Supporting sustainable living in India with Pollinate – a student’s experience

Pratik Kumar Pratik Kumar
Communications student

Imagine your family living in a tent the size of your average dining room table, with only the flame from a makeshift kerosene lamp for warmth and light at night. Each night, your family coughs and has watery eyes from the smoke created by the lamp and cooking on an open fire in the tent. This is an everyday reality for millions of urban poor in India who still live without electricity.

An organisation working to provide solar energy to the Indian poor, Pollinate Energy, was started by a group of young Australians, and it provided me with a unique opportunity to become an agent of change.
The very idea of using renewable energy and social entrepreneurship to create a sustainable living for the poor in India is incredible. The Pollinate program allowed me to get involved in active social change in my home country and to make a difference - while furthering my skills as a student and a communications professional. The theoretical knowledge I gained from my time at UTS:INSEARCH and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), was ready for real-world application, and the Pollinate Fellowship Program gave me the platform to do just that.

I set out from Australia (where I am currently studying) in late 2013 to become a Pollinate fellow for a month to help implement a solar energy distribution project in India. On arrival in Bangalore, all the volunteers were introduced to each other; I was the only one from India. The first week was orientation where all the fellows, interns and Pollinators (local entrepreneurs) were introduced to Pollinate’s operations.
This involved briefings on their progress over the past year and understanding the Pollinate business model. The model uses mini-franchises (each run by a Pollinator) to sell solar lights on upfront or instalment plans to slum dwellers, which are cheaper, more ecofriendly and health friendly than the kerosene lamps they normally use. The Pollinators focus on a region of the city as the foundation of their business and establish close relationships with these communities to inspire a long and sustainable future together.

We were introduced to the technology behind the solar lights and cook stoves and were treated to a demonstration of how the cook stoves operate. I was put into a team with two fellows, one intern and the organisation's first female Pollinator, Shalini Prakash. The remainder of the week was spent using Google Maps to locate communities in desperate need of these technologies and then venturing out to try and change someone’s life for the better.

Pollinate founders, Ben Merven, Monique Alfris, Kat Kimmorley and Jamie Chivers are the most innovative and driven people I have met in my life. Their individual stories gave me a glimpse into the sacrifices they made to make Pollinate a reality, which were truly inspiring. They were always around to give us advice on how to handle situations, while also looking to us for guidance on the running of the company and the best way forward for it.

The next three weeks were extremely intense. With each day came new challenges and experiences. Working days were split in half, the mornings dedicated to “working bee” projects which involved research and analysis to help Pollinate expand into newer regions successfully. The remainder of the day was spent out in the communities, exploring new areas to reach out to. Some communities understood and saw the benefits of what we had to offer instantly, while others were more sceptical. The experience involved thinking on my feet and solving issues on the spot whether it was helping a customer, or meeting a potential customer to explain the benefits of renewable energy.

One of my most amazing experiences was running a 10km marathon - the Bangalore Midnight Marathon - with the other fellows and founders, to raise $30,000 for Pollinate’s expansion activities. It was extra special, since I was able to complete the run in slippers as I had not brought my running shoes and it was an unplanned activity. Spontaneous social activities like these and other outings into the city on Saturdays (our day off), were a way to get close to people from various professional fields. All of us bonded through contributing our own specialisation to help Pollinate achieve its goal of bringing subsidised energy access to those that need it the most.

I have gained invaluable experiences and made lifelong friends through this fellowship, and at the same time added to my skills as a communications student and developing professional. The fellowship program is definitely one of a kind, and I would recommend it to anyone with a passion for social change and skills to contribute.

OUR SUPPORT
UTS:INSEARCH is a proud sponsor of Pollinate and is pleased to encourage deep partnerships between India and Australia through contributing to social development and education. Find out more about Pollinate Energy at pollinateenergy.org

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