The primary objective of SELCO Foundation is to use sustainable energy as a catalyst to eradicate poverty. One of the best options to make that link is to look at avenues of livelihoods for the poor that are not being implemented because of lack of energy or due to lack of affordability.  Livelihoods interventions encompass multiple types of efforts which cross cut issues of technology, finance, market linkages and building ecosystems.

    As more and more livelihood opportunities are created, which are implementable at the grassroots level and use sustainable energy as a source of power the society will be able to maintain social and environmental sustainability: rebutting the critic that true, inclusive, development and environment-protection cannot go hand in hand.

    Livelihood Centres

    ADHAR MAHILA UDYOG (model women enterprise)

    MaheshFoundationGarment sewing and production center that trains and employs women from low income communities

    Many such income generating centers do face issues of unreliable electricity and inefficient machines, in additional to market linkages. AMU is a livelihood creation unit conceived by Mahesh Foundation (MF) a long time partner of SELCO Foundation (SF). The unit focuses on training and employing women from underserved communities to make school bags.

    Project Update

    SF worked on reliable lighting powered by a solar home system and business planning for the enterprise. SF worked with local Financial Institutions to help MF get a loan. After repeated attempts to different banks, the Union Bank (a local financial institution) in Belgaum gave a loan consisting of two parts- an asset loan as well as revolving working capital loan. The venture needed more money and the banks were hesitating to provide further capital. At this point Small Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund (S3IDF) stepped in to provide an additional Rupees 600,000 at 12% interest for working capital and retail store.

    Next Steps

    The learnings on market linkages and financial innovation will be replicated to other solar powered livelihood energy centers implemented by SF and its partners.

    Crafts and textiles


    dholakwaaleThe Dholak-Waale are an under-served community living in Thannisandra Bangalore who are traditional drum-makers for the past 500 years. A community of Mirasis, originally from Uttar Pradesh, the Dholak-Waale specialise in creating beautiful carvings on delicately crafted percussion instruments, a skill that has sustained across multiple generations. The art is now closer to an epitaph and needs to be preserved. They are an urban, nomadic, artisan community in an informal urban slum.


    Through a local social worker from a community partner organization. Vulnerability markers include insecure livelihoods (requiring market linkages) and temporary settlement status.

    SELCO Foundation, looked at dispelling potential threats to the survival of their craft by providing solar energy, as the intricate work on the carvings could not be done with the light of kerosene oil lamps.

    The Model

    After providing light and cellphone charging through an Integrated Energy Centre, the relationship evolved to directly support the Dolak Waale’s livelihood activity. Access to lighting extended their productive hours under higher quality light and presented household savings, however, the greatest potential for impact was strengthening and formalizing a market linkage for their artisan craft.

    The livelihood market linkage process takes the form of:

    • Branding, marketing: placement, promotion and pricing
    • Product value-add: presentation, quality & product line
    • Exhibitions at fairs, flea markets and artisan showcases
    • Awareness creation and introductions to supporting NGOs in the area of art, crafts, marketing and sales support
    • Community business mentoring and integration into cultural traditions

    In order to enhance their livelihood, SELCO Foundation facilitates projects that can help the community increase their access to market linkages in a sustainable manner. Direct impact through income, soft skills (strategy, business and partner relationship, outreach, planning, among others), and strengthened community dynamics. Additional measured impacts include a sense of aspiration, ownership and empowerment.

    2. KOWDI

    KowdiEnabling craft conservation and market linkages for very vulnerable migrants families

    The Background

    To link the solar powered energy centers to livelihoods in urban migrant slums SF worked with a group of women to develop their traditional craft of Kowdi into an alternate source of livelihood. Kowdi is a patchwork embroidery craft from North Karnataka. A successful pilot was run in the Nagvarpalya slum in Bangalore. The pilot included elements such as organizing the women, training with a designer, developing market linkages and producing various products under the “Kowdi Kutumba” brand. The goal is to have Kowdi work centers for women in informal unnelectrified settlements so that they can have access to alternate livelihood opportunities and build an increased or added income source for better security and stability.

    Present Status

    The pilot established that Kowdi Kutumba can be run as a viable business following which we began looking for an entrepreneur to take it forward independently. An “Entrepreneur in Residence” program was designed to incubate a potential entrepreneur for 6 months. The program provides hand holding,  knowledge transfer and capacity building and a nominal stipend.

    A two entrepreneur team has been working for the past 3 months on building and scaling the business. They have streamlined procurement, production, and manufacturing processes, come up with a line of 6 new products and established 5 new sales channels.  They have also tied up with women from low income households to do the sewing and finishing of the products.

    Next Steps
    • Continued hand-holding and capacity building for the entrepreneur to stabilize the business.
    • To help them reach sustained sales of a minimum of 700 pieces per month within the next 3 months
    • To help them attract long term investment to take the enterprise forward independently.
    • Replicate the EIR (Entrepreneur in Residence) program for other projects which lack the ecosystem for linking renewable energy to income generation.

    3. SEWING MACHINES  sewing-machine

    The Background

    The SELCO Foundation team selected sewing machine as a pilot product to work on making to highly efficient sewing machine that can be run on solar energy: resulting in an affordable intervention that the poor can utilize as a livelihood opportunity.

    The Solution

    Along with a technology partner Emsys, SELCO Foundation developed a re-modified sewing machine. After solar powering manually pedaled strait stitch sewing machine the speed increased from 300 stitch/min to 1000 stitch/min. At the same time replacement of  the universal motor with PMDC ones lead to a saving of 30W to 40W power.This substantially reduces the cost of solar powering the machine. In industrial sewing machines the clutch motor is replaced by a variable frequency drive controlled induction motor. As a result the energy consumption is reduced by 50%

    Present Status

    The Foundation has installed 11 solar powered sewing machines in total. Each of the models are different in terms of market linkage, financial model, business process. All the experimented ecosystem processes can be replicated in different regions of the developing world – thus impacting many more. So far, another 6 machines have also been installed by our incubatees in 3 different geographies with our support.

    Scale up has also been slow because after the first few machines were installed there were multiple issues with the pedal. To solve the issue we had to make some changes to the circuit and mechanical workings of the pedal to get better speed control. Now the new pedals have been installed and are faring well in the field.

    Next Steps
    • Supporting more incubatees to take up sewing machines as a part of their product portfolio. We also plan to talk to various other solar social enterprises as well as organizations working on livelihoods in order to share the technology with them.
    • We have also reached out to leading manufacturers of sewing machines, to adopt these products in their rural training centers and also eventually make it a product option through their sales channels.


    green-loomsTo modernize the handloom industry with high efficient machinery

    The Background

    For traditional handloom, the speed at which a weaver co-ordinates pedaling and hand movements determines the productivity. It is possible to increase productivity for the weavers by automating all the coordinated movements through a single movement.

    The Problem

    The traditional handloom weavers are small and are heavily outnumbered by the owners of large power looms. Often the capital cost and lack of consistent power supply preclude them from moving to power looms. Also many traditional weavers do not want to give up their craft and skill but their technology has not been upgraded for decades.

    The Solution

    The SELCO Foundation team has identified a manufacturer of an energy efficient loom and has procured the machine to conduct a pilot test of the product. If successful the small weaver could have the option to owning a cheaper and efficient loom.

    Present Status
    • Acquired one efficient handloom from NRGEE Solutions Pvt Ltd which was lab tested.
    • Weavers from North Karnataka are conducting the testing in their workshops and providing feedback on the feasibility and potential impact.
    Next Steps
    • Working with NRGEE solutions to set up production centers in rural areas across geographies for silk reeling and handloom.
    • SELCO Foundation and NRGEE together with provide training and capacity building for groups to form producer companies that manufacture “eco-friendly” clothing. SELCO will focus on training of solar technicians to service and maintain the systems as well as build bankable business plans for the groups and connect them to long term bank financing to run the enterprises.

    Items made on the energy efficient loom will not be applicable for the handloom tag as current handloom policy dictates that only machines without a motor are considered handloom. However, there is a growing market for “green” or “eco friendly” clothing that could be tapped into. We are working with existing handloom brands to build a brand for such products and the response from the companies has been encouraging.

    5. Potter’s Wheel

    potters-wheelReducing the drudgery in pottery making process through appropriate technology interventions

    The Background

    An in depth analysis on the livelihood of the potter community was carried out. The potter community followed a tradition manual potter wheel for making earthenware that is used for daily use utensils and for household decorative purposes. After studying the pottery making processes- clay collection, kneading, pottery, baking and sales, a few problems were identified.

    The Problem

    An in-depth analysis of the livelihood of the potter community revealed that that the process of pottery making was extremely laborious, affecting the health of the potters- body aches especially affecting the shoulder and back. The drudgery linked to this manual process, not only reduces their productivity but also leads to health problems in the long term.

    The Solution

    By providing a solar powered motorised pottery wheel, we can not only reduce the drudgery, but the human energy can instead be used to make more products, diversifying the make as well as the finish, marketing etc.

    Present Status

    After several interactions with different vendors, and looking at different solutions present in the market, two wheels were purchased for lab testing. Both wheels have been installed in the pottery studio of The Valley School, Bangalore for testing purposes. This safe environment ensures good feedback, while no livelihood is affected on account of technology failure.

    Test results: The first wheel was found to have a better RPM (allowed for greater torque and making it easier for the potter to work with), but was found very unsafe to work on. With the motor and the drive belt exposed, this wheel poses a very hazardous working environment. Furthermore, the driving belt is not thick enough and would not have a long life in the field. The second wheel is safe and easy to work on. However, while studying the craft process of the potters, it was recorded that approximately 30-35kgs of clay was loaded on the wheel when moulding. During testing it was found that the wheel could not take such high loads while maintain the same turning speed. Hence, the pulley system is currently being tweaked to accommodate this feedback. Furthermore, this wheel is higher off of the ground which allows for the potter to sit up straighter and work on the pot. This keeps the potters posture better which in the long run would keep the potter from experiencing back problems.

    Next Steps

    The wheel will be taken to Kalahandi, Odisha for testing with the potters post the monsoon season. Once the technology is proved viable, other aspects of product diversification, market linkage and financials will be looked into.

    Agricultural Livelihoods

    1. Neera (Palm nectar)

    neeraHigh Efficient Cold storage for palm nectar processing

    The Background

    Neera (or palm nectar) is a sap extracted from the coconut palm. Neera, though high in nutritional value, is susceptible to natural fermentation at ambient temperature after few hours of extraction. Once fermented, Neera turns liquorish. Neera tapping is conducted extensively in Kerala.

    SF was approached by PCPCL (Palakkad Coconut Producers Company Ltd), which consists of 450 coconut producers’ society and 24 coconut federations, to identifying and develop appropriate, low cost energy efficient cooling technologies to prevent the fermentation of NEERA: thus increasing the incomes of the tappers.

    The Problem

    Currently, Neera is collected in small water coolers fitted with a T Junction PVC pipe and ice is used to keep it cold (as pictured).  The collection happens twice a day and after collection they are replaced with a fresh set of the coolers. Each tree has 6 sets of cans. The current cooling mechanism is inefficient and expensive.

    Proposed Solution

    The solution was to design a low cost and high efficient storage box that could be used on the tree to tap Neera. The box has been designed with Phase Change Material (PCM) panels. Each bag includes 6 PCM panels and a plastic container totally weighing 4.27 kgs. The PCM panels were frozen in a 240 liter refrigerator for 8 hours and the cooling can last for up-to 48 hrs.

    Next Steps
    • Evaluation of field test results and changes in design if necessary
    • To use solar powered refrigeration system for PCM.

    2. Aeroponics

    aeroponicsEnergy Interventions in soilless farming

    The Background

    Aeroponics is a farming concept that reduces space and water usage as compared to traditional agriculture. Aeroponics is a technique that grows plants in chambers where the roots are suspended and watered through a misting process. The process doesn’t require soil but instead needs a steady mist of water and nutrients.

    The Problem

    Innova Technology Solutions is a company that has been working with aeroponics for urban terraces and now wishes to extend the same to rural and urban communities where agriculture is less/ not possible due to lack of water, land, and other resources. The water requirements for aeroponics are considerably less than in agriculture and requires a small pump to run the water sprayer. The energy required is low but it has to be consistent. Even a 2-3 hour gap in the misting process could lead to losses of plants: thus the reliability of the misting process is critical.

    The Solution

    SF proposed a small solar system to run the misting and thus could be used in areas where electricity was not available or unreliable: like slums or rural parts. SF also would monitor and evaluate the yield, water usage, energy usage, types of plants to be grown. SF would also work on operational and financial models for better replication. The solar powered Aeroponics could provide additional livelihood for the poor.

    Present Status
    • The system has been installed and lab tested for growing tomato, bell peppers, chillies, dill and spinach.
    • There have been issues with robustness of the present drain system which were later fixed.
    • SF have also made it possible to reduce the number of motors, thus reducing the solar requirement, required by half
    Next Steps
    • Work on developing a robust technical solution by applying existing learnings in the aeroponics sector
    • Strategize on which user segments woful this be most beneficial to in the medium and long term
    • Identify how aeroponics could be integrated into a holistic kitchen garden or agriculture alternative with appropriate financial mechanism

    3. Greenhouse Driers

    greenhouse-driersIncreasing premiums on farmers’ products by using efficient and hygienic solar drying technology.

    The Background

    Current agricultural practices in the Karnataka region result in large quantities of wasted produce; Drying would allow these products to be preserved and sold at a high price year round.

    The Problem

    Typically farmers dry their crop in the open. Many a time, due to rains either it takes time or the crops are destroyed leading to loss of incomes.

    The Solution

    Drying technology would significantly prevent such losses thus leading to better financial stability for the farmers. The SELCO Foundation team has prototyped a simple greenhouse dryer with polyfilm sheets and a fan for forced convection.

    Present Status
    • SF has piloted 4 dryers till date: for chilli, coconut, vermicelli and areca. The the case of the areca farmers, a technology transfer was done, where in the design was provide and the complete implementation as the farmers responsibility.
    • For the coconut it previously took 9 months to dry and get copra (dried coconut) for coconut oil extraction. With the dryer the farmer was able to dry the coconut within 8-10 days to be ready for oil extraction and within 3 months for selling as copra as a final product.
    • The chilli is placed in the driers in when it has 15% moisture and it needs to be reduced to 12% moisture. With the greenhouse dryer he’s able to achieve this within 8 hours.
    • The areca was started in December and is yet to complete one full drying cycle.
    • The vermicelli drying will begin this month.
    Next Steps
    • Detailed monitoring and evaluation for existing systems to understand increase in income, dryer structure quality over time, improvement in quality of dried end products etc.
    • Replicate the design of the driers through other channels and partners via technology and design transfer, also explore channels to finance the driers.

    Entrepreneurial Livelihoods

    1. Carpenter


    Energy for livelihood

    The Background

    While exploring implementable livelihood solutions at the grassroots level that can use sustainable energy as a source of power we identified a carpenter in a remote tribal village of Kalahandi, Odisha, whose work is being hampered due to the erratic power supply and whose income can significantly improve if he had consistent access to energy for his machines

    The Problem

    He currently has more orders than he can fulfill within the required time because of frequent power cuts. Though the village is electrified he only gets power for 3-4 hours per day.

    The Solution

    Solar powering the driller, polisher and cutter and customizing the system such that it’s most economically and efficient for his needs. While also pushing banks in Odisha to finance such systems that have a clear economic

    Present Status

    Lab testing machines for efficiency and customizing the solar system to the carpenters usage patterns

    Next Steps
    • Implementation and monitoring
    • Approaching the bank for financing of the system
    • There is a similar requirement in Karnataka that we are working on in parallel. The entrepreneur there is still using manual tools because of lack of electricity in his area. The learnings from the Odisha case will be used to provide a holistic solution to the Karnataka entrepreneur.

    2. Roti rolling

    roti-rollingEnergy and financial linkage for small scale home based roti businesses

    The Background

    In North Karnataka jowar roti (a millet based flat bread) is a staple. Roti rolling machines are used extensively in homes and villages by women who make and sell these in the local market. They can make and sell anywhere between 250-1000 rotis a day.

    The Problem

    Erratic power supply means they have to start very early in the morning and work late into the night to meet the demand or lose out on business.

    The Solution

    Roti rolling using solar power in poorly electrified areas can be critical to such small businesses. The Foundation team procured and installed a roti machine with an efficient motor that was powered by solar. The entrepreneur was also given two lights along with the system upon request.

    Present Status
    • The system has been working for 2 months and has also increased production.
    • A financial model was created showing the cash flow of the business while also factoring in the cost of the solar system. This was taken to the local bank to persuade them to give the entrepreneur a loan which the bank has agreed to finance.
    Next Steps
    • There are already orders for 2 other roti entrepreneurs
    • Explore possibilities of improving the over all productivity of the business by creating a comprehensive business plan which would include, product diversification (the same machine can make papads as well) and adding more roti machines and human resources to optimize the running and productivity of the business
    • Institutionalize sustainable roti making as a package (technology+finance) solution that can be taken to any bank and any women entrepreneur across the state and country.

    3. Water Purification


    The Background

    Across urban, rural and tribal populations the need to easy access of affordable clean drinking water is a priority, and this can be achieved through small and medium sized entrepreneurs and enterprises at local levels. SELCO Foundation conducted due diligence over a wide variety of technology, community and finance partners to understand the issues and learnings with community water purification systems. Through the learnings, SELCO Foundation is set to implement a series of pilot systems by leveraging partners and developing a guidelines and toolkit of an entrepreneur run community water purification system.

    The Solution

    The first pilot was a solar powered RO water purification unit in Chitradurga with our community partner Myrada. The first 200 litre/hr RO system which was installed failed in the field as the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) level were varying and at some points was as high as 1200 ppm which that system was not capable of handling. The system was replaced by a 1000 litre/hour RO system with the capability of dealing with higher TDS levels. However, with RO wastage of water continues to pose an unsustainable threat so other more efficient purification technologies were explored.

    Another technology we are piloting is the Capacitive Deionization (CDI) technology which is an emerging water treatment technology that uses electrophoretic driving forces to achieve desalination. Basically, it’s a small cell which has one inlet and two outlet ports. The raw water inlet is connected to the inlet of the CDI cell and the cell is connected across the two terminals of battery. It uses the battery to get charged like a capacitor. When contaminated water passes through the cell the water gets treated. CDI uses very low energy to work the overall system as compared to prevailing technologies. It has the efficiency of recovering of 90% of water out of the raw water. It can purify all arsenic, fluoride, nitrate and other chemical and biological contaminates

    Present Status

    • We are doing our first pilot with the CDI technology in an urban slum. We will begin with an operator model and shift to an entrepreneur model after a 3 month pilot.
    • Currently in this community 500 households buy raw water for Rs. 2 per pot
    • The TDS is about 934 ppm and the installed CDI system can handle upto 3000 ppm and can process upto 2000 liters per day.
    • We are currently selling water at Rs. 10 per 20 liter can and are simultaneously working on developing a community awareness tool kit to explain the benefits of the purified water within the community.