MUMBAI: Way back in late 90s in the Kumaon mountain ranges of Uttarakhand, Rajnish Jain founded AVANI, an organisation with a mission to improve the quality of life in far-flung villages. Developing technologies to meet the needs of these villages is one of the objectives of this organisation.
A decade after AVANI began working, Jain, now 51, found a way to meet the energy requirements of the rural community. He employed villagers to collect pine needles that fall on the ground of the Uttarakhand forests in the summer months.
Those pine needles are put into a gassifier and converted into gas, and the waste is converted into charcoal bricks. Some 10 villages benefit from AVANI’s efforts, and Jain is now in the process of setting up a unit to generate 120 kw of power that will be supplied to the state electricity grid.
A project whose seeds were sown over a decade ago in the Himalayas recently found a platform that will enable Jain and his team to interact with investors of all hues, and also avail of small grants from a conglomerate whose interests range from utility vehicles, trucks and tractors to software, hospitality and finance.
AVANI’s energy-from-pine-needles venture was one of 18 finalists and four winners of a total of 1,346 projects that participated in Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M’s) Spark the Rise campaign, a potential launch pad for small initiatives.
Jain, who was one of the four winners short-listed on Friday, had reservations about such types of contests. But he was convinced that this programme, which includes initiatives like rural BPOs, eco-friendly bags and automated irrigation from all over the country, is different.
Anand Mahindra, vice-chairman and managing director of M&M, was at Prince of Wales Museum in south Mumbai, an unusual venue, chosen to field the entrepreneurs on a common platform. Mahindra has spawned from ground up businesses that were listed later. Mahindra Holidays, a business in timeshare holidays, and Mahindra Finance, a non-banking finance firm, are two ventures built from scratch. The group is now dabbling in newer themes through Mahindra Partners, a private equity firm that will incubate new businesses for the conglomerate in the times to come.