Monthly Archives: June 2008

SELCO India – Bringing Light To The Rural Poor

While visiting India, I spent a couple of days in Mangalore, a coastal city about 900 kms south of Bombay (Mumbai). I was taken around by Hemalatha Rao, SELCO India’s Karnataka operations chief to see some of their rural and urban implementations. SELCO was founded by Harish Hande after he completed his Ph. D. from the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. Harish’s objective was to provide affordable energy solutions, initially with solar energy, to the underserved rural areas of India.  I wrote a short column about my visit in Lokvani (reproduced below). I have also put a number of photos from this tour on this page.

SELCO India – Bringing Light To The Rural Poor, Raj Melville,, 04/03/2008

Zooming past the lush paddy fields in Udupi, perched on the pillion of a motorcycle, I was whisked off the paved roads to a hamlet of a half a dozen houses tucked away in rural Karnataka. My host, Pravin, a sales technician for SELCO India, allowed me to shadow him on his rounds to his customers. The first stop was at farmer’s home, a three room house at the edge of their small plot of land. Miles away from the nearest town, it did not have access to modern amenities like electricity, running water or phone service.

The young farmer who met us at the door was obviously pleased to see Pravin and proudly escorted us to the one piece of technology in their humble abode. A single wire ran across the wall to a fluorescent light and a wall plug. A transistor radio plugged in provided the only form of entertainment. Outside, above the roof, a rectangular solar panel was perched on a pole, capturing the plentiful sunlight and converting it to electricity that was stored in a battery to be used by this family at night. This simple setup powered four lights in the house – in the kitchen, a bedroom, the hallway and at the entrance – and provided up to four hours of light in the evening. Continue reading


Mann Deshi Mahila Bank – a Women’s bank

Recently micro-finance has caught the attention of the public specially after Prof. Yunus was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2006. Worldwide there are thousands of these institutions providing micro-credit to hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women.

One of the challenges that micro-finance faces is that beyond providing its borrowers with credit, it needs to make sure that they also have marketable skills and training that will increase their income generating capacity and the required business skills to help them manage their enterprises. One of the innovative organizations that has attempted to tackle this issue is the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, a women owned cooperative foudned by Chetna Gala Sinha. They not only put a business skills program together, they also provided a mobile mechanism to bring the training out to the rural villages where it would have maximum impact.

I had written an article about my visit to the Mann Deshi office and their unique Business School on Wheels for Women in a column for Lokvani that is reproduced below. You can see some of the photos I took here.

Mann Deshi Mahila Bank and Its Business School on Wheels for Rural Women Raj Melville,, 05/15/2008

Over two dozen expectant faces turned in our direction as we walked into the small crowded room on the second floor of a storefront office in downtown Hubli. These women had come from surrounding villages, some a half a day’s journey by bus, to attend the final graduation ceremony of their rural business course. I was introduced to the group by our guide, Sheela Munro, Program Officer with the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank.  Over the course of the past month, these graduates had learnt basic computer skills or sewing skills from a mobile training center in a converted school bus.

The Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, a women owned co-operative bank, was started by Chetna Gala Sinha, an economist, farmer and activist in the drought-prone Mann Desh region of Maharashtra. Its goal was to help empower the women in the area and to enable them to achieve financial independence and self sufficiency.  Due to the poor agricultural conditions, many local men wound up leaving the area to look for employment in urban centers. The burden of responsibility at home fell on the women who were left behind. With a high illiteracy rate and low level of basic skills, most women worked at meager jobs on farms or as street vendors. By providing women with both basic vocational training and the ability to save and borrow money, Mann Deshi has created thousands of budding rural women entrepreneurs.

Continue reading

Water and Sanitation – the next global challenge

This week’s column in Lokvani focused on the issues of water and sanitation. Together with food security, this is one of the most pressing issues globally. The root cause to most of the basic issues – health, nutrition, and even education can be traced in some way to water and sanitary, hygienic conditions.

By addressing this basic issue, millions of deaths per year can be prevented. Diarrhea alone kills nearly 2 million people a year, most of them children.

The good news is there is a renewed focus on water and sanitation. International agencies and major governments are putting resources to address this.  Corporations are making it the centerpiece of their efforts more for economic reasons or to assuage local communities when their actions seem to threaten local water resources. A number of NGOs and non-profits are helping create grass roots movements to address sanitation and water problems in the developing world, particularly in the underserved communities.

Here is the text of the article I wrote for Lokvani:

Water and Sanitation – the next global challenge. Raj Melville,, 06/28/2008

Even as we go about our daily lives in the west knowing that we can duck into a McDonalds to use the loo or grab a bottle of soda to quench our thirst, nearly half the world’s population has to make do without the simplest access to basic sanitation and clean water. The UN estimates over a billion people (or nearly a sixth of the world’s population) manages without clean water. According to the World Health Organization, over 4 billion cases of diarrhea occur each year around the world, 88% of which is attributable to unsafe water or inadequate hygiene or sanitation. Nearly 1.8 million people die of diarrhea each year, the majority of whom are children.

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BAIF Development Research Foundation – Sustainable Development To Support Rural Families

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to spend a month in India and visited several NGOs while there. One of the innovative organizations is BAIF (Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation) that originally was founded in a village outside of Pune, and is now at a number of locations in India.

I visited their operations outside of Hubli in Northern Karnataka state and wrote an article about their work for, the e-magazine for the Indian community of New England.I have reproduced the article below. You can see some of the pictures I took on the Photos Tab of this Blog.

BAIF Development Research Foundation – Sustainable Development To Support Rural Families, Raj Melville,, 06/12/2008

The dry ground, baked hard and crumbling, stretches out all the way to the horizon as we rattle along in a Sumo 4-wheeler a half hour out of Hubli in Karnataka State. A few scrawny bushes, struggling against the wind and heat, dot the landscape. Our host, Dr. Bhat from BAIF, points out some of the geographical features as we pass through several villages, each one smaller than the previous one. Finally we pull over in front of a compound and hop off as Dr. Bhat proudly points out the cluster of buildings that are BAIF’s rural training center.

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An Introduction

The Social Ecosystem

Exploring Entrepreneurial Ideas that Address Social Issues, Enhance the Environment, Sustain Development and Transform the Developing World

This blog is about innovators that are addressing social challenges with fresh ideas, new approaches, and innovative business and entrepreneurial models. These breakthroughs come from a variety of sources ranging from academics, traditional non-profits to for-profit organizations. These include new approaches to charitable giving that have changed the way organizations address social issues. In addition to major changes at traditional philanthropies, they include newer sources of funds ranging from venture philanthropists to socially responsible funds that look for both social and financial returns.

This is an exciting and growing area that impacts us locally as well as internationally. We hope this blog will help educate, explain and engage you with these organizations that are doing exciting work around the world. We will use this blog to:

  • Showcase local and international organizations that have built scalable organizations and are doing significant work impacting social issues.
  • Highlight new approaches to philanthropy and support that are changing the way people address major societal problems.
  • Discuss new business ideas and models that are addressing key issues while providing both economic and social returns on their investments.
  • Present emerging ideas from the rich local pool of social entrepreneurial talent and enable the community to connect and support them.

We look forward to hearing from you about interesting social innovations that you might have come across.