I recently attended the INKtalks conference in Pune, where I was a volunteer. One of my favorite talks was from Dr. Harish Hande of Selco. He spoke about the 20 million street vendors in India, and how they inspire him with their business acumen.
The street vendors he and his family visit daily never go out of business because of what he calls their “brilliant financial engineering.” They also have a triple bottom line, something many companies strive for today. That is because street vendors use locally-made products, leave a low environmental footprint, and provide a public good at low cost to their community, while making a profit.
Many street vendors take out a loan in the morning, purchase their product such as fruit or vegetables, sell their product, then pay back the loan with interest at the end of the day, while still retaining enough to make an income and feed their family. They do this by knowing which time of day/month/season to sell which product, how much they have to sell at any given time, and at what prices at those various times.
They also have other clever ways of making profit. Hande mentioned one vendor who purchased a Selco lamp to keep her fruit stand open later. Then she purchased additional lamps to rent out to fellow street vendors, bringing her additional profit while allowing their businesses to stay open longer, in an environmentally sustainable way. Ironically in this case, Hande explains, solar is expensive for the rich but affordable for the poor.
He closed by arguing that the 500 million poor people in India will teach us all how to live sustainably.