December 24th 2019, New Delhi: The Council on Energy, Environment and Water(CEEW)—a leading, independent policy  research institution, and Villgro Innovation Foundation—one of India’s oldest and most renowned social enterprise incubators, have jointly embarked on a novel initiative “Powering Livelihoods”, with a vision to bolster India’s rural economy through the scaling up of clean energy solutions. The initiative aims to provide dedicated capital, technical and sectoral growth support to at least five enterprises which are deploying innovative, clean energy-powered livelihood appliances, and shall enable them to undertake large-scale commercial operations over a period of next three years. The initiative boasts of having under its aegis investment partners like Caspian Debt, Upaya Social Ventures, among others.

(L-R Ananth Aravamudan(Villgro), Wase Khalid (Ceew), Abhishek Ghosh(CEO, Ceew), Shankha Lahiri(Villgro), Paul Basil (CEO,Villgro), Gowtham Sundara Raju (Villgro)

In an agrarian economy like India, whilst the energy needs for agriculture and irrigation is constantly on the rise, it is unfortunate to note that till date most of our farm machines are powered by fossil fuels. Likewise, in the highly-intensive textile industry, not many enterprises and business owners have so far realized that the reduction of energy use per unit output at the manufacturing level and further overall cost-cutting along the value chain can be achieved by shifting to an energy efficient and DRE-powered solution. According to recent Yes Bank report, “climate resilience” is increasingly becoming a major sustainability issue for Indian SMEs and small-scale rural industries, which are often negatively affected by fluctuations in energy-related costs, increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions, etc.

Off late, an urgent need has been felt to augment transition towards clean energy in these areas, so as to mitigate greenhouse emissions and the detrimental impact on climate and environment. At this point in time, a push on power grid extension to rural households needs to be complemented with energy-efficient appliances for livelihoods and industries as well as decentralized renewable energy-based products and encouraging their applications in everyday life and industrial activities.

Speaking at the launch of the initiative, Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) said, “India alone has more than USD 50bn worth of market for clean energy solutions for rural livelihoods; ‘Powering Livelihoods’ aims to catalyze the transformation of India’s rural economy by scaling up the accessibility and commercialization of clean energy-based solutions. By marrying CEEW’s deep expertise in evidence-based policy formulation and sectoral engagement with Villgro’s years of experience in growing businesses, the initiative will be highly significant in terms of capital, capacity building, and ecosystem support to help local enterprises in this domain survive and thrive, while escaping the ‘commercial valley of death’. We also firmly believe that the initiative shall be fruitful in unlocking crucial support from investors, policymakers, etc., as well as gather evidence to create a tangible and sustainable impact towards India’s rural development and climate change agendas.”

In the recent past, more than four million rural micro enterprises in India have cited lack of reliable electricity as the top bottleneck for their businesses. Providing reliable energy access not only creates new livelihood opportunities but also improves productivity, product value, and incomes. Hence, supporting commercial deployment is expected to drive enterprise growth, thus enabling them to establish their business model and demonstrate a track record of operations, building a wider pool of investible opportunities in the sector.

In view of the above, the “Powering Livelihoods” initiative offers the following:

  • Non-dilutive capital support:​ ‘Tranched” grant support (​upto ​USD 250,000) to each enterprise to help them kick-off the commercial deployment of their product/appliance and to allow financial leverage for further fundraise in the form of equity/debt.
  • Capacity building support: Based on needs assessment, enterprises would be provided support services (upto USD 100,000) through strategic partnerships. This includes mentoring, capacity building, financial planning and modeling, and assistance on compliance and legal issues, with an end-goal to scale up commercial deployment.
  • Sectoral growth support:​ This would create sectoral momentum and create a larger impact by collecting evidence from the deployments at scale and by disseminating the evidence among key stakeholders such as financiers, policymakers, investors and other market enablers.

The core focus areas of this initiative include:

Agriculture & allied value chain/ cold storage sector: Enterprises deploying appliances such as clean energy-powered and/or energy-efficient cold storage, commercial food processors, juicers, dryers, milk chillers, flour mills, milking machines, rice hullers, and oil expellers.

Textile sector: Enterprises deploying appliances such as solar charkhas, sewing machines, paddle loom, jute machinery, and silk reelers which could improve productivity and reduce drudgery without harming the environment.

The applications for Powering Livelihoods close on 5th January 2020. For more details/submission of entries, please visit the official website: http://poweringlivelihoods.org

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