Big-name entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett donate billions of dollars a year to charitable causes. While their contributions are certainly noble, a young budding entrepreneur from humble beginnings in India is bent on changing the world—through rice husks. New York Times blog “Fixes”, which produces a series of articles that looks at solutions to social problems, recently told the story of Husk Power Systems and its CEO Gyanesh Pandey. Pandey’s company has transformed the abundant rice husk resource, which is usually thrown away where it rots in landfills in villages across India’s rice belt, into a method that provides electricity at a staggeringly low rate.
Gyanesh Pandey was originally from Bihar, India, the nation’s poorest state. As mentioned in the NYT article, Bihar is populated by 80 million people, 85 percent of whom do not have access to electricity. And with no electricity comes an unimaginable slew of social problems: poorer nutrition and hygiene, less available light for studying, and more crime, among other things. Although Pandey grew up in this environment, he eventually left India to pursue higher education in the United States, where he studied electrical engineering and settled into a high-paying job in Los Angeles. Soon, however, the material wealth of his surroundings, standing in stark contrast to his childhood quality of life, inspired him to give something back to his community.
Pandey tried several different methods for supplying cheap energy, but eventually came up with the idea of running an entire power plant on rice husks. After working on the details he partnered with a few of his childhood friends who were then pursuing MBA degrees. After entering and winning a student business model contests at the University of Virginia, Pandey and friends received the necessary support to turn their ideas into an up and running business. Since 2008, the partners have worked diligently to cut down businesses costs in innovative ways so that they can provide electricity at the cheapest possible price while still turning out enough of a profit to continue running their business.
The NYT article noted:
“What the [Husk Power Systems] illustrates is a different way to think about innovation — one that is suitable for global problems that stem from poor people’s lack of access to energy, water, housing and education. In many cases, success in these challenges hinges less on big new ideas than on collections of small old ideas well integrated and executed. ‘What’s replicable isn’t the distribution of electricity,’ says Pandey. ‘It’s the whole process of how to take an old technology and apply it to local constraints. How to create a system out of the materials and labor that are readily available.'”
A recent Fast Company article gives more insight into the company, whose story is being picked up by many media outlets around the world. Above all, Husk Power Systems has proved that solving big, global-scale social problems can start, and even stay, small.
- Rice Husks, Wikimedia Commons
- Farm workers in Bihar, India, one of the nation’s poorest regions, Wikimedia Commons.
Bio: Hajera Blagg is a freelance writer from Houston, Texas. She often contributes content to OnlineUniversities.