Anjali Garg is the manager of the IFC’s Lighting Asia India Program.
The IFC Lighting Asia India initiative, through helping portfolio companies scale their operations, has been a key catalyzer of the rural energy access ecosystem in India. Ms. Garg has helped spearhead these efforts and in this interview, we will explore the development of the rural energy market over the past decade, and the work the IFC has engaged in, in this space. I would like to give a special thanks to Ms. Garg, who has been absolutely instrumental in enabling this interview series.
In case interested - transcript link here:
Topics covered in this podcast:
[1:47] Ms. Garg introduces her background and what led her into the energy space?
[4:14] How has the energy access market developed over the past decade?
[7:08] The IFC's consumer awareness - Suryoday - campaign and the team's key learnings
[12:51] Breakdown of what a consumer awareness campaign looks like in the rural context
[15:48] How does the IFC team approach the expansion process when helping its portfolio companies? What are the first executional steps?
[22:15] How did the IFC team facilitate the microfinancing partnerships for Devidayal Solar in Rajasthan?
[25:07] Ms. Garg reflects on the most rewarding and fulfilling aspects of her professional journey
00:06 Karan Takhar
Hello, everyone, This is Karan Takhar, and welcome to the Zenergy podcast. Over the past decade, India has done an impressive job of integrating renewable energy into its energy mix for this Fullbrights podcast series. I sought to investigate the enabling factors and potential of India's global leadership in renewable energy with the focus on solar. This Fulbright series is broken down into Four Seasons. In this season, through conversations with ten leading social entrepreneurs and development experts, we will illustrate how renewable energy in India has taken off at The rural level not only will the series provide insight into their fascinating entrepreneurial journey but also how they've been able to overcome the financing. Consumer awareness and distribution challenges associated with rural solar energy deployment at a large scale.
In this episode, I will be speaking with Anjali Garg, who manages the IFC lighting Asia India program. This IFC program, through helping portfolio companies scale their operations, has been a key enabler of the rural energy access ecosystem in India. Anjali spearheaded these efforts and has also been instrumental in enabling this interview series to happen. I'd like to give a special thanks to Anjali for all of her support during this process, and I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I enjoyed speaking with Anjali.
Thank you. So can you briefly tell Us about where you grew up, your early educational passions, and ultimately what led you to working in the energy space and in this role with the IFC?
02:01 Anjali Garg
I was born and brought up in Delhi, and I completed my education in economic Campanelli in New Delhi in 20001. I actually Grew up in a multicultural environment as my parents Come from two very distinct states of India, Haryana and Tamil Nadu. So, pull the part I was always very, very passionate about the developing selected even as I was growing up as a child. But the entry into the Energy sector was not planned at all, so I was selected for the summer internship by Terry. During my Master's program at the jail university and I ended up joining my two-month. There's so much I was doing in the econometric model to Port Terry demand in India, which was too new for me. But it was so much fun, and I enjoyed that tint that I ended up actually accepting the final job placement offer as well from Terry, and I started working. Victory from 2000 It was after almost More than eight years, they married, and this is the place where I learned the ABC of the energy sector. All that I know about the sector, the background, and the base work was set up in Jerry. I then moved to the World Bank Group in 2009, and in 2011 I shifted gears to focus on the private sector, and I joined the International Finance Corporation, which is also part of the World Bank. So now I have 19 years of agents in the energy sector on rural access. You know I did not do a lot of work on the ruler exactly while I was in Terry. It all started mostly in 2009 when I joined The World Bank was only in 2013 when I was tasked to manage IP lighting Asia India initiative that I actually became passionate about actually lighting Asia India program works with the private sector, and the objective is to build for a clinical market for affordable modern off-grid lighting solutions and also efficient supply and pull for India or unelectrified and under it Welcome to the program, currently operational in five states across India which include Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, and Assam. So that's what my initial story Is on how I Ended up working in the energy sector and very energetic.
04:11 Karan Takhar
Could you talk a little bit about how This market has developed over The time you've been involved in it?
04:20 Anjali Garg
Sure, so I've been involved in this market since 2012. That's when we launched. It seems like the Mission India program that was actually the time when 400 million people in India still relied on kerosene for basically, and that was in official census of India number India that had the largest population. On the planet without electricity access, so it became the mode and the biggest challenge that the country was facing, and that's why I actually interviewed the lighting issue India program to work in this sector and to ensure that more and more people get active to quality modern opera lighting. So the first four-year date was from 2012 to 2016 because the problem statement was so huge. There were 400 million people still living and relying on kerosene. The biggest focus for us was to introduce quality solar products into the Indian rural market. Focus on removing the market entry barrier, which included, you know, lack of distribution channel, lack of consumer awareness, lack of financing. Also, to provide the right market intelligence to the private sector companies who were trying to enter this market because they need to know where to go, what products to take, how to go into these markets, and what to focus on so 2016 onward. It's a very different market in India. You didn't in it after this object scheme was announced a couple of years ago, and with the private sector innovating so much on products, the phase of the market and so has our program, so I see lighting Asia and India. Therefore we've even, the last couple of years, shifted our focus to continue to work with the private sector and to, you know, eat these markets where energy actor continues to be a problem, but also to provide solutions to meet the increasing demand that we've seen for And to also enable consumers to then move up the energy ladder. Introduce productive use appliances like solar. Power generators introduce appliances like solar power TV. Explore new payment solutions. Look at digital payment solutions and also domestic manufacturing of quality products, so that is how the market has moved from where they were, you know, just a basic solar Lantern which was in much demand with 400 million people still lacking access to a point where you have solar power television and refrigerator. Digital payment solutions like BAGO, there are also enough products being manufactured in India which are of global quality, but it's been. It's been a transition. It is been a transformation That we have seen in the last 8 to 10 years Which has happened in the sector.
07:07 Karan Takhar
You did touch upon this that one of the key challenges in terms of helping companies reach the rural areas is building consumer awareness for their products, and I know that your team ran a very interesting and effective consumer awareness campaign called the Surya Uday campaign. Can you talk a little bit about this and like some of the key learnings from this experience?
07:35 Anjali Garg
So the Genesis. Here, then, the reason that we do consumer bad math is when you look at, uh, right at the market barriers.
One of the key market barriers is that even if you have the right product, even if you have the right market that you want to go to, even if you have the financing linkages, in case you have the last mile distribution cost, consumers will still not buy the product if they don't know about it If they cannot differentiate between a good and a quality product, they will still end up buying lower price or quality product So when we started in 2012, we realized that more than you know, not being aware of the products and did not even trust solar at the technology for household, so they saw solar as something which was installed in their villages to provide one light outside inside now or you know to light up the street, but they did not realize that they had take good actor quality solar product that could really change their life. The reason was that the market was full of poor quality and counterfeit products of stand-alone solar solutions like Solar Lantern. These products had made it to market, which essentially meant that a handful of consumers who bought these products were not able to differentiate between, as I said, a good and a quality product, and if the product did not work because they were of poor quality, it meant that they were basing their limited disposable cash. What happens after that was the deep bad experiences spread so rapidly by word of mouth that it undermined consumer confidence in the solar solution and then obviously leads to market file loads because if one household in a village has a bad experience, that means that an entire village will never buy that product. This is exactly where you know when the World Bank Group started its focus programmed on energy after starting with lighting Africa and then we went and created a lightly global program, which is the program that actually maintains quality standards which set a baseline level of quality, durability, and truth in advertising. All aim to protect on the model and remove meeting the standard become a requirement for participation in the IFP country program, and Flighting Asia India is one of 220 programs where we only work with products and company in whose products pass through the quality framework. So that's the Genesis of, you know, raising awareness about quality products so that we ensure that consumers, when they go into the market or when they're buying the product, can ask the right question and can then make the right decision for themselves on to your question on the learning, I think we've had lots of learning because it's been a long journey for us and the camp. The most visible part of our program. Most of the other Activities are usually behind the doors where we are actually developing the market and the ecosystem, and then we go into the market with the campaign. So one of the most important learning for us, which I think is now also a prerequisite for any successful campaign, is to ensure that national distribution is in place and is active in the area that you take the campaign to because otherwise, you are doing the campaign. You've done everything else, but the product is not, uh anyway, for consumers to buy an actor, then you know all your efforts movies did. So it's very important to have the channel included. I think the other learning have been to have a partnership approach, so you know, ever so we always try and work and involve as many stakeholders as we can, so we connect with local NGOs, then MFA for greater effectiveness. The other thing is to be ready and be open for changes because any campaign that you're running on the ground is bound to, you know, face challenges from simple things like changing group plan because the van couldn't enter the village or there was something happening in the village for the van couldn't go there and be changed where the van would, or the campaign would go that to that in that on that particular day so to know larger issues like one tune like the weather changes and a sudden storm. So all of these, you have to be flexible and ready for such changes and also to be able to pilot in an experiment with new ideas because what works in Africa or Bangladesh may or may not work in India and what works probably in order to dish may not work in an atom, or so you have to be open to piloting, experimenting, new ideas and new thing as per the geography that you are going through as per the needs of the consumer than the market and to be able to then be flexible and to be able to change maybe a plan which is actually something that we're facing right now So we had, you know, a campaign because of Covid we had a campaign that we were running and now we for this have to completely change the design and the structure of the campaign so that we still achieve the objective, but it is delivered in a different.
12:49 Karan Takhar
I see that makes a lot of sense. Can you give like a little picture of what one campaign?
12:55 Anjali Garg
It looks like sure So, the campaign actually the work on that Planning with the campaign started months ago, many, many months ago, because, again, it is in partnership with all the private sector companies that we work with. We have to ensure that they have They either have a presence there, or they want to go into to that particular geography, So there is the route mapping and the route planning, which is done the actual campaign is multiple components that come together. Typically there is a ban which showcases these products. It may have a dark room inbuilt, or you know, we will set up a dark room so that people and consumers can actually feel and touch doesn't feel the product. You can actually pick it up and see how the light look like when they then they use it, so it will have the product displayed. It will have an audio-visual bogey which explained to them the benefit of solar and quality polar. Lighting solutions in real situations where their mechanic is using the products or a small shopkeeper removing it, or a child is giving it to study so that they can relate to it. Then there are components. This is a van which would go into it. In a common area in the village, we typically would work with the key opinion leader or the women health workers of that village to ensure that consumers are aware that this campaign is going on, and they come to village their village location where the van is simultaneously we will, you know, identify a fool and we'll identify air going up to 10th and 11th and the people who are delivering this campaign on the ground for us are able to go and meet these children And tell them again about solar quality product and the benefits and how to identify the right product for their youth we also focus and we also do captured Indian group meeting So in the same day you will have the van in the village. You will have argument two meetings. You will have a school program in the nearby market. You will have, you know, our team there, which is then increasing awareness and delivering the same message to a retailer and to distributors. So there are multiple components which go on Primal Tanias Lee. There is also the line component, which is ensuring that we are using the channels of digital channels like television, sometimes radio, cable, and television. We've experimented with WhatsApp groups, in this case, so we've tried to put together everything possible in geography to reach the consumer with the message of quality.
15:38 Karan Takhar
But provided a lot of Clarity and just moving forward to another challenge that you mentioned in terms of helping companies go into new areas. So you said that You have to be very receptive to, like, something that works in one state may not work in another, and When I was talking to, uh, Geetha, Shah of Frontier markets, she mentioned how so initially they were very focused on Rajasthan and then after linking with the AFC team and working with you all for quite a bit of time, then you helped frontier scale to new states. So I'm curious as to when you're helping a company such as frontier or whoever enters a new area. How do you approach this process One like, how do you know if a company is ready to expand, and then after giving the green light, what are some of the 1st Steps from an execution standpoint?
16:41 Anjali Garg
You got a very interesting question, and you Have a long history with frontier market. It was obviously the first company that we started working with, a distribution company that we started working with focused in Rajasthan most of the other company that we work with have a presence across multiple states, but frontier market, you know, we're focusing only on Rajasthan, and this is also, being you know a personal area of focus for me in the program which is but you know the identification of opportunity where we can mainstream gender-focused activity in business model C So as you would know, you know the 20 market research model has developed over time, and they now work with solar to healing which is a network of female entrepreneurs that they work with who sell the product and also offer after sales and service The customers, so this is something that we know recognized very early on in the program when we were looking at the distribution and the last mile challenge for object energy in India. Like that, why not you or why not explore using women as a distributor because there could be a potential solution. They are, in any case, their customers. They have the best access to households. They understand you know the problem, their household state, and they're also trusted. So this is how I work with frontier Market started where we now started helping them develop and scale up the network of super silly but focused only in Graduate School because you know that that's where Jermaine programmer poker. John, but what we saw very quickly was that you know, the partnership was very, very fruitful. It led to an increase of failed in their 20 markets by almost 30% after. Yeah, that's an amazing achievement, and it really opened up the market for lighting products.
18:22 Karan Takhar
I saw that.
18:30 Anjali Garg
And we continue to work with Frontier Market focused in Rajasthan in the first few years, You know, scaling up the network, doing consumer awareness link it with us right now. We also worked. Then during that time to focus on their go-to-market strategy and the expansion strategy, and we realized, and we all agreed, that at some point, it was important for frontier markets to expand into other parts of India because they had very dependable and scalable Business model and so much understanding in their understanding of rural distribution, the challenges and something really developed this net, So when the timing you know, and then we started talking about the phase two of our Lighting India program, we started in 2016. We started exploring with frontier markets on their scalar plan, then as a joint team, we all realized that frontier was reading to enter into new states and then copy on Rajasthan, so the timing absolutely matched by 10.
They really understood the nuances of a single distribution. They had a very strong team in case, which could actually then take this forward because it's important that you have a belly tablet from team will be able to deliver this as you are expanding, so it was a very interesting time for us. We worked together on the strategy. We identified which state to go to because we were entering we were going into five states, including Rajasthan, and it was important that for For frontier markets not to spread itself too thin, so we had to identify the state there, you know it, they could really expand. Their strong partnership could be formed between frontier markets and NGOs or MFA that they would work with to create that network of solar, and then this product is, you know, the 20 market was actually able to launch this product. The first was made in India. Solar power taught that meet well. I think global quality standards that became the high point of the partnership because the chanty market now also a product of its own to take into these new states, and this product is now being sold in all of frontiers network, and we're also exploring frontier engine to Africa to IC Lighting Africa program. With this product, writing, all of this came together at the right time, and it matched, You know, our objective of introducing new products new into new geographies and frontiers planned correct tensioning because we've been working with them for so long, and it was already always on the agenda, I think it just fell into place beautifully.
21:07 Karan Takhar
I see I see it.
21:08 Anjali Garg
You know, I want to take a moment to play that our work to thermalize in frontier markets have taught us so much about gender means changing and energy after we piloted so many new things with them and user model that the world is now looking at in these, you know, as a team as an individual who come to understand that women are not only important customers in entrepreneurs, but they are catalyst to the modern off-grid lighting revolution, and this won't work till companies start believing that it makes business sense to have immunity heart of their operations.
21:42 Karan Takhar
Thank you, and just moving. I know we don't have too much time left, so this will probably be my last question with regard to work-related things. So he's very much into the productive use of appliances market in terms of trying to bring solar refrigerators to these rural communities, which is a very new product, and he was mentioning how, because of how new of a product. Solar refrigerators are building awareness with the banks is also another key consideration that one must do, and that process also involves like the same level of commitment in terms of building awareness with the banks often involves the same level commitment with building awareness to a consumer and that the IFC team really helped in terms of establishing a few of these partnerships, how did that happen?
22:43 Anjali Takhar
Yeah, so again, you know, as I said, one of the market entry barriers or scalar barriers with financing, and while for smaller product microfinance institutions play a very, very important and critical role, you know to enable to work on numerous access. Some of these products sort larger productive use appliances like what all Solar has it as a solar refrigerator. It's important to reach out to rural banks and to a bank which have present in rural areas with David Altschuler. We were able to facilitate some partnership. We were able to introduce them to some bank which also wanted to expand their rural footprint, and they wanted to, you know, work in these areas. One of the key things that we do for any state, any geography that we go to is to map the entire ecosystem. We map the relevant institutions in the state, especially the financing institution, the banks, and the microfinance institution, and then we do go and meet them, and we focus on increase Evening or enhancing their knowledge and awareness about quality solar products. We tell them, you know how important it is for these products to reach their customers? Build simple solar lighting simulations or productive use appliances which can actually help customers, you know, get a reliable source of income, so it is a part. It is a key part of our program to build that linkage and to create that awareness, and that is what we've been able to do for the solar refrigerator and other product quality products that TV they are Chad, and we will help them develop commodity partnerships, and we hope that these partnerships really take off and therefore get excited You know the next day of our campaign is.
24:25 Karan Takhar
It seems like there's much potential.
24:27 Anjali Garg
Yeah, yes, So it's important. It's important because the product and product information is not core to financing institution's business. So it is important for them for us to actually reach out to them and tell them that these products are available and they are tested, and they come with very reliable after Intent, Service plan, and framework so that they. So they're able to trust the technology in the product, and you know then the bank they're able to.
24:57 Karan Takhar
Just lastly, so you've been with the IFC lighting Asia India team for the last eight years now. Just reflecting back on your work and like back then to where you are now, did you just see it culminating like this, and like what have been some of the more personally rewarding, like fulfilling aspects of your professional journey?
25:21 Anjali Garg
I think every part of my journey, whether it was with Terry and then the World Bank and the knife, he has had an impact on me as a professional and on a personal level but honestly, the last year that focused mostly on a lot on rural energy access had in most enriching and satisfying experience of my professional life, I think I've also gained a lot more insight on you know what my country is all about because I've traveled so much to rural areas I have, you know, start in rural households and I've had my meal then I've had my tea with them, and it's been a been an amazing journey and to know that you know at some point there is a little bit of contribution that you've had can have an individual in their life, and it's very satisfying. Starting on a personal and professional try Right, I think this has truly been the most satisfying part of my 19 years in this sector. But as I said, every organization that I have worked with and every sector that I have worked when in have had a different sort of impact on me, Terry. I'm aware that I learned The basics of the energy sector, then the World Bank. I started working on to religion understanding in one place and then IFP. I worked across energy access and equity transaction, which means women trust after. It's been a very, very complete and satisfying journey, I think. As far as So that that's on my personal priority after as India is concerned on energy access, I think we've been leading the market globally. You know, in recent years, The amount of work which has happened in India hasn't happened anywhere else, from Solar lanterns to solar-powered mills and refrigerators providing income-generating opportunities for global community, I think we've come up a very long way, and I think the interesting part is that everybody has played a role. I mean, there are number of organizations. who played such a key role here, from the Government of India through the saga in the private sector company that we just spoke about the product innovation to business model innovation, the rural banks, MFI, NGO, even the smallest retailer in a local market. By ensuring that you know consumers have active to solar and the bilateral, multilateral region by supporting the overall ecosystem development, I think we would not happen until if it wasn't for all of them coming together truly, I think object solution can transform rural economy, and I hope that happens because that's also the need of the art where we want to see productive application in across all sectors beat agriculture Beachell be small and medium enterprises I think we need to see a lot more to happen and I think it will happen We'll see product innovation, financing, innovation, and I'm also hoping a lot more domestic manufacturing quality product in the future to happen, so I think I think there is so much to look forward to in this sector and I'll, you know I'm very excited about it.
28:28 Karan Takhar
Thank you so much for your time, really appreciate this.
28:31 Anjali Garg
Thank you very much.
28:35 Karan Takhar
I hope you enjoyed that episode, and do check out the show notes For more information on my guest. See you next time.
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