Because of a solar lamp, one man was able to help his entire family.

Amresh runs a small shop in Bangalore, India. A few years ago, he had a pretty big problem.

Amresh used kerosene lights to light his shop in the evening, hoping to catch some of the foot traffic from people heading home from work after dark. But the lights weren’t enough to help people see what his products were. His business struggled.

All photos are of an urban slum in India and the people who live there. Taken by Pravin Tamang, used with permission.


When he heard that a company called Pollinate Energy was selling solar lamps, Amresh jumped at the opportunity to purchase one.

The solar lamp changed his life.

His new lighting meant that he could keep the shop open later and attract customers who were on their way home. Because of the light, his shop also became a neighborhood gathering spot, where people would socialize and catch up after a day of work.

Within two months, his income had doubled. And just a few months after that, Amresh had saved enough money to move his entire family out of the slum.

According to Pollinate Energy COO Alexie Seller, Amresh’s story is just one of many.

Pollinate is a small company focused on distributing much-needed products to people who wouldn’t have access to them otherwise. It was founded in 2013 with the goal of tackling energy poverty — no small undertaking. Their efforts have been supported by The Intrepid Foundation since 2015, which matches all donations made to Pollinate dollar-for-dollar.

Because while those of us in the western world tend to take access to things like light at night for granted, around 1.2 billion people around the world do not have access to electricity.

“We have the privilege of living in a country where there is a lot of infrastructure, which is paid for by the government. … our electricity is actually really low-cost. So, what happens for a family that’s living with no access to electricity is that they have to pay out of their own pockets for every single energy expense that they have,” Seller explains. “And [in India] it means that they are spending 5-10% of their earnings on kerosene, which is not even really a useful light.”

Fumes from a kerosene lamp, captured on camera.

Kerosene is also hazardous — it causes indoor air pollution, which is the second-leading cause of death for women and young children.

With this in mind, Pollinate set out to offer sustainable solutions to everyday energy problems. And their approach is pretty unique.

When first preparing to distribute solar lamps, Pollinate sent representatives known as “Pollinators” into the slums where they met families and spoke to them about their needs, their finances, and their willingness to pay for certain products. Pollinate uses the information gathered to help select the products it will distribute and to determine the price point for those products.

Why go to all of that trouble? Seller explains that Pollinate is determined to make lasting change and that the only way to do that is to involve the people who it is trying to serve.

Pollinate also does its research to make sure it's not asking anyone to pay more than they can afford. Pollinate offers five-eight-week repayment plans based on a family’s weekly budget so they can get the products they need without the pressure to have the money immediately.

Though their products are intentionally low-cost, Pollinate makes a point of selling, rather than donating, them.

“By selling a product, you give someone the opportunity to refuse it,” wrote Nora Malm, a former fellow at Pollinate, in a blog post.

She continued, “When we approach the community members as customers, their agency is immediately recognised. But when we are feeling sorry for someone, their agency is removed, and we are prone to think that somehow we know better.”

Pollinate doesn’t want to assume it knows what the people it's serving need. It wants to work with them to determine appropriate solutions and give them the chance to invest in their future.

“We’re actually giving our customers the choice to make this improvement in their lives and to buy what it is that is most useful for them. … Because we charge for the product and we work with the customers, especially when we’re rolling out something different, we pick up very quickly what is not working,” Seller says. “And that is exactly what social business is proven to do that charitable giving has not.”

Pollinate currently offers eight products to around 200,000 households across four cities in India.

And it wants to help as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. Pollinate has plans to expand into 20 cities within the next five years.

To do this, it keeps recruiting Pollinators and has even started a fellowship program, allowing about 300 fellows from around the world to contribute to the program on the ground floor. The Intrepid Foundation is helping Pollinate make these massive goals a reality through the Travel for Good campaign, which will see over $25,000 donated to support Pollinate's fight against energy poverty in India.

Improving the quality of life for people around the world is a monumental task. It takes teamwork and enthusiasm, and at times, it can feel overwhelming.

But, “until you get started, you’re not going to really understand deeply enough what is going on and how you can actually make a difference,” Seller explains. She encourages everyone to take a leap of faith and dive right in to create positive change.

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Intrepid Travel

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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