Harish Hande Curated
Co-founder Of SELCO India
CURATED BY :
How do you attract talent for your company? Isn’t it challenging?
Here, luck plays an important role. Normally, we don’t go out to find people. Even the interview process is such that we hardly take any resumes. When my colleague Ashish takes the interview, the first thing he scans for is whether the candidate is SELCO type. Brilliant hai par SELCO type nahi hai to reject. However, I cannot define what SELCO type is. It’s more of a gut feeling. We require passion though. At SELCO, we have people like Shankar, who came to the office to clean tables and serve coffee. Today, he heads the Bangalore branch! And then there is Guru Prakash, who left college after his B.com first year and to whom there are three guys who resigned from Wipro reporting. It’s just that these guys manage very well. Mostly we look for people in rural areas who don’t speak English because we don’t want to be that “hi-fi”. At the same time, we have interesting people like anthropologists! I have colleagues who are from IIT Madras and London School of Economics. I met the IIT Madras guy, for example in a panchayat meeting in 1997. I used to go from panchayat to panchayat and one day this guy gets up and says- “which IIT?” And I said- “IIT Kharagpur!” He is two years my junior and after IIT, he pursued his PhD in Colorado. He travelled Europe, Russia, China and Tibet all by land! He used to travel by bus, hike, settle down in rural areas and make money by selling vegetables on Saturdays. This is a guy who has over 20 patents! His wife, who is a PhD in Economics, teaches online from the village to the University of Colorado! So we have colleagues who actually make the whole thing fun but it all boils down to passion!
How did your time in KGP help you in your life and in the development of SELCO?
It helped me in many ways. People in Rourkela would never believe that I actually became a Hall President. I was probably the shyest student in the city. I think the Kharagpur orientation changed me. I know ragging is a banned word but we call it the orientation. The intelligence and talent, as measured by JEE ranks was divided equally among all hostels. Things that taught us a lot were defining the mess hall council, deciding the food and the menu preparations, budgeting e.t.c. I was also in the disciplinary committee. So a lot of cases of cheating by students used to come to me. Deciding if a student was to be rusticated was a tough decision because for rustication of a student you needed a unanimous decision. All these things contributed a lot to my personal growth.
How do you feel about IIT Kharagpur closing down the Energy Engineering Department?
Absolutely disappointed and disgusted in many ways. I felt strongly about this. I wrote to the directors too emphasizing that this is what India needs. There was a holistic vision when the department was founded in 1983. A lot of people called it Khichdi because we had classes in Mechanical, Chemical and other departments. How many of the other departments have that luxury of going to all other departments and learning bits of everything and with a focus on energy though? There were only seven of us and small classes have a big advantage. We were very close friends but hard enemies on the field because we were all from different hostels. My batchmate, Pawan Vaish was the hockey captain of Patel Hall and I was the hockey captain of Nehru Hall. There was always a Patel-Nehru clash. I still remember an incident where Nehru was kind of convinced of their chances of winning gold. But in a practice match with Patel, we lost 9–2. In the actual match, we won 2–9 though. If we visit Nehru and Patel websites, there’s still a fight going over that particular match.
How did you start SELCO?
I studied energy engineering in IIT Kharagpur. In my 3rd year, I had a course in Solar Technology. I then went on to do my masters in US, studying large solar, when I got a chance to go to the Dominican Republic in 1991. There I saw a lot of poor people using solar devices and paying for it too. This was the turning point for me. I came back and changed my thesis. I told my professor that I really did not have any idea about Solar which led me to come to Sri Lanka & India. I was apprehensive that if I come to Indian villages, because of my education I would be called a ‘Sir’ and will not be treated as a commoner. It’s like when I talk to an auto rickshaw driver, I want the auto rickshaw driver to think I’m another auto rickshaw driver. In Sri Lanka, because I didn’t know the language, people treated me the same. That is why I stayed in upper Sri Lanka for six months and came back to India for one and a half year, later.All these experiences planted the seed for SELCO in my head.
How is social entrepreneurship different from an NGO that is working in the same sector?
The difference between both is that social entrepreneurship has a much more financial transparency. The efficiency is missing in the NGO’s and what have they done in last 65 years. There is no financial viability and that is where a corporate sector makes a difference because we maintain a balance between both the financial status and the social service.
How difficult was it to rationalize the use of solar energy in the rural areas?
See, that’s the difficulty. You buy a car or any other thing when you see someone else having it. So people will only buy a thing when they see a system in somebody’s house and that takes time. The corporate people have taken the poor people for a ride. So that needs to break and the trust needs to be created that this system will actually work.
Solar energy is known to be expensive as far as installation and infrastructural setup is concerned. For the same reason, a poor farmer can’t afford such energy resource.
That is not true. If you look at a farmer and his daily expenditure on existing energy services, it is much higher on an incremental delta basis. And then there is an emotional cost of not providing their kids with the right to educate. If you calculate these costs in economic terms and create a financing mechanism for them to buy it, the emotional delta cost is much higher compared to their household.