are made of people with their thoughts, passions, worries and dreams, etc which altogether creates their values I would say. From the very first day I found all my colleagues at Pollinate Energy passionate about the positive impact their work is doing in all the families, communities and ultimately into the top urban areas of India. 

In order to cover better some basic needs of people in the communities, Pollinate Energy is actively looking to new products that can be life changing for someone living at the bottom of the pyramid. Pollinate Energy is not just about solar lights, though they are our more representative product nowadays but in Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore our Indian entrepreneurs the Pollinators are starting to distribute the following products too.

  • Water filters: The vast majority of people in the communities are not aware about the harmful effects of drinking contaminated water. Diarrhea disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old. Luckily water filters represents one of the simple and affordable preventive things people can use. 

  • Mobile phones: We live in a world that is highly connected and relies heavily on mobile technologies and communications. Giving someone access to the simplest java phone or entry level smartphone can allow them to start being connected better which consequently could lead to finding better job opportunities.

  • Solar fans: India gets hot, really hot believe me. During summer for example Kolkata can easily reach 43°C and inside tents it is not easy to have a nice and comfortable night. Solar fans were raised by our customers as one of their key needs they would like Pollinate to help cover, and we’ve found the best products to introduce to the market.

I went to the bank and proposed that they lend money to the poor people. The bankers almost fell over
— Muhammad Yunus
 Common hut structure in the communities

Common hut structure in the communities

THE YOUNG PROFESSIONAL FELLOWS AND KOLKATA

Kolkata the Capital of West Bengal, is perhaps, better known because of Mother Theresa, Hindustan Ambassador cabs and because it was the third city to be opened by Pollinate Energy in India :) This is where I did my first Induction training and I got amazed by the work done by the City Cofounders in just one year, thanks Boris and Tao for your great advice, I will use them in the fourth City intensively.

The YPP program gives young professionals the opportunity to explore for two weeks what business challenges are being faced by Pollinate Energy in each city. In Kolkata last April there were a group of 10 highly skilled international fellows coming from different backgrounds: mechanical engineering, business, International relations, etc. From the very beginning of their Fellowship they were asked to develop a few business cases like; is there a need/opportunity for larger solar panels in Kolkata, what other products could Pollinate consider to expand their support. After two weeks of hard working they came with great compelling business strategies for helping Kolkata office make a step forward in their business. 

From my point of view the YPP is a great opportunity to challenge your day to day, learn from inside of a Social Business all the nitty-gritty details or perhaps this program will clarify some questions you might have about your professional career. 

 YPP fellows - Kolkata April 2016 ( love the time we spent together) 

YPP fellows - Kolkata April 2016 ( love the time we spent together) 

Bangalore and the peri-urban cities

After catering to Bangalore city slum communities for more than 3 years Pollinate Energy has decided to expand their area of work and start exploring opportunities in peri-urban cities like Doddaballapura, Ramanagra or Chikkaballapura. During the month of May I will be exploring with the help of Google Maps and the Pollinators (our entrepreneurs in the filed) the market out there and assess how we could support those communities. Afterwards this could be a model that we could implement in the other three cities in India. 

After gathering some qualitative feedback from those communities I was much surprised about the fact that some of them have access to "free" water and electricity, basically those nomad construction communities are working for a tiny salary paid by a "slaver", who takes advantage of their low literacy or some minor debt they cannot pay back.

 One community found in Ramanagara, blue communities are easy to spot while zooming in google Maps. 

One community found in Ramanagara, blue communities are easy to spot while zooming in google Maps.