Lighting up lives in India

March 08, 2016
Urban Adventures

Pollinate Energy is a social business dedicated to improving the lives of India’s urban poor. With a focus on sustainable solutions such as solar lights, Pollinate Energy helps families living in India’s tent slums to reduce indoor pollution from kerosene and wood stoves, enjoy better quality light, and save money.

They work with local people with an entrepreneurial spirit and who are passionate about helping slum communities. “Pollinators” are given training so they can start their own business while also helping to improve the lives of fellow locals, often forming very close relationships with their communities.

Pollinate Energy currently operates in Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Kolkata, with plans to expand to two additional cities later this year. Urban Adventures partners with Pollinate Energy to operate our In Focus tours in Kolkata, with net proceeds going directly back to the organisation. (Editor’s note: Our Kolkata Slum Tour is currently on hold for the season, but will be back in 2019.)

Meet: Soma in Kolkata


“I’m 29 years old, and a single mother of an 11-year-old son. I was forced into marriage to a 33-year-old man when I was 16. I didn’t want to get married. I wanted to study but my father forced me to marry.

My husband was very sick early in our marriage and his medical bills were so expensive that sometimes I couldn’t even buy milk for my son. [My husband] died of a heart attack at age 40. That same year, my father also passed away so my mother came to live with me.

I always felt like I deserved better. If my father would have allowed me to study I would have been better able to support my son. Since then, I decided I would do everything I can, so he could do everything I couldn’t.

I used to make paper packets for a living — only 500 rupees (approximately US $7) per month. My brother-in-law had to help me out for my son’s studies, and other family members would sometimes provide us food. But it wasn’t enough.

I got a loan from Ujivan, a microfinance institution. When I asked the manager at Ujivan if he had a job for me, he introduced me to Pollinate Energy. With their support, I started my own business selling solar lights. I’m able to manage my money, and even save a little bit some months.

I am very proud of my son. He’s a very good student and wants to be a doctor and help poor people get affordable treatment. He’s even helping me sell lights! He talked to his teacher about my work and they want to buy a light for the school.”

Read more about organisations helping to improve the lives of women around the globe in our special-edition digital magazine in honour of International Women’s Day.