Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2008 Finalists [Updated]

This week has had no shortage of announcements of accepting nominations for some competitions and the unveiling of winners from others. Today, IndiaPRwire reports that the Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation, Schwab Foundation, and UNDP has picked finalists for the 2008 Social Entrepreneurship of the Year Award.

The Award recognizes individuals who offer the most innovative and sustainable solutions to society’s impending social problems. The ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year’ Award over the last few years has risen to prominence among social entrepreneurs with applicant’s immensely valuing the benefits the award brings. The steady increase in the number of nominations filed for this award is proof of it growing significance

Here are the three finalists:

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SELCO India: Solar energy pioneer ready to scale

India is facing a looming energy crisis. The energy needs of the country’s population cannot be met by conventional energy sources (read: Fossil Fuels). We had mentioned in the space before, the importance of India leapfrogging into renewable sources like solar and wind. As part of the eleventh five year plan, GOI just allocated Rs. 600 crore towards green energy research creating incentives for adoption of renewables.

One company that has taken the lead in the renewables space is Solar Electric Lighting Company (SELCO) India. We had covered SELCO extensively in this space before. The challenge with solar energy is not just the making Photo-voltaic(PV) cells more cost-effective, but also effective financing, distribution, and maintenance of these PV units. The latter is commonly referred to as downstream solar opportunities. Started in 1995, SELCO India claims to have sold, serviced and financed 75,000 solar electric units. Recognizing SELCO’s cutting-edge work in expanding access to energy, its founder Harish Hande was chosen as Indian Social Entrepreneur of the Year for 2007 by the Schwab Foundation in partnership with The Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation.

The challenge for a company like SELCO now is scale. How can the organization move from servicing 80,000 clients to servicing 8 million clients? Making PV units more affordable would be a good start (currently they are priced around Rs. 800). Another key challenge would be building a effective distribution and servicing chain. There is also competition around the corner (which is never a bad thing) – we had mentioned d.light design, a silicon-valley based company with an aggressive focus on India.