The Big Problem:
Even when the power grid is functioning in the world’s largest democracy, the rural poor live in darkness during the evening hours. Shops must close early, and children are not able to keep up with schoolwork after long hours of helping with the family farm. Santosh, a rural mother, thought a kerosene lantern would bring her child light, security and safety from darkness. But instead, the lantern fell, and flames engulfed her humble dwelling and sleeping family within a few short minutes.
Over half the world’s population uses deadly cooking and lighting practices that kill over two million people like Santosh annually, half of these children under the age of five. Product solutions exist to fix this staggering issue, but the problem lies in effective education and distribution channels for these products that do not exist at scale. We see a massive need for access to clean energy products for the BOP from a brand they can trust, and have made it our mission to eliminate fatal sources of indoor pollution for millions of rural homes in India and beyond.
The Frontier Innovations Foundation was inspired by the challenges faced by Frontier Markets, an India-based sales and distribution company that provides product solutions to end indoor pollution and millions of senseless deaths each year. For-profit social enterprises like FM work tirelessly to achieve social and environmental impact, all while maintaining financial sustainability. However, because of this specific business model and its inherent constraints, there are several challenges to the work.
Frontier Innovations is a non-profit foundation based in New York, USA, that works in India and elsewhere to allay the challenges faced by social enterprises. The Foundation’s core mission is to address these challenges so that last-mile social enterprises that provide access to clean-energy solutions may reach the greatest impact at scale.
As a social enterprise FM has raised equity to strengthen its team, its model, and its operations preparing for scale. While working in rural areas, FM realized the challenges to doing more, and doing better. These challenges include:
- Reaching the poorest of the poor: Many households do not have any lighting, housing, or income to afford solar solutions. As a business, it is difficult to justify reaching these households and provide subsidized or even free lighting solutions. However, we realize these households need our solutions the most.
- Impact Evaluations and Assessments: Without accurate impact evaluations, impact metrics, and a team dedicated to measuring the effects of kerosene versus solar lighting on rural livelihoods, it is difficult for FM to fully and thoroughly show the positive effects of clean energy interventions in BOP areas.
- Innovative Pilots: Funding failures lead to disruptive innovation that can revolutionize models to better serve the poor. However, in order to test technology platforms, provide end-user and franchisee financing, permit households to examine products such as cook stoves for months at a time, it is difficult to implement these pilots.
- Information Sharing and Transparency: Many organizations are committed to clean energy access for the poor, yet there is a dearth of platforms to share this information with – it is difficult to devote the required time to create documents, share information, and help other replicate model and efforts globally.
Each of the Foundation’s activities directly addresses these challenges. We seek to partner with social businesses, entrepreneurs, NGOs, government and transnational agencies toward the goal of providing access to clean energy solutions for the BoP worldwide.