A Window into the Lives of Our Customers

Unless you’ve experienced it firsthand, it’s hard to imagine living without the basics of food, electricity, clean water, and access to health care. It’s similarly difficult to conceive of how life might change if one of those needs were suddenly met. We asked a pair of our researchers to follow up with a few of the 2016 Hans Free Electric™ pilot participants in order to get a better sense of how they lived and how things changed once they received the Hans Free Electric™ bike. This series, Personal Stories from the Field provides a brief glimpse into the lives of those Billions in Change was created to serve.

While the each person’s situation is unique, all of our interviewees share some commonalities. First, most grew up in poverty and have remained poor their entire lives. Nearly everyone is involved in farming and most own a little bit of land, at least one cow. The cow provides milk, which can be sold to augment traditional sources of income, and then can reproduce to grow the family of animals within the household.

Although most of their homes are connected to the power grid, the supply is erratic. Electricity is typically only available late at night (after 10 or 11 PM), if at all, and in certain months during the day. The evenings, however, are almost always dark. The typical monthly electric bill for the few hours of power they receive is about 70-80 rupees (or about 1 US dollar).

Many households use electricity from the power grid to charge low-cost battery-powered lanterns or flashlights. Some higher-end lanterns will last a few days on a single charge, while cheaper models put out relatively little light and last about 3-4 hours. Kerosene lamps are also common, with most households using about 3 liters of kerosene per month and spending roughly 90 rupees ($1.30). We learned that although the ration shops are supposed to supply kerosene for about half the market price, the ration shops rarely have kerosene in stock, so households pay the going rate.

In stark contrast to the ostensive poverty in the villages, it isn’t uncommon for households to have satellite dishes; and televisions are ubiquitous. Similarly, telecommunication services are nearly everywhere, and most households are mobile-connected.

The purpose of the 2016 Hans Free Electric™ pilot was to gauge how well the bikes work in real life, what benefits they provide, what problems users experienced, and how the bikes could be improved. We’ve shared numerous details about how the pilot informed some substantial design changes to both the bike and the battery. Now we want to take you into the worlds of those for whom these inventions were created. In the words of Billions in Change founder Manoj Bhargava, “these are our customers.”