Having graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, Alexie spent two years as a project engineer learning about project management and large-scale industry. On the side, she had always kicked around in local and international community leadership roles for social development projects. More recently she was acting as the Energy Hub Coordinator for Engineers Without Borders in Sydney, which fostered her interest in sustainable energy options, and importantly in improving energy access in the developing world as a means of climate change mitigation.
I think I have a knack of understanding why things don’t happen…and then thinking creatively to get past that obstacle.
Which is why she has now joined forces with Pollinate Energy, a social business co-founded by five young Australians to eradicate energy poverty in India through providing access to sustainable energy technologies. Alexie is residing in Melbourne, and overseeing business development, partnerships and the coordination of the Pollinate Energy Fellowship Program.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
Creating the link between poor people and affordable clean energy technology. The idea is to train and develop entrepreneurs in urban Indian cities to travel into tent communities and offer solar light and charging kits on micro-finance to individuals who cannot afford the kits upfront.
As far as taking the plunge is concerned, I’ve always been ready for a challenge like this. I came across Pollinate Energy in its starting phases, and couldn’t really resist taking part in the initiative. I guess I saw an opportunity to make a big impact by supporting and developing the business with the rest of the team. We have a couple of directors full time in India, the rest of us balance the usual full-time work and an almost full-time commitment to this social business!
How do you make money? (please explain your business model)
As a business, we train entrepreneurs and provide them with their first kit of solar lighting products. They then sell the products on a five-week installment plan. We get the kits at wholesale cost, meaning we can add a small margin to cover the commission-based salaries of the entrepreneurs, and our business operating costs.
We also bring over young professionals and students to work with us on the ground supporting our entrepreneurs in business skills. They fundraise in advance to supply the costs of starting up a new entrepreneur, which helps us get through each expansion phase.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
Recently we’ve been very busy in the lead up to our gala launch in Sydney on June 1st. We’ve just welcomed a group of 10 on our fellowship program for July in Bangalore, and are getting ready to host our first batch of Young Professionals in August. We’re all excited to see what new initiatives come out of this group and what will happen to our business!
I’m also itching to work with the team to come up with new ideas for fundraising and finance options, and the ongoing partnerships that we have with our supporters back at home.
How do you make ideas happen?
I think I have a knack of understanding why things don’t happen, as backwards as that sounds, and then thinking creatively to get past that obstacle. It’s important when working with diverse groups of people, who you may not know well, to be able to perceive what may be restricting them. Once the problem is identified, the solution isn’t so difficult to reach, and ideas can move ahead unhindered.
What does your typical day look like?
I used to start off with the emails (it’s just so addictive when they pop onto your phone!) but I’m actually trying to kick that habit because the morning is when I do my best thinking time – so at the moment I’m dedicating this to study and reading up on the latest issues.
Then – I head off to work – because I do still have a full-time job here in Melbourne At lunch I’ll try to get a run in, or catch up with friends, because the evening is usually filled with events, Uni or just a solid session working on the next steps for Pollinate Energy – whatever they are at the time!
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
Many! Some of the main challenges from my perspective are dealing with the distances between myself and my colleagues – though skype is a wonderful tool that allows us to maintain good contact. Another challenge central to my role is in conveying the issue which is quite distinct from the lifestyles we lead here in Australia – and convincing those around me of the need for this kind of work. This however is one of the more interesting parts of what I do so that doesn’t bother me so much!
Challenges for the Indian team are much more wide ranging, and include a mix of cultural, linguistic and logistical issues associated with having to operate in a completely different context to our formal education and professional backgrounds. But that’s why we do it!
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
I’m obsessing over embodied carbon labelling at the moment. How cool would it be to have a label which states your recommended daily intake of carbon – on all of our products? I wonder how people would respond when they find out the impact that buying a non-recycled bottle has on the environment, and what companies might to do to reduce their emissions. It’s not a flash new idea, but it definitely hasn’t taken off to scale yet.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
Moreland Energy Foundation – one of Australia’s cleanest council areas is launching a zero emissions plan. I love the community initiative approach which aims to reach out and educate people in the area about how to reduce their environmental impact. If we want to create social change, it has to be a personal approach. I think this also ties in nicely with the work we do in India, which is about providing an option to people who otherwise don’t know how to make the change.
What about internationally?
We have a lot ‘role models’ at Pollinate Energy – one of mine has always been Engineers Without Borders. I highly value there recognition of their community partners’ needs over their own. I think that this humble approach to humanitarian work is what leads to success in their projects.
Name a website you would recommend to our readers?
Brazen Careerist – whether you’re chasing a high-flying role, or playing with the idea of a start-up, it’s a great sanity check and confidence booster!
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
Yes! We host Fellowships and Young Professionals Programs at least four times per year. We’re always looking out for the next superstars to blitz our business in India.
We also have a growing demand for support in marketing, recruitment and promotion back in Australia which has a huge impact on our ability to maintain strong partnerships and support operations in India. Get in touch and let me know what you can bring!
We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?
A lunch date and an offer to collaborate – there seems to be inifinite options to work together in this space and we’re always keen to meet other active social entrepreneurs.