Pollinate Energy: Bringing Sustainable Energy to Informal Settlements

Pollinate Energy is a Finalist in the Unilever Global Development Award supported by Business Fights Poverty.

We asked them some questions about their programme and the lessons learnt.


Q) What challenge does Pollinate Energy’s programme serve to change?

400 million people live in India without electricity. Wood cooking fires and kerosene lamps cause epidemic levels of respiratory illness, which kills over 100,000 Indian children each year. This is the leading cause of death in children under 5 and with India’s 13 million slum households set to triple in 10 years, we need a working solution urgently.


Our key beneficiaries are urban slum residents in India.  There are over 65 million such people across more than 50 cities in India, and this population is set to triple in the next decade. These families are typically migrants from rural India seeking a better life. They are aspirational and hard-working. They live 4-5 people in a household, work in day labour or domestic jobs and earn approximately $1.52US a day.

At Pollinate Energy we aim to improve the lives of India's’ urban poor by providing access to affordable, clean energy solutions through  a simple yet sophisticated business model that includes cleverly designed access channels for customers through a deferred payment system.

Q) Can you tell us about how your business models works?

Bangalore was our pilot city which achieved financial sustainability within 2 years. Here we have trained 15 Pollinators, the people who sell our products, to service over 500 slum communities providing 40,000 people with micro-loans and life-changing products.  

The Pollinators are the vital component of the business model. Their local knowledge and understanding of the culture foster strong relationships and trust with the customers, essential for the model to work and fulfil the purpose of Pollinate Energy. They sell our products, which at the moment consists of solar lights, improved cook stoves and water filters. They use their mobile phones to manage sales.

Many of the communities we sell to are illegitimate and not part of the formal urban plan. So before a pollinator can visit we locate them using aerial maps to find the tarpaulin like tents. Our Pollinators then visit, interview and name each community, and speak with them to determine their needs. This helps build trust.

We then help the communities access the products by offering short-term payment plans, up to 5 weeks in length. This enables low-income families to transition from old to new technology - or dirty to clean water - overnight.

The city, or hive as we call them, is now growing sustainably and will reach another 40,000 people annually giving a total slum population of 100,000 people access to solar lighting by 2016. This will be sustained in perpetuity by delivering new products to customers who have greater earning potential and saved money by purchasing a solar light.

Pollinate Energy uses a social franchising model to expand to new cities and we have already started replicating this model in Hyderabad and Kolkata.  We intend to replicate in 5 cities by the end of 2016. We work with budding entrepreneurs, called our city cofounders, giving them the tools and the funding to launch cities using our business model and operational backbone. Our cities are designed to be self-sustaining after their first year of operations.

Q) What impacts have you had so far?

We have installed over 15,000 systems including solar lights, improved cook stoves and water filters reaching 68,600 people. As a result these individuals have saved 80.6m rupees (USD $1.2 million) saved from avoiding the purchase of kerosene and further prevented 3.69m kg of CO2 emissions from being emitted.

We have also trained 45 pollinators helping them to learn new skills for employment. For many individuals this is a great opportunity to access a job from a low skills background whilst at the same time giving them great business acumen and awareness of wider social and environmental issues. We seek to employ an equal portion of male and female Pollinators across our network, and most of these Pollinators come from disadvantage of long-term unemployment. This includes single divorced mothers, people returning to work from illness, parents of young children and unemployed youth.

What Pollinate Energy’s COO said:

“Pollinate Energy is a pioneer in providing products that change lives to families living in the most marginalised, forgotten communities in India’s cities. We are using the latest innovations in products and technology to overcome the hurdles so that these families can access new products, and can afford them on payment plans. Over the past few years we have proven what nobody would believe, that families living in city slums can and should be treated as participants in today’s markets, have a voice to be heard, and deserve better support. We are now active in three major Indian cities and are on our way to reaching twenty cities and 2 million people by 2020.”

Alexie Seller, Co-founder, Chief Operations Officer, Pollinate Energy India


Editor's Note:

The Unilever Global Development Award winner will be announced at the Annual Responsible Business Gala on 11 July. For live updates from the winners please follow #BITCawards.

For more information about the Business in the Community Awards please see 


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