This is a post I would request every reader to share with as many as possible.
It is the story of an IIT Professor’s massive ambition to help hundreds of millions of underprivileged Indians go to the next orbit – through a simple solar lamp!
This is how millions of rural children study today – inefficient and unhealthy
I can tell you this – the world that hundreds of millions of our fellow Indians in rural areas see (or rather, don’t see) is very different from the world you and I see.
Sure, I lead as privileged a life as many other fortunate Indians lead, living as I do in a large city with few power cuts and with all the other supporting infrastructure that result in a comfortable life. But, thanks to the fact I visit (or at least used to visit) villages often, I have seen at close quarters the lives many of the rural folks lead.
And as I said before, it is very different from the ones you and I lead.
And the more remote the village, the fewer are the presence of even basic infrastructure like roads and sanitation and…light.
A few hundred million villagers spend their nights with little or no electricity. That’s a heck of a lot – a few hundred million! The entire United States has a population of a few (3) hundred million. Just imagine the entire population of the United States not having access to lights during the nights.
While state and central governments are huffing and puffing to get these bottom of pyramid folks to the next level, it has been to a large extent agreed that the one thing that can sustainably lift these hundreds of millions out of poverty is – Education. And for Education we need lights in the evenings. With electricity scarce, many of these million children make do with inefficient and unhealthy kerosene lamps.
A more healthy and effective lighting system alone can make a significant difference to the education and subsequent upliftment of these massive numbers of underprivileged Indians.
Armed with this simple knowledge, Prof Chetan Solanki of IIT Mumbai has embarked on a powerful journey – to distribute 100 million (10 crore) solar-charged LED lights.
His math is simple: By doing this, he is potentially transforming the lives of 40-50 crore Indians, assuming every household to which such a solar LED is distributed has 4-5 inhabitants.
Sure, 50 crores looks like a dramatic number; 50 crore people may not need it, perhaps only 20 crore need it.
20 crores is still a freaking 200 million people. Just imagine what providing escape velocity to 200 million people could mean.
Prof Solanki isn’t just dreaming big. He has already shown that he can do it – he has already distributed 1 million such solar LEDs under the Million Solar Urja Lamp (SoUL) program. Not just distribution, but he has set up a sustainable ecosystem of support infrastructure to maintain these lamps. And he has seen that this program has started making a difference to those lakhs of children and families.
Listen to him speak about the SoUL program:
And there are collateral benefits in the sustainable ecosystem he is putting together, where unemployed youth and semi-literate women are trained to put together these solar LEDs, and even to main them. The twin benefits of such a localised approach are: More effective maintenance of systems, and employment to rural poor.
Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal seeing a demonstration of how a villager with little literacy putting together a solar LED. To his left is Prof Chetan Solanki
The first time I met Prof Solanki at IIT Mumbai, he had just completed distributing 1 million solar LEDs, and was busy preparing a presentation for the power ministry, to convince them to fund him for the 99 more million solar LEDs he wanted to distribute.
The next time I met him (just a couple of weeks back), he smilingly told me that the Power Minister Piyush Goyal had agreed in principle to provide financial support for distributing the 100 million solar LEDs, to the tune of Rs 8000+ crores! Even though it was only a statement of intent from the Power Minister, it is still awesome, and shows that there are folks in the government keen to help if you are doing a good turn.
Piyush Goyal at IIT Mumbai, announcing his support for extending the Million SoUL into 100 Million SoUL!
Being an IIT alumnus, my opinion about IIT faculty is not very endearing in general – these blokes are very good at tech, but they are like fish out of water if you drop them in other contexts, especially business contexts.
I find Prof Solanki a refreshingly different person. Sure, he has the air of an IIT professor around him – he is after all, one – but he has a good business mind. Most importantly, he knows how to get things done on a large, societal scale – something most faculty are abysmal at.
Aspiring to change the lives of 100 million households is a big deal. I told the good professor that Solar Mango will whatever little we can to assist him along the way. This blog post is the first in this effort – and I am hoping that many more Indians get to know of this powerful thing that Prof Solanki is trying.
Because, his effort has a SoUL.
I would strongly urge each of you to share the details of SoUL with your friends and business acquaintances. Who knows, some of them may be able to help the SoUL program!
For those interested, more details about the Million SoUL program are available from here.