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Jewels of KGP: Dr. Harish Hande

Posted on Nov 11, 2017
Jewelstory

In an era when most of us dream of having a lucrative job and leading a lavish life, there are some people who stand out of the crowd and take the responsibility of serving the nation and it’s poor. Presenting before you, next in the series of our column “Jewels of KGP”, Dr. Harish Hande, who chose an unconventional way of life and made it really “big”! From an engineer to a social entrepreneur, from India to Sri Lanka to America, Harish has seen it all. We at Awaaz, IIT Kharagpur got a chance to interact with him and know about him in more depth.

Introduction

Dr. Harish Hande is an Energy Engineering graduate from IIT Kharagpur (and doctorate from UMass Lowell) and co-founder of the social enterprise SELCO (Solar Electric Light Company), India which has redefined energy sustainability in its twenty odd years of operation. Dr. Hande serves on the boards of many organizations as well, both national and international. He says, “For us, the biggest motivation is frustration”.


Parama Barai

Dr.Harish Hande

Professional Timeline and Beliefs

Harish did his basic schooling from Ispat English Medium School in Orissa. He completed his graduation in Energy Engineering from IIT-KGP in the year of 1990. He then went on to complete his Master’s from the US and later did his Ph.D. in the same branch from the University of Massachusetts Lowell (also known as UMass Lowell). However, he quickly switched from science to social enterprising when he felt it was his turn to give solutions to the country’s problems. After spending months and years across villages, from Latin America to Sri Lanka, the in-depth analysis of the major problems of the poor made him set up the enterprise of his own i.e., SELCO India in the year 1995, with the financial assistance provided by the co-founder Neville Williams. Not only has SELCO lighted up thousands of homes through its solar plants but has also worked continuously to bridge the economic divide in energy distribution across the country. Though investments have been pumped into the sector over the past couple of years, Harish believes that this space still remains reserved largely for the “big players”. The poor, who instead require a decentralized solar network, are still to be reached. Speaking of his expectations in the near future, Harish hopes that his enterprise would be able to lay a platform for socio-economic growth of the youth of not so developed regions such as the north-east or Orissa. Innovation, he believes, is that which reaches the poor.

Awards and Honours

For his exceptional contributions to the field of energy, Dr. Harish has received several prestigious awards and recognitions, both at the national and international level. They have truly been a part and parcel of his life. Some of them are the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2011, Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 and the Karnataka Rajyotsava Prashasti in 2011. In 2013, the Trustees of University of Massachusetts awarded him the Doctorate of Humane Letters and the following year IIT Kharagpur conferred upon him the distinguished alumnus award.

Moreover, in the year 2008, Dr. Harish was chosen by Business Today as one of the "21 young leaders for India’s 21st century" and further in that year, India Today named him one of the 50 pioneers of change in India. SELCO India under him won the Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy 2005 and Accenture Economic Development Award for 2005. In 2007, SELCO again won the Ashden Award, this time for "Outstanding Achievement" in the energy sector and the icing on the cake was that it was presented by Al Gore, former Vice President of the USA. Although not many make it to such coveted awards, Dr. Harish believes that it’s not the awards but the hunger to find solutions which has kept him going.

Life in KGP

Harish recalls his social life in IIT-KGP and shares his experience of being a part of student administration of the Nehru Hall of Residence, and believes that the hall management and politics made him learn a lot. He also cherishes being a part of football and hockey teams of his hall. When asked about his visit to KGP, he said he loves being here and assured of visiting his Alma Mater within next two-three years.

Role of IITs in Social Upliftment

According to Harish, IITs need to be more serious about their responsibility towards the nation. The coursework under the IITs requires to be strictly reassessed if they wish to provide solutions to the country’s biggest problems. He emphasizes that for students to be merely job and placement-oriented for four years won’t be a way out for our progress. Moreover, Harish feels that if the youth want to step into social enterprising, it first requires ending the major disconnect which is heavily felt while interacting with the people of rural areas or of lower economic strata.

Message to the Youth

Harish is aware of the recent rise in depression cases and as a message to the student community of KGP, Harish wants them to enjoy their stay of four or five years within the campus, looking beyond minor failures of scores, grades or job offers. Cherishing the ecosystem inside, making good friends and learning new things are what he wants students to look forward upto. These years are a great time to shape up but he also adds up that what matters more would be to invest energy and learnings into the service of our country once the students graduate. He says, “You can fail in few subjects but you can never fail in life”!

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