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  • Writer's pictureBolaji Akinola-Alli

Incredible India

Updated: Mar 26, 2022

During my Masters degree at Imperial College London, I wrote a thesis on improving productive-use of electricity in rural communities of India. I suggested that a modular approach to sizing mini-grids and a steady increase in commercial demands of electricity would be beneficial for both the local communities and mini-grid developers.


I travelled to Pune, India and worked alongside Gram Oorja Solutions Private Limited, analysing the performance and take up of their mini-grid systems. Gram Oorja had built over 60 mini-grids at the time of my visit and I was lucky to visit 7 of them across the state of Maharashtra.


Conscious that I never got to tell the story, I decided to write a piece about it — or rather make a photo album, because a picture is worth a thousand words right?


Either that or I can’t be bothered to re-write my entire thesis on here, I’ll let you decide.


So here we go!


Lessons from my time in India

1. Understand Local Context and Hierachies

I found the picture below very interesting because I wouldn’t have thought about providing water for livestocks alongside people.


In this community, cows would roam around freely and seemed to be just as part of the community as anyone else, so of course they needed their own drinking water!


Now it makes sense, but I had to ask.




2. Get local buy-in and build trust

After understanding the local context, you need to build trust and work alongside the local community to find solutions that solve their problems sustainably. Let go of the ‘saviour’ mentality and start engaging with the community.


What Gram Oorja does which I find interesting, is to facilitate conversations between current mini-grid customers and potential ones. They do this by showcasing established mini-grid systems that are located close-by to their potential customer. — Kind of a road trip.


Kid happy to tell his folks that Gram Oorja employees are in town

I can’t help but imagine a future where Augmented Reality (AR) will be used to sell technology ideas to these communities, bringing to life artificial artefacts into a local context that one is familiar with.


Anyway, I digress


3. Market-creating innovation pulls in resources including jobs.

Once they bought into the idea of the solar mini-grids, most of these communities came up with innovative ideas for job creation and some other fun applications too. All the pictures below show some of them except the irrigation system which was a partnership between private companies.

Irrigation channels powered by solar mini-grids

Kiosk with refrigerator

Plate-making machine

Plate made from leaves using machine above

Flour mill

Solar panels serving as a shade for goats - Health and safety personnels must be shaking at this sight


4. Youthful Talent Pool

There seems to be a young and ambitious generation of Indians that are excited about using tech to create the future they want. One of which was my next door neighbour in the hostel I stayed in Pune called Shantanu. He told me that was learning German to study and work for a specific drone and urban mobility company.


Now If that’s not tunnel vision then I don’t know what is.


5. Purpose

From a personal standpoint, this trip was an ‘Eureka’ moment for me. It was what convinced me to become an Energy Consultant. Every step I went along that journey I always thought about how I could apply some of these technologies and models in African countries, especially Nigeria (where I’m originally from).

You see, I discovered a ‘How’:

‘Using sustainable energy as a means for economic development.’

I didn’t realise it at the time but my ‘Why’ was also made clearer. Today I know it as:

‘ using business and technology to create markets that target non-consumers, allowing them to become more productive and achieve a better quality of life.’

Oh and I made some really cool friends too!


Gang signs or whatever

 

It’s really exciting to see the role India is playing in applying technology for economic development. The startup ecosystem in Africa is also very exciting and if you haven’t been following then you should pay close attention to it — but that’s a story for another day.


So in the mean time, I’ll be sitting back, taking notes and enjoying the times.

Pun intended

If you found this interesting please feel free to share, comment and like. If you’re feeling more confident then I would also like to hear what your Eureka moment was for your life’s purpose.

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