Editor’s Note: Part 2 of 2 in a series on Husk Power System’s recruiting in Varanasi, India, from Global Fellow Neha Kale. This post originally appeared on Neha’s blog on June 27, 2012

After the six hour drive to Varanasi we climbed up three flights of stairs to step into an unbearably hot room. There were about 40 candidates eagerly and silently waiting for our arrival. I couldn’t help but feel incredibly guilty for making them wait; I presume they had been there for at least 2 hours.

Just as I was getting used to the stuffy atmosphere, the invertor gave out. The two giant rickety fans that were helping ventilation in the room had stopped working just as Satish ji, interim director of operations, began providing the attendees an introduction about Husk and the importance of our work.

Satish ji introduces Husk to the candidates

We were there to recruit electricians and linemen for our operations team. These men would be trained via Husk Power University and then sent to the field to assist especially in preparation for the upcoming monsoon months. Birender ji, Head of engineering at Husk, asked each candidate a series of simple technical questions. I was there to assess their experience, communication and willingness to work within the harsh rural conditions in Bihar. Husk invests a lot in its employees, so it is important that we not only attract but more importantly retain talent once they are trained.

To ease the obvious nervousness and anxiety, we started out asking simple questions like their name, telephone number and school details – information they had already completed on their forms prior to the interview.   Eventually, Birender ji and I posed a series of worst possible scenario questions for the candidates:
  • Are you willing to leave UP and move to Bihar and work in a rural area? Aren’t you afraid?
  • Do you cook? What would you do if you are unable to find food for dinner in the village after finishing up work late at night?
  • What would you do if a customer starts to swear at you about the fluctuation he/she is experiencing in the power supply?
  • Will you be able to live without a fan or light despite this heat? Our plant is the only supply of electricity in the village and it operates for just 6 hours at night.
  • What will you do if a customer refuses to pay you for the month?
  • If you have to sweep or clean up the plant in case your co-workers are missing – would you or is the job beneath you? After all you are more educated than the Husk loader?

Needless to say we got a great variety of interesting responses to the questions. The questions were all based on reasons we’ve lost trainees in the past. As I asked these difficult but realistic questions, I was amazed at the candidates’ willingness to endure hardship for long term gains. It is difficult work – Husk needs young, honest, hardworking individuals that aren’t quitters. The employees aren’t incentivized with huge salaries, bonuses or luxuries. If they can manage to stick it out, it is an incredible opportunity for them to learn, grow and progress – in a region where opportunities for semi-trained individuals are slim at best.  The interviews reminded me of this ad we had discussed at Acumen’s midyear check in:

Text: MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.Context: In 1913, Sir Ernest Shackleton placed this ad in the Times to build a crew for an expedition to the South Pole. 5,000 men responded to the ad and 27 were selected.

The good news is that we selected over 25 people to join our electrician training program. Trainees are provided a monthly stipend along with housing for the training period. Successful completion of the training guarantees them a job with HPS. Those that were not selected for the electrician training were offered an option to train as operators. Once they gain experience operating a plant and develop their technical skill set,  they can begin training as an electrician.
Working at Husk has definitely wiped away any illusions I may have had about working in rural India. It is a dirty, sweaty, difficult, trying but also an incredibly unique experience. Where else could I ever show up in flip flops to an interview and question a candidates culinary skills? As we were leaving, I realized that this was the first interview most of the candidates had ever attended.  I left in great admiration of their determination and willingness to work hard.

A candidate complete an informational sheet prior to his interview.

I too am beginning my career search post the fellowship.  The night before our trip to Varanasi, I had politely turned down an opportunity after an interview because the job responsibilities didn’t sound exciting and I realized they weren’t a good fit. After an incredibly humbling 3 hour experience with these candidates, I realized how fortunate I am to have a choice.

Unfortunately, for many around the world it is still a luxury to have options to explore. To have a means to earn an income, beyond that generated through farming for survival, is rare. I am convinced that it is by creating access to opportunities that we can truly empower.  Education is at the core of every development issue we battle and HPS is doing its share to educate and empower the local population.

This week, we welcomed the new recruits in Patna. I’m excited to see the fruits of HPS’ very first ground level recruiting session.

Neha Kale is an Acumen Fund Global Fellow working at Husk Power Systems in Bihar, India. To get more updates from Neha, read her blog and follow her on Twitter


Four Emerging Leaders Building the Future of Pakistan

With 60% of Pakistan’s population living under less than a dollar a day, the external narrative of Pakistan is characterised by what the country lacks; a lack of security, a lack of women’s rights, a lack of access to education, and the list goes on. What this narrative ignores are the individuals who work tirelessly to plug those gaps. From human rights to education to food security, Acumen Pakistan Fellows are affecting change through organizations committed to tackling poverty. Their work is truly inspiring, promising a hopeful future for Pakistan. Here are four fellows that are building this future for Pakistan and come together periodically to share learning experiences and grow as leaders. Through five seminars, the fellows have strengthened skills of adaptability, communication, empathy and problem solving through listening. If you are committed to creating change in your community, apply now to be an Acumen Pakistan Fellow. The deadline is 29 September. [Read More]

Acumen Partners with AlphaSights to Better Access Global Expertise

In our work investing in social enterprises that deliver critical goods to the poor, there is a substantial amount of work to evaluate each investment opportunity. A critical part of the diligence process, particularly when it comes to emerging markets, is speaking with industry experts who can provide reliable information about sector trends, market dynamics and public policy – all of which affect our evaluation of potential investment opportunities. [Read More]


Our manifesto begins, “it starts by standing with the poor.” Yet for good reasons, the sector has found it challenging to measure which customers are actually being served through social impact investments – getting accurate data on incomes is notoriously difficult and the logistical challenge and cost of conducting surveys in person prohibitive. [Read More]

Questions for Aspiring Leaders

Bavidra Mohan, Acumen’s India Fellows Manager, attended this years Aspen IDEAS festival as a Scholar. The Scholarship program was established to invite guests from around the world to bring a diverse set of experiences, voices and perspectives to the rich conversations that take place at the IDEAS festival each year. [Read More]

Give Impact Investing Time and Space to Develop

Impact investing has captured the world’s imagination. Just six years after the Rockefeller Foundation coined the term, the sector is booming. An estimated 250 funds are actively raising capital in a market that the Global Impact Investing Network estimates at $25 billion. Giving Pledge members described impact investing as the “hottest topic” at their May 2012 meeting, and Prime Minister David Cameron extolled the potential of the sector at the most recent G8 summit.  Sir Ronald Cohen and HBS Professor William A. Sahlman describe impact investing as the new venture capital, implying that it will, in the next 5 to 10 years, make its way into mainstream financial portfolios, unlocking billions or trillions of dollars in new capital. [Read More]

10 Books We’re Reading This Summer

What are you reading? It is a common question here at Acumen, an organization full of avid readers constantly trading favorite book titles that discuss leadership, impact, development and branding. Here are 10 stellar books we’re reading this summer. These books and others provide a framework of thinking, a spark of new ideas, a platform for debate. So, what are you reading? [Read More]

How Acumen Brought Back my Fire

Eda is an East Africa Regional Fellow from Nairobi, Kenya and is the Founder and Director of Halisi Trust, an organization that seeks to challenge the vices that plague society and encourage transformational development in Kenya’s youth. When Eda applied for the East Africa Fellows Program, she felt disillusioned and stuck. Below, Eda discusses how Acumen’s Regional Fellowship Program brought back her fire. Now, Eda has engaged nearly 6,000 people through outreach events and the Mkenya Halisi movement continues to grow. Acumen is currently accepting applications for the next class of East Africa Fellows. APPLY TODAY! [Read More]

Imagining the world as it could be

Christine Gitau is an East Africa Fellow and an enterprise coach at Craft Afrika, which provides business support services to craft entrepreneurs, enabling them build viable and thriving businesses in Kenya. At Acumen we often use the term “Moral Imagination” when talking about leadership. Christine wrote a reflection on how this concept has shifted her thinking. We could not be more proud of what she is building! [Read More]