Four things you do not know about Husk Power Systems
Delivering electricity in rural Bihar is tough, yet Husk Power Systems (HPS) has picked up this challenge the Government of India has let go. You can find many articles on line that focus on their successful business model, on HPS’ achievement in the last years.
But there are four things no one has been focusing on. HPS has a different way of treating its employees. In fact it provides medical insurance, training, a career path and a credit facility, things totally unknown to villagers before and badly needed!
Medical insurance. At the beginning the system was managed as self insurance, where employees would receive financial support for medical expenses above a certain cost. This happens in a country where “around 40% of the population either borrow money or sell assets to pay for hospitalisation, and 25% fall below the poverty line as a result of medical expenses each year” and “Private financing accounts for 78% of total health expenditure – one of the highest proportions in the world “ (from the Guardian).
Training. Working in a small power plant in rural Bihar is not easy, even if you are born there. Plant operators need to pay careful attention to the activity of the machinery and make daily maintenance work, mechanics need to move around and quickly solve problems. Most of these employees have basic literacy and numeracy skills and often no previous working experience in a “professional” environment. Training is critical to increase the skill set of operators and mechanics to guarantee a satisfactory uptime at the lowest possible cost. But it also provides them with skills that are valuable in the job market and can be used if they will ever decide to leave HPS.
A career path. Labor in rural India is cheap and it makes sense to use appropriate technologies and labor intense processes to reduce costs. In HPS this does not mean that you are going to be just a cheap substitute for a machinery. Rama ji, Director of Training, has designed a system that values good plant operators and allows them to move up to more interesting jobs, like mechanic, after a few months of work, if they have what it takes. Training is the key to enable people to continuously increase their skill set and be promoted. The best mechanics are encouraged to take further theoretical training and become service engineers, not a real degree, but a step up in both pay and responsibilities. Rama ji mentioned many times how complicated it is to explain the concept of career path to villagers that have much shorter time horizons. You definitively need to be creative!
Credit facility. Employees have access to credit that they will pay back monthly with a retention on their salary. Gyanesh ji, CEO of HPS, told me “we know that sometimes bad things can happen and we want our employees to be able to face them”. Just two days ago, over a beer I praised HPS for even considering giving this benefits as a start up. He replied, with the most natural facial expression, “this is about social impact”. In fact, it is just the right thing to do.
I realized that it is all about the mindset. If you decide to create an organization to have impact then you apply that same logic in everything you do, product design, R&D and employment practices. There is a lot to learn in Bihar, especially if one looks where the spotlights did not reach yet.
HPS is not only about the 150,000 (and counting) people that have light every night, but it is also about the 300 employees (and growing) that make it happen. I believe that this company is setting an example about how to look with fresh eyes at both the bottom of the pyramid market and inside the organization. The pride and dignity of the employee are a great result as much as the “thank you!” of the customers.