Posted by Hoda Gerami on March 21, 2016
The Global Social Impact Practicum is a new course led by Booth's Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) and supported by the Tata Trusts, India’s largest philanthropic organization. Beginning with a trip to India and culminating at the end of Winter Quarter, students will work with the Trusts on a consulting project aimed at making bamboo a crop of choice for clean energy and as a potential driver of employment in rural India.
Here, Hoda Gerami,'16, and Nancy Chang, '16, share insights from GSIP's trip to India and visits to villages.
On Thursday, December 17, the fourth day of our stay in India, we visited two villages in Udaipur, a district in the west Indian state of Rajasthan. Our client, Tata Trusts, wanted us to better understand the current state of electricity in Indian villages and how various communities might benefit from bamboo-based power. This was a truly unique experience as many of us had never had the opportunity to visit rural Indian before.
From our visits, we took away two key learnings: first, we learned that electricity remains a luxury item for many villagers. Second, because electricity isn’t seen as a vital household cost, villagers spend that money in other ways, and we were able to see some examples of that decision-making process.
The two villages we visited were connected to the power grid, yet few households had opted to pay the account activation fee needed to receive electricity. The households that did have power shared their electricity with other families, mainly for charging cellphones. This was actually where the biggest learning occurred for us. Providing access to electricity is only the first step. A bigger hurdle to widespread adoption is having sufficient discretionary income to spend on electricity, in addition to other household expenses.
We also were able to get insights into what communities chose to invest in. Better schools or daycares, a medical center and roads were highly prioritized, whereas electricity was just nice to have, a luxury.
The reality is, of course, that there are many ways that electricity could be used in villages, beside charging cellphones. For example, by using electricity for agriculture, farmers can improve their crop yields. This would, in turn, increase their discretionary income. Key to the success of our model is how well we understand the role electricity currently plays in the lives of those living in rural India, and the possibilities that widespread electrification could bring.