Public servants take power to India's slums in international move

Public servants take power to India's slums in international move

As access to safe and reliable energy supply remains one of the key challenges facing more than 1.5 billion people in developing countries around the world, young professionals from Canberra are doing their part to improve lives overseas.

Clare Condon, a 26-year-old Department of Industry staff member, is the latest.

Emma Colenbrander, left, of Pollinate Energy and Clare Condon are India-bound.

Emma Colenbrander, left, of Pollinate Energy and Clare Condon are India-bound. Credit:Matt Bedford

The Melbourne-born policy expert is preparing to travel to Hyderabad, India, in March to volunteer with social enterprise Pollinate Energy.

The organisation prides itself on "a simple mission" – improving the lives of India's urban poor by providing access to sustainable technologies including solar lights and improved stoves for cooking.


Using LED lights and kerosene free cooking equipment, communities save money and experience better health and lifestyle outcomes, including through reduced indoor smoke and better lights for homes and businesses.

Pollinate, co-founded by Canberran Emma Colenbrander, has already helped more than 25,000 people in Bangalore switch to solar LED lighting in their homes.

The organisation works to empower local entrepreneurs and raise awareness of social enterprise in a country where 25 per cent of the population live withoutpower.

Volunteers establish a network of "pollinators" who make products available to customers through short-term weekly payment plans. Founded in November 2012, Pollinate Energy helped 12,000 people in its first year of operations.

Hyderabad is set to become the group's second challenge and Ms Condon will take part in Pollinate's Young Professionals program into April, bringing her expertise from Industry's energy division to help train local team members who work in slums and medium to high density housing regions.

"I was very interested because I had volunteered overseas before and this position really fits with my current work in energy policy," she said.

"We will look at a certain aspect of Pollinate's business model and try to work to improve it. This is the first time they have expanded outside of Bangalore, it will either make or break their whole model through expansion."

Pollinate team members visit communities where their products are sold and provide ongoing support. With assistance and volunteers from Australia, the organisation is planning a multi-city roll out in across India later this year.

"I had never really thought about electricity before I started working in market development," Ms Condon said.

"It's something we take for granted and is so much second nature that when you flick a switch you expect the light to go on. You don't realise how much of your day-to-day life is reliant on electricity."

With support and donations from the Canberra community, Ms Condon is more than halfway to raising the required $3500 to take part in the program.

"It's going to be a great challenge but I'm looking forward to it a lot," she said.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for the Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

Most Viewed in National