Renewable energy helps families create brighter futures in India

IWitness trip to India SELCO Foundation skylight
An IWitness ambassador installs a skylight in the tailor’s family kitchen. Photo by IKEA Foundation.

In August 2019 , SELCO Foundation hosted a group of co-workers from IKEA UK & Ireland in Karnataka, India. The majority of the trip was spent on the western coast, in Kundapura, a town snuggled between the roaring monsoon tides and the high western ghats (mountain range).

SELCO Foundation uses energy access to overcome challenges that people living in poor communities face in their daily lives.

Skylight solution SELCO Foundation
A newly installed skylight solution by an IWitness ambassador which allows natural light to enter a families kitchen, which otherwise was pitch dark, even in the day, and relied on dirty fuels. Photo by IKEA Foundation.

Imagine studying everyday under the nearly invisible light source of a kerosene lamp, which emits black smoke throughout the evening. Imagine pounding your rice down with 30kg stone and your bare hands so that it is ready to be cooked for the rest of the week. Imagine travelling for an hour to your nearest health centre, giving up your daily wage for the day, for a treatment for your child, only to find that the health centre doesn’t have any electricity to function.

Working together

Although people need a better, more reliable source of power to overcome these challenges, energy access alone cannot solve every problem. There needs to be an ecosystem of organisations working together to develop and deliver solutions holistically. This includes essential services, financing, training and capacity building of human resources, and the right policies.

SELCO Foundation builds this inclusive ecosystem for sustainable energy access and shares these processes and learnings with others. In this way, energy access solutions can be scaled up through partnerships and replication.

Learning to throw pots

IWitness trip to India SELCO Foundation
An IWitness ambassador tries her hand at the manual pottery wheel, realizing how painful and arduous the activity was. Photo by IKEA Foundation.

On the first day in the field, the IWitnesses visited Aloor pottery village. For centuries, humans have practiced the art of sculpting earthenware. In numerous pockets of India, many families still practice this art today, unfortunately often using tools and techniques that make the work slow and arduous.

Manual pottery wheels need to be spun continuously by hand while the potter sculpts the pot – a process which, over time, leads to extreme strain on the potter’s shoulders, neck and back. This also leads to low productivity, with the potter unable to increase their production.

IWitness trip to India SELCO Foundation
An IWitness ambassador feeling the difference with the solar powered pottery wheel. Photo by IKEA Foundation.

The IWitnesses tried their hand first at the manual wheel and then the solar-powered pottery wheel to really feel the difference!

Skills for employment

In the afternoon, the IWitnesses visited Nammabhoomi Livelihood Learning Centre for Youth (Centre for Working Children). Here, many young adults and children who come from families with troubled or no livelihoods learn skills that equip them for the working world, where they are respected for their knowledge.

The school is almost entirely powered by solar energy, which runs the machines and tools they use for their lessons. What better way to ‘scale up’ solar technologies and help individuals start using these solutions than introducing them into the school itself?

Energy-efficient buildings

The first step to making a built environment more energy-efficient and comfortable is to look at the structural design, materials and spatial layout itself.

IWitness trip to India SELCO Foundation solar powered blower
A blacksmith using the solar powered blower to improve his efficiency in work and reducing drudgery. Photo by IKEA Foundation.

The IWitnesses visited three locations on the second day where they saw how structural changes, energy efficiency and the use of locally available materials are improving lives. They visited a blacksmith’s workshop, a school for children with disabilities, and a community of migrant workers living in improved shelters.

Model villages

Sustainable Energy solutions now exist across different development sectors. How does one village make use of sustainable energy in different ways? On the third day of their trip, the IWitnesses were able to see for themselves. In the remote, forested village of Halliberu, the co-workers spent an entire day with the local community to learn how they are using solar power at school, work and in their homes.

The co-workers engaged directly, helping install new solar solutions and checking older ones to ensure that they will last for many more years to come.

IWitness trip to India SELCO Foundation skylight
An IWitness ambassador installs a skylight in the tailor’s family kitchen. Photo by IKEA Foundation.

Energy access in action

By the end of the trip, the IWitness ambassadors had seen different ways energy access can change the lives of families and communities, and what it takes to make this possible and sustainable. What they witnessed, behind the scenes, was the way sustainable energy can act as a catalyst for development, while having a positive impact on the environment.