Interview with The Solar Man सौर मानव, Sachin Shigwan

I have been following Sachin Shigwan’s work on LinkedIn for a while now. I am impressed and I wanted to share his journey with you all through this interview. Sachin Shigwan is the Managing Director, Green India Initiative Pvt. Ltd which is a CSR Consultancy and an Engineering Procurement and Contract (EPC) partner for CSR; Founder and President, Green I Initiative Foundation; and Proprietor, Woo Advertising. This interview will focus on Sachin’s marketing skills and how they are helping his mission to light up 1000 villages, schools and anganwadis till 2020.

You run an advertising firm called Woo Advertising. It offers various services such as website development, online promotions, social media, etc. So, how does this help your other firm – the Green India Initiative Private Limited?

Sachin: A decade before, in 2009, I started a firm Woo Advertising which was a partnership firm started with one of my friends who is a creative guy. At that time, I was a marketing guy. I convinced people in a good way. He approached me with an idea that he wanted to start a business in the advertising industry. I agreed. The era of online marketing was developing at that time. We started with website development, online promotions, YouTube marketing, and many other technologies. He took care of the creative side of things and I was responsible to market them. First things first, we had to market our own product. We started meeting people and we gave away a few free services hoping that it will impress them and get us more work. Slowly but steadily we are now getting good results.

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Is the Green India Initiative Private Limited your own organization or is it a partnership also?

Sachin: Yes, it is a private limited company. The idea was conceived in 2009 and I am the first generation of the business. My whole family was never in business, they were in farming. We come from a farming background. My grandfather in the late 1960s settled in Mumbai and so did the rest of my family. They did not have any experience in the business. I wanted to do something which is my passion as well as my profession. I wanted to serve people in a different way – where receivers of my services and the donors who support these services will be happy. However, the work was moving towards complete social work. You cannot earn anything, you just put your money for the community. This concept was still in its infancy. On the other hand, Woo Advertising is a for-profit business. We used our advertising experience from our for-profit business in our not-for-profit initiative. Now if you search on Google, you will find our company websites on the top of the first search page. We have invested our money, efforts, and time. This has resulted in calls from Corporates, social NGOs and individuals. Green India Initiative Private Limited is a social enterprise that serves Corporates to help with their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) requirements to execute their projects in an innovative and sustainable way. Corporates have money to invest, not time, and they want a good project to serve the communities. Fast forwarding 3 to 4 years, I came across the concept of social enterprise. This led to us defining our core purpose, mission, and values. In a social enterprise, one can earn in a marginally good way, you can earn sufficient survival money, support the beneficiaries, and serve the corporates. We are able to support the underprivileged, slum people and women from urban areas; farmers, women, and students from rural areas, and also the entire village. Our work includes lighting up villages, schools, and anganwadis. Our target is to light up 1000 of these till 2020 through renewable energies such as solar energy, wind energy, and biogas. We have reached 100 and we have 900 more to light up. We are earning through our organization Green India Initiative Private Limited, but we want to contribute more. This gave birth to The Green I Initiative Foundation – I for India, I refer to oneself. It is purely NGO where we undertake educational, health, and environmental awareness raising projects.

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The Green I Initiative Foundation’s Projects:

  • India First Life Insurance Company – Awareness on Environment Day

  • US Consulate – Awareness projects every year on 5th of June, WED

  • Sumitoma Corporation Pvt. Ltd. (A Japanese company in India) – Educational projects supporting 5 rural schools

  • E-clinical works – School redevelopment project, 3 schools in Dahanu

  • Rotary Clubs – Best out of best competition – Change the world

  • Observation of World Water Day, March

Through our social entrepreneur organization, we run the Gram Energy Education program, where we support a school, fulfilling their electricity needs by providing a mini solar grid that uses a battery bank. It helps them run their fans, lights, water motor, and computers. They get uninterrupted 24X7 electricity, but since they do not operate 24X7 they are able to save excess energy in the battery banks. We also run a similar program called Gram Energy Village where we support the village’s electricity needs. We install mini-grids of 3, 5 or 10 kilowatts in villages catering to diverse needs. We also provide solar streets in villages for a fear-free living. In villages, nobody leaves their homes after 7 PM because they are surrounded by wildlife. During load shedding hours, when they don’t have electricity in their houses, these street lights provide a community meeting point. People meet out and celebrate their day and continue working on their daily chores. Women benefit from flexible working hours, students can play and study outside. This is clean and green energy that is free to these villagers. They don’t have to invest.

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How do you make illiterate people understand and use solar technology? How do they feel about it and what strategies do you use?

Sachin: We make them understand these kinds of projects through our training programs. Villagers do not contribute initially but only when the product is no longer under warranty. At this stage, the product belongs to them and they have to maintain it to get long term benefits, which is something they understand and want to be a part of. We involve Gram Panchayats, local bodies, and corporates so that they are also involved in the maintenance. This is how we make this project sustainable, we do not want to do one-time community service. In 2009, when I had started my projects with Rotary Clubs, I noticed that villagers were throwing away solar panels and lanterns. This was the time when China was dumping a lot of technology in India. These technologies worked for a few months and the villagers didn’t know how to maintain them. They thought the product wasn’t working well and wasn’t useful to them. This is an example of a perfect technology which people weren’t utilizing in the right way. I started drawing a rough draft on how to solve this problem. With God’s grace and support of my colleagues, we reached more than 100 villages, schools, and anganwadis. We are happy that this number is increasing. We are also lighting up crematoriums. We have supported living beings and now we are supporting life after death too. Gram Energy Water project provides potable drinking water through solar energy – solar water system. We install a panel and submersible pump in an open well or bore well. We draw water and store it in a tank 15 ft above the ground and circular it using the gravity force to a common area. Women have to no more walk for 2 km or 4 km to fetch water a bucket of water. We have installed this in 4-5 villages and they are very happy with the outcome. We get their blessings. Till date, we have lit up the lives of more than 10,000 people.

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How do you apply your advertising skills for fundraising?

Sachin: We have not yet started fundraising. We are going through compliances – certifications of 80G (a tax rebate to donors that the government offers under Section 80G donation as an incentive for donation), which is under process. Next step will be fundraising. We definitely need funds for the NGO to do good projects. For our commercial arm, Green India Initiative Pvt. Ltd., we are targeting corporates for big projects that NGO cannot do officially. Green I Initiative Foundation works in the areas of Education, Health, and Environmental Awareness. Green India Initiative Pvt. Ltd. works in the area of Renewable Energy for corporates and NGOs such as Rotary Club, Lion’s Club, Life of Light, Chirag Foundation, Angan, and many other NGOs. NGOs cannot provide a bill but a donation receipt. Although for-profit, the profit goes back to the community in a different way.

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Your work is your greatest marketing tool. What other tools can individuals or organizations involved in the environmental and social field use to promote their work? A lot of people do good work but do not promote their work. What tools can they use to promote their work?

Sachin: They should create their brand. People do good work but they are not branding it. I can give you one detailed example. On the 26th of January, 2019, some people received Bharat Ratna and many other awards from Govt. of India. They were doing good work for the last many years, for decades and decades. This year they received recognition. They were found through social media. We were happy that people who do real work are getting recognized. But they do not publicize it. People who are tech savvy took photos, took information like you are doing now. They publicize the whole document and now the world knows about their work. A lady from the south converted one region into a forest, with lakhs of trees. A farmer who did similar work is getting recognized. I would suggest that they should create a brand by inviting young people on board. I have young people on my board. One is Mr. Suyog Gangavane. He joined our organization three years back when he was just 18 years old. He gave us so many good ideas that we have implemented and we have created our brand. The brand ‘Solar Man’ started when few people started teasing me, ‘‘Aye! Solar Man aagaya! (Solar Man is here!)’.  I wanted to take it in a positive way. With my advertising background, I thought, let’s make this brand bigger by utilizing this. Green India is already a brand but you need more brands and outlets through which you get people’s attention. A friend from Marathi Press Media, he came with me to the village to interview me and see our work. He saw the condition of the villages, how the villagers live and eat, how far they go to fetch water, how their roads are, conditions of the schools, etc. He saw how having solar streets and solar water pumps had changed their lives, how they respected us. He was the one who officially gave me the name ‘Solar Man सौर मानव’ in the media. Now people invite me on board, colleges, and schools. Our brand is developing. This happened because of a few people like Suyog Gangavane who is a charming personality with good ideas. He writes good articles and talks to people while he creates the brand. You have to take young people on board. He suggested how we can do videos and put on YouTube. We have an active YouTube Channel. Every Monday, we post a video. We have few other young members on board such as Swapnil Pathak, Yash Dangle, Shashikant Pujari, Gaurang Rajwadkar, Sourav Gorai, Harshal Boir, Vinayak Salunke. So many names to take. We also have experienced people on board who guide us. Mr. Deepak Gadiya is our mentor. He is called the father of thermal solar. If you visit Shirdi Sai Baba or Tirupathi Balaji, you will find a thermal solar plant. Their kitchen runs on this. Entire cooking is free now that their ROI is achieved. The food is healthy because it is cooked on solar. Mr. Pranav Gadiya, his nephew, is also guiding us. We are taking rural school projects with them. Mr. Rajamohan has good knowledge of NGOs. Alpesh Gurav and Sarika Nar is an advocate. Other members include Nagesh Keshudas with more than 25 years of social work experience in RSS and other organizations. Suyog is the star of our work. He did wonderful work in both the organizations from last 3 years. We want to recognize him through social media also. So, branding is one thing people can do to promote the work, second is social media. To give you my example, I have more than 3,000+ Facebook connections, nearly 13,000 professional connections on LinkedIn, more than 1,200 connections on Instagram, and more than 1,500 connections on WhatsApp. Not many know that LinkedIn is a good tool to improve your business contacts. People there appreciate sensible news, not political news, no ‘Good Morning’ messages. We have a team of photographers who take photos and videos of our work in villages. Swapnil, Yash, and Shashikant create content and put it out in a creative way. Creativity is showing emotions, we show how our work affects children and people in the villages. This attracts readers, connection, and projects. There are so many free blogs where you can publish your articles.

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You are taking a lot of efforts to promote your work. Your work definitely needs promoting, it needs to go places.

Sachin: Not only in India but all over the world. Now, you came into the picture, so I’m happy that people are recognizing our work and taking it further.

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I will ask you one last question. Marketing is constantly being challenged by activists on accounts of greenwashing. What do you think about greenwashing in India and does your advertising firm educate organizations about it? I ask you because you come from a background in advertising.

Sachin: There are few companies who say their product is green or eco-friendly, but actually it is not. But if you start opposing them now, it goes in a destructive direction. We make people aware of various platforms. We make them aware, but not in an authoritative way. The youth of India are very aware. Swaccha Bharat Mission is one of the campaigns that is taking good shape. If you see littering people, they are more than 45 years of age, youth do not litter. The youth are also aware of eco-friendly tags. Do not worry about greenwashing, brands who are doing it are going to lose their credibility in the future. Wrong publicity will go away and the right products will come into the picture. As an advertising firm, we follow ethical practices. All our organizations follow these four values – C.A.S.S.

  1. Contribute – whatever we do, we contribute to people’s lives

  2. Adaptability – whatever new comes in India or in the world, we try to adopt the new technology or idea, new people in the organization

  3. Satisfaction – we should satisfy ourselves first, then only we can satisfy others.

  4. Synergy – we have synergy in our team. There can be differences, a difference of opinion, but have synergy with each other that’s why we are able to continuously work on our projects.

Our core purpose is to channelize appropriate investment for the advancement of our beloved country India while taking care of underprivileged and environment at large. Our mission is to light up 1,000 villages, schools and anganwadis till 2020. You didn’t ask me this question, but my main source of energy is my mother who has shown us that hard work and good intention towards people leads to great things. Even if the other person has a bad intention you should have the good intention to support them till they refuse to take your support.

I’m glad you asked and answered that question for me! Thank you, Sachin! I wish you all the best for your 2020 goal and I’m sure you will reach it the way you are going right now. Very sure of it.

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I will urge you to visit the organization’s websites to learn more about Sachin Shigwan, the Solar Man, his life, and his work.

Sachin Yashwant Shigwan

Director – Green India Initiative Pvt. Ltd.

+9819473793 | info@giipl.in | sachin@tgii.in

www.giipl.in |

Chairman Trustee of The Green I Initiative Foundation, www.tgii.in

Know as The Solar Man

www.thesolarman.co.in

Pursuing MBA in Social Entrepreneurship from NMIMS, Mumbai

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