Acumen Blog

Husk Power's systems use rice husks (that brown stuff) to generate power

What it takes to bring bold new ideas to the mainstream

Editor’s note: to find out more about the impact Husk Power is having on the communities of Bihar, read this post by Jacqueline Novogratz.

Husk Power's systems use rice husks to generate power

Husk Power Systems (HPS), a power company in Bihar, India, has just received its second infusion of capital from Acumen Fund.  The company has already delivered electricity to over 200,000 people throughout some of the poorest areas of India and this new round of funding will help scale its operations to impact even more lives.  Despite Husk’s success to date, the company began as little more than a dream and an unproven business model in one of the world’s poorest regions.

In the state of Bihar, around 80 percent of the households are not electrified.  Villagers rely on kerosene lanterns and diesel generators for light and power, both of which are expensive and destructive to health and the environment.  Seeing these challenges first-hand, Gyanesh Pandey co-founded HPS in 2007 with a goal of bringing light to his home state of Bihar.

Gyanesh started working on this goal by investing his personal savings to build the first biomass-fired generators which convert rice husks (a locally-available waste product) into a gas that powers a turbine to produce electricity.  Each one of these mini-power plants can serve two to four villages.  Costs are kept low by wiring the villages with bamboo poles and low-voltage insulated wiring.

Co-founder Gyanesh Pandey (Photo: Forbes India)

Yet without a diverse set of funding sources, this innovative technology might never have developed into a successful social enterprise .  Grant funding from business competitions and foundations allowed HPS to prove it was possible to deliver electricity to remote villages with this technology through a small number of pilots.  However, HPS faced a major funding gap between the prototype stage and the stage at which it would be attractive to commercial capital.

As highlighted in the recent Monitor Group and Acumen Fund report, From Blueprint to Scale, this funding gap can be bridged using philanthropic capital in a variety of new ways. One of the methods mentioned in the report is “enterprise philanthropy,” which is grant funding that resembles investment through a focus on milestones and progress towards financial sustainability. Another approach is philanthropy-backed investment, which Acumen Fund deploys, which is an actual debt or equity investment with the flexibility to go where commercial investors won’t, driven by metrics like impact and innovation, in addition to financial performance.  The report highlights the importance of diverse sources of funds at different stages of an enterprise’s development, with Husk Power Systems being a prime example of the necessity of grants, impact investments and commercial capital.

With the continued support of Acumen, along with many other foundations and investors, HPS has installed more than 80 plants, bringing power to over 300 villages in a region that the Indian government claimed was “economically impossible to reach by conventional means.”  With Husk’s continued growth, they are on track to attract more commercial capital and bring power to more regions in India and throughout the world.

More important than the growth of this one company, however, is the fact that Husk’s success has changed how people think about energy access and the possibilities of bringing electricity to some of the poorest regions on earth.  New innovators and entrepreneurs can now see the social, economic and environmental potential of bringing renewable power to remote regions.  This creates new markets and new forms of empowerment, both figuratively and literally, for the communities that need it most.

Comments

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]

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]

How two Acumen Fellows are disrupting the education model in India

Whether its running youth soccer programs, providing vocational training services, or transforming the education system in India, Acumen India Fellows are driving real change in their communities.  Abbas Dadla and Abhilasha Sinha are India Fellows who are addressing the teacher shortage in India through the use of technology and peer collaboration. Find out what they are building below.  If you have grit, resilience and a commitment to creating change in your community in India, East Africa or Pakistan, we encourage you to apply for the Regional Fellowship Program! [Read More]

Meet Manjushree Patil, Founder of Aatman Academy

This month saw violent tragedies in Pakistan and Kenya, regions where Acumen works and which five classes of Acumen regional fellows call home. Among them there are dedicated teachers like Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil, crusaders against sex trafficking, builders of government, creators of liberating mobile medical technologies, and curators of slum sports programs. The need for strengthening the connections between those who are working for positive change against seemingly impossible odds has never been greater. We at Acumen have never been prouder to be the thread tying together these courageous individuals. Read more about Manjushree and how she is changing her community in India below! [Read More]

No, not silence again!

The Acumen Fellowship’s Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA) training is notorious for digging deep, breaking Fellows down to reveal their deepest fears, identifying the sources of resilience that will fuel them with the tenacity to continue along the path to social change. Kahabi G. Isangula is an East Africa Regional Fellow living in Tanzania and recently participated in our CLA training. Get an idea of what it is like, below!  [Read More]

Announcing the Class of 2015 Acumen Global Fellows

Acumen Global Fellows are architects for the impact sector. They are innovators, game changers, visionaries, with various professional experiences looking to make substantial change in the world. They have thrived in companies such as Google; they have started their own companies in Sri Lanka, Canada and Malaysia.  They are choosing the challenge of working alongside our portfolio companies and immersing themselves in a rigorous leadership training. [Read More]