Rang De is helping families in rural Rajasthan by providing them with loans to purchase solar units that generate electricity.
Think of the unavailability of electricity in small towns and villages of India, and the last scene of the 2004-Bollywood movie Swades flashes before your eyes. In the movie, an old woman sees a bulb light up for the first time in her house and utters bijli. Fast-forward to 2017 — not much has changed. There are about 50 million homes in India still deprived of electricity.
However, Rang De, a Bengaluru-based NGO, is helping families in rural Rajasthan by providing them with loans to purchase solar units, which further generate electricity. About two months ago, Rang De partnered with SELCO foundation and started a solar power project in Kotra Tehsil of Udaipur district, Rajasthan.
Besides the absence of grid-based electricity, the tribal region of Kotra does not have access to education, healthcare and other livelihood opportunities, which has impeded development in the region. But with Rang De’s solar power project, 45 families have benefitted so far.
Prajwal Suvarna, who works for Rang De, explains,
Rang De provides the families with low-cost loans that allow them to purchase quality solar units from the SELCO Foundation. SELCO foundation is also helping families save the expenditure on traditional fuel like kerosene or firewood and helps them pay for the solar units.
Providing energy in the region also solves other problems — it benefits the local business, makes it possible for children to go to school, ensures better healthcare facilities, etc.
In the year 2006, Bangladeshi banker Muhammad Yunus won a Nobel prize for founding Grameen Bank. Inspired by this, the same year, Ramakrishan NK and Smita Ram decided to set up an online platform (Rang De) for lending money to the poor. The platform, which went live in 2008, aims to lower the cost of microcredit in India.
Funded by Tata Trusts, Rang De gives low-interest loans to low income households through the process of investments by individual lenders or other social investors. By reaching out to the underserved communities via microcredit, the company intends to make poverty a history in India.
The founders decided on the name Rang De after a lot of thought.
It draws inspiration from India’s struggle for independence. We believe that a similar movement with the same kind of urgency is required to address poverty in India, says Smita Ram (37), Co-founder, Rang De.
Apart from the solar power project, Rang De also provides affordable low-cost loans to rural entrepreneurs across various states in India. Most of the borrowers are women. The loans have helped these women earn a living, and thereby gain financial independence.
The Kotra Tehsil is not new to renewable energy — over the last 10 years several cheap China-manufactured solar units were sold in the local market. These power products were of poor quality and stopped functioning within a few years. Therefore, Rang De had difficulty in convincing people to invest in renewable energy.
There were a lot of cheap Chinese solar units which had flooded the market in Kotra and caused a great disruption. The terrain in Kotra is rough and the villages are quite far apart, making it difficult to install the solar panels. This year, there was excessive rain and wind, which disrupted the installation of the solar units, Prajwal Suvarna explains.
However, over the next few years, the company plans to increase the scope of the solar loans project to cover as many families in Kotra Tehsil as it can.
“We are also identifying similar regions across India to which the project can extended. The solar loans fall under energy/climate finance. The aim is to provide low-cost loans that will help vulnerable sections of the population who are affected by energy poverty. Climate change will affect people living in poverty the most; hence, climate finance will take on a crucial role in the coming years. It will represent an increasingly large share of the loans we offer at Rang De,” Smita concludes.
Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ratified the historic 2015 Paris climate change agreement. According to the agreement, India will replace 40 percent of its heavily coal-dependent existing energy capacity by renewable energy sources. The solar power project by Rang De is one step forward in achieving that goal.