The Cracks Begin to Show in a Successful Programme: Lighting for Households

Access to energy is essential for the socioeconomic well-being of a population and for the sustenance and improvement of their quality of life. The lack of basic lighting in a household, can have far-reaching consequences on domestic life, livelihoods, education, and health. In India, a large number of the urban poor who are deprived of social security benefits, turn to kerosene lamps and firewood to meet their basic energy needs. The pressure of this can be felt on their monthly expenditure and also takes a toll on their physical health.
Under SELCO Foundation’s Lighting for Households programme, we aimed to use a replicable and scalable model to meet the basic lighting needs in households that were outside the social security net. The goal was to ensure a primary, reliable supply of energy and electrification in urban poor households where they relied on dirty fuels such as kerosene where the light quality is poor and people are exposed to dangerous smoke pollution. By adding more productive hours to these beneficiaries’ lives, we hoped this intervention would expand their livelihood activities, increase their basic incomes, and improve their quality of life.
The intervention targeted 20-30 landless household clusters that had kutcha/semi-pucca housing. These households comprised urban migrants who derived their income from street hawking, construction work and other manual labour. Besides installing basic home lighting systems, the programme was designed to unlock relevant financing models and schemes for the same. Once we identified the target clusters, the project team moved on to understanding their specific needs to design the intervention and plan its financing model. We had to ensure the involvement of financial institutions and government entities to mobilise the finances required for the project. We also had to create awareness among the end-users about the proposed outcomes of the programme.
When the programme was initially implemented in the Havadiga community, a completely off-grid indigenous community known for their snakebite healing abilities. This does not contribute greatly to their income, and their primary means of livelihood is through daily agricultural work. The community has one grid connected streetlight provided by the Gram Panchayat and it works irregularly. The seven households do not have many basic services including connection to the grid and access to toilets. The Lighting forHouseholds programme was taken to the community was approached by the SELCO Tumkur branch after the manager read about them in a newspaper article.
The SELCO Rumkur Branch Manager and Sales Associate first approached the community to try and understand their general needs. SELCO formed a trusting relationship with the community by visiting several times and learning about their overall needs as opposed to just energy. thereby motivating eah household to find a way to purchase solar systems. Prior to SELCO’s engagement the community ha dbank accounts with the state bank of mysore that had been opened through a govt programme. But the accounts had not been used due to a lack of awareness on how to operate it for saving. SELCO used the assistance of the regional manager of state bank of mysore who agreed to give a loan if the community formed a joint liability group. The group was formed and called Adishakti, at their meetings each woman contributes Rs 10 to the group’s corpus which is then deposited in the bank. the women were trained in recordkeeping, making the financials transparent. The minutes were recorded in detail. The intervention demonstrates how simple complementery mechanisms can stimulate endusers from poor rural communities to benefit from banking facilities.
The programme was initially a huge success for SELCO India, as it used the lighting intervention to actually go towards financial inclusion for the landless, marginalised community. The financial model and the partnership with financial institutions became a model for others to use in their programmes as well. However, despite our experience in providing energy solutions and prior work with financial institutions, the Lighting for Households programme was not without some major problems. When we went back after a few months, we realised that while their lighting needs had been met, they continued to cook using kerosene leading.There were a few unintended consequences due to
Earlier because they didnt have a light inside their house, they would do a lot of their household activities outside, share a community street light, and share resources. The women would cut vegetables, the children would be playing, and the families had their stoves outside as well. When the light came on inside their homes, all these activities shifted indoors. In a way, it disrupted the social fabric of the people and their shared spaces. But most importantly, it took cooking indoors – where the children, parents and grandparents were constantly exposed to the smoke from cooking – definitely impacting their health
The story was recounted everywhere as a model programme, everyone was taken there, a celebrated story that the more we observed it showed the cracks. The site became the model site for anyone who wanted to understand SELCO’s work. If we looked at the project from a lighting perspective – it’s a success,it also is a successful example of financial inclusion in a nomadic tribe that has no documents or papers. But the moment we look at it from the end user’s perspective – it had actually exposed them to smoke further.