Giving the Green Light

Giving the Green Light

Savitha Sridharan MBA’14 and Mateen Abdul MBA’09 collaborated to develop a clean-energy lighting solution for villagers in rural India.

It’s safe to say Savitha Sridharan and Mateen Abdul have a lot in common.

Aside from the obvious—they both earned an MBA from Babson’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business—they each founded a company in the energy access industry, Orora Global (Sridharan) and Grassroots Energy (Abdul). They share a passion for bringing clean-energy solutions to off-grid, rural communities around the world. And, thanks to a friendship forged before Sridharan even came to Babson, they collaborated to develop an energy-efficient lantern that provides lighting to the very communities their companies strive to serve.

How did you two meet?

SS: I met Mateen before I became a student, at a Babson alumni meeting in Bangalore, India.

MA: We began exploring synergies, as we both work in the energy access industry, the segment of organizations working in the off-grid space globally.

Tell us about your companies.

MA: In places where reliable energy is a challenge, many people are engaged in agricultural activities. These agricultural processes generate energy, which can be processed to help solve the energy crisis. Grassroots Energy (GRE) allows off-grid, rural consumers to get reliable and sustainable energy solutions to improve their quality of life. We set up minigrids in off-grid locations in India using bioenergy and local resources.

SS: Orora Global reduces energy poverty by breaking down barriers of access to providing reliable and affordable clean-energy solutions to rural and semi-urban communities across the world. Since Orora is dedicated to helping women, we’ve developed a training program where we hire and train women from rural villages to sell our products and, in exchange, make a commission. Instead of creating an entirely new infrastructure, Orora distributes its products to rural markets through partnerships with NGOs, nonprofits, and self-help groups, who either purchase or help distribute the products.

Together, you collaborated to develop a lantern that has become a best-seller for GRE. What does it do?

SS: The lantern, called the 10W Rechargeable LED Lantern, provides lighting and cell phone charging. It has a high-efficiency LED bulb and offers up to 85 percent power savings. It can be charged using a solar panel or an external AC adapter.

MA: Since GRE’s consumers have limited or no access to electricity, they want easy-to-use, long-lasting products. The lanterns are charged at our electricity-generating points and distributed in village communities. These consumers use the lanterns and return to recharge them, which effectively replaces the need for the fossil fuel kerosene.

How did you work together to develop the lantern?

MA: Orora has a team based in Bangalore. I gave Savitha my specific needs, and, after various iterations, we developed a prototype.

SS: Once the prototype was used in the field, we incorporated feedback into further development of the lantern. After a few versions, the final product was ready. We hope to innovate even further to come up with more technology solutions for the rural market.

What was it like collaborating with another Babson graduate on the project?

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SS: It’s comforting to work with a fellow graduate who is like-minded, passionate about social impact, and professional in problem solving.

MA: It’s also comforting because the relationships are long term. We continue to work together, and GRE will scale with various lighting solutions provided by Savitha and her team.

Have you collaborated with any other Babson alumni?

SS: I met John Chaimanis MBA’07 through the Babson Energy and Environmental Club, and brought him onboard at Orora as an expert in clean-energy finance. We are also working with a few Babson student startups, including Womentum, a young venture focused on providing seed funding to women who want to start a small business in rural communities.