Huda Jaffer: “Things can actually change permanently through what we do”


The DOEN Foundation supports pioneers who use an entrepreneurial approach to come up with solutions for a better world. Read the story of Huda Jaffer, Lead Designer of the SELCO Foundation. This Foundation reinforces the sustainable energy sector in India by starting with the user and working on the barriers that they encounter in obtaining clean energy.

Design for regular people
I’m primarily a product service systems designer. Throughout college and after, I always wondered who the things we were taught to design were for. Because a lot of what we were taught to design was bought by very few people, just the top of the pyramid.

For example, my dad and granddad have a modest watch shop in a very crowded market. I would always sit in the shop and by the end of the day I noticed the clocks that I liked the most were the clocks that were not sold. Nobody wanted them. So I’ve decided very early on I wanted to design for the (bigger) bottom of the pyramid. Whatever I design, whatever I spend time on, should be something regular people want.

So that’s when I joined SELCO. I realised more and more that it was not just about the product, it was about the service, about the system. It was about financial aspects and social aspects. I got really interested in the potential that there was to design around renewable energy. Now I’ve been working with SELCO on renewable energy models and how they can impact health, education and livelihoods. Really thinking about how we build the ecosystem for these solutions.

Helping others grow
One of the people we work with rents out lights. And I remember he started with renting about 5 lights to street vendors. Recently somebody visited him and saw he expanded up to 250 lights. When he started we helped him to get a loan to rent a place in the same building as we are situated, which would be hard for him to get alone. Now he managed to give his two daugthers an education in engineering with the same business and his son in law is working with some of our partners. Seeing growth like that really makes you positive. Seeing that things can change! Of course, it took him a lot of time. Eight, maybe ten years, to actually grow this much, to expand. But I think the possibility that things can actually change permanently through what we do and in a significant manner, gives me a lot of hope.

Focus on what matters
The DOEN Foundation really helped us to change people’s livelihoods from the start. This has become one of our most important vehicles. It’s probably the only thing people respond to in a manner that they do. Because in the end of the day it’s not healthcare or education, all of those are secondary. It’s about earning a basic stable income without having to kill yourself over it, without having to go in debt to survive. Earning a decent livelihood, whether it’s by sewing or working as a blacksmith, anything. I think the potential to bring in sustainability within that livelihood is immense! From a technical perspective and environmental perspective, but also from a social and cultural perspective. The DOEN Foundation enables us to do this. And if you ask me, it’s the most interesting work to be doing.

DOEN is helping to combat further climate change by directing its attention to reducing CO2 emissions. To achieve this, DOEN will over the next few years be supporting initiatives in the area of sustainable energy. Within this area, DOEN focuses on frontrunners with a business model. Within the Netherlands we are looking for pioneers in the field of sustainable energy and energy saving; moreover we finance initiatives that focus on access to sustainable energy in Africa and Asia. With this programme, DOEN shows that solutions can be practical, efficient and payable.