The India we live in today is full of paradoxes ! On one hand, we believe we can reach for the stars (quite literally). On the other hand more than 32,000 villages continue to lack power in India today. The absence of electrification in India represents a serious concern. Even those villages that have grid access, power outages represent a frequent frustration.
In sun-drenched Rajasthan, Ajaita Shah is working to change that. Through Frontier Markets, a social enterprise she co-founded back in 2011, the 29-year-old cleantech entrepreneur is looking to provide solar-powered lighting solutions to some of the state’s poorest citizens.
Ajaita Shah is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Frontier Markets and the President of Frontier Innovations Foundation.
[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” ]Frontier Markets is a rural marketing, sales, and service distribution company that provides access to affordable and quality consumer durables to low-income households in India. Frontier Markets is currently operating in rural India and working primarily with clean energy products like solar lighting and smokeless stoves.[/box]
Frontier Markets was established in response to the market failure to provide rural villagers in India with access, training, and servicing for clean-energy products. Despite a clear demand, rural villagers are reluctant to purchase clean energy solutions either because they are not educated on how they work, have skewed quality perceptions of solar due to government subsidies and cheap products that flooded the market, and a lack of trust in solar based on an inferior product purchased in the past.
Product companies exist that design products with this target customer group in mind, but they lack on-the-ground infrastructure to deliver these to last-mile locations, do not understand the rural customer, and do not have the capability to provide education and servicing after a sale is made. Frontier Markets tries to overcome these problems.
“We offer a unique distribution model as part of our inclusive business commitment, partnering with local entrepreneurs who sell clean-energy products under the brand name ‘Saral Jeevan.’ We have set up brick-and-mortar service facilities to fix any technical issues, as well as educate customers. We periodically meet with consumers to better understand their product and design needs, so that by working with technical partners we are able to provide them with high-quality and relevant products. Because of our high-touch approach and emphasis on quick and simple servicing, customers have begun to trust our brand and regain confidence in clean-energy solutions as a way to improve household health, wealth and productivity.”
says Ajaita. Frontier Market’s field team creates new branches every quarter that capture standardized markets and build the right product basket to run a sustainable profit center. Each branch at full capacity covers 300,000 households with 30 franchise retail points. Their research and operations teams continually select and test new products and provide feedback to manufacturers to improve product design and quality. It is their close relationship with their customers makes the company unique in this market.
With five years of microfinance experience in India with organizations like SKS Microfinance, and Ujjivan Financial Services, Ajaita has also worked on numerous development projects in seven Indian states. In 2014, Ajaita was named in Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list of social entrepreneurs. So what next for Ajaita and Frontier markets ?
“Moving beyond India, inspiring others to be a part of the social business world, help move policies that resonate with challenges on the ground, be able to globally replicate our work through partnerships with others. I want to be prepared to smile – be prepared to see a satellite map with less dark patches, and more lights, a shift in the poverty line.“