Making light

There is a light that never goes out.

In the slum board quarters of Sadaramangala, Whitefield, Bengaluru life is not easy, the roads are unpaved, electricity comes and goes because it’s an unauthorized colony. Jayanthi knew there was a problem of light and that a candle business, with candles made locally and sold locally, would mean she could sell candles at a cheaper price to people in her community that needed them the most.
Jayanthi learned how to make candles and tried to start her business, but she could not find finance to begin. Then one day a Be! Movie was screened in her slum and she called us. Jayanthi made it through the selection process and had a great first day of work: there was an all-day power cut so she made candles through the night, but besides the bright spark beginning, she’s established a long-term sustainable candle business, with an innovation – she’s recycling wax.

Used church candles resurrect to light up Sadaramangala, Whitefield, Bengaluru

Where do you get recycled wax?
Professor Ramesh stepped in with good advice: churches.
Wax costs Rs 2,500 in the market, and from churches, leftover candle wax is much less and exactly the same quality. So using this wax Jayanthi is able to finally make a profit.
Families in Jayanthi’s slum often use 100 candles a month and struggle to make those payments, Jayanthi’s candles cost Rs. 2 less than the others in the market and burn for over 6 hours, so to date she’s sold over 6,000 candles to light up her community. This means children can study at night, women can work and everyone feels happier about their savings. With Diwali coming soon, she’s got an order for decorative candles and Jayanthi is enjoying the journey.

The candle shop busy at work

“I went to the bank for a loan to make candles they said because we lived in a slum we couldn’t get a loan. We didn’t say a word, we just came away and I gave up trying… I spoke to Be! Fund and asked them for help, and they helped me,” Jayanthi remembers.
Jayanthi has created jobs for three women in her community—Geetha, Nagalakshmi and Nandini, who previously had to travel over 10 km to work as housemaids. Jayanthi has also recently taken on three more women as trainees. She is a role model entrepreneur in her community by proving that she can create her own business and solve a problem for everyone. “When the electricity goes off, it’s a big problem for school children. They buy my candles for less and they are able to study. They have a brighter future.”

The electricity connection at Jayanthi’s house

That said, realistically, candles are not the long-term solution for the children of Sadaramangala and Jayanthi is already thinking about what next: as an un-authourized colony what else is a long term solution for light? Solar? Biogas? Stay tuned until the new round of lights go on

The answer lies with the Bees!

Honey bees – The world’s most efficient pollination agents

You may want to swat a bee when you seen one but they do more than just give a nasty little sting. Honey bees are responsible for at least 30 percent of the world crop production and account for 80% of all insect pollination, but 460 kms east of Mumbai in Vidharba, a region famous for its cotton cultivation they are nowhere to be found.

Vidarbha has suffered from drought conditions for the last 15 years and high debt rates have caused many farmers to see no hope and devastatingly, end their lives. Even after government intervention crop productivity has been much lower than the national average of 5 quintals per acre.

A cotton field in Vidarbha, a region where only 4% of the land is irrigated 

So, can bees work their pollination magic to help this region’s declining crop yields? 19 year old, agriculture student, Tushar thinks they can. And he has a business plan to prove it. He had watched a documentary on beekeeping (apiculture) on Discovery channel and it occurred to him that a bee keeping business could increase the crop yields for farmers in his village and he could make profits selling the honey extract.

“A bee-keeping business which will increase crop yields for farmers and enable me to sell the honey produced by the bees” – Tushar

He went looking for capital to fund his venture. A venture he believed could solve his community’s problem. But banks would not loan him the money as he had no collateral left to pledge.

Tushar called us after watching one of the Be! Movies – our Bollywood inspired movies about young entrepreneurs who solve problems by building a business. After two long interviews, we visited Tushar in his village and put his idea to test and assess whether it’s risk capital he needs.

We met a number of farmers and found that they liked Tushar’s idea. 46 of them had given him confirmed orders. Ashok Daiya, a cotton and soy bean farmer with 20 acres of land said “by installing the bee boxes, I will use less pesticides and my pesticide cost will go down by 50%”

Tushar explains the benefits of honey bees to a cotton farmer

But bee keeping is not as easy at it sounds. Honey bees are under threat globally. A condition called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is causing bee populations to plummet to alarming levels.  Scientists are still not sure of its occurrence and say factors such as erratic whether, mites, malnutrition, stress and fungi are to blame. According to Natural Resources Defense Council in United States alone, more than 25 percent of the managed honey bee population has disappeared since 1990

There is no doubt that Tushar’s beekeeping business will have an impact in his village in the short term. But with honey bees at risk globally and causes of their mysterious disappearance still not certain, he will need to be ready to tackle any curveball the business throws at him if he is to succeed in the long run. Risks come in many shapes and forms.