• Awarded: 2005
  • Issue Areas: Clean Energy · Early Childhood to Primary Education · Economic Opportunity · Education · Environmental Sustainability · Livelihoods · Post-Secondary Education · Women's and Girls' Education
  • Region: Caribbean · Central America · Central and Southern Asia · Eastern and Southern Africa · Middle East and North Africa · Oceania · South America · Southeast Asia · West and Central Africa
  • Web:
  • About the Organization

    Barefoot College is a non-governmental organization that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable.

    These “Barefoot solutions” include the delivery of solar electrification, clean water, education, livelihood development, and activism. With a geographic focus on the least developed countries, Barefoot College believes strongly in empowering women as agents of sustainable change.

    Since its inception, the long-term objective of the Barefoot College has been to work with marginalized, exploited, and impoverished rural poor, living on less than one dollar a day, and lift them over the poverty line with dignity and self-respect. The dream was to establish a rural college in India that was built by and exclusively for the poor.

    What the rural, impoverished, and marginalized think important is reflected and internalized in the beliefs of the College. At the Barefoot College, Mahatma Gandhi’s spirit of service and thoughts on sustainability are still alive and respected.

    Poor villagers' skills and resourcefulness are often overlooked as potential drivers of community development.

    Barefoot College trains illiterate villagers to build and maintain systems such as solar electricity, water and sanitation, schools, and clinics.

    “Barefoot” teachers, doctors, health workers, business owners, and service workers improve their own lives and those of their communities.

    More than 80 communities in seven countries benefit.

    Ambition for Change

    Communities in poor countries around the world implement technologies and practices that enhance economic, social, and environmental well being.

    Path to Scale

    Open Source Replication

    New Barefoot Colleges are developed and led by individuals trained at the home campus in India.

    Business Model

    Funds from philanthropy, public education, and development agencies support core operations of both the home campus and local campuses in other countries.

    As a young post-graduate student from a privileged urban background, Bunker Roy volunteered to spend the summer working with famine affected people in one of India’s poorest states. This experience changed him. He committed himself to fight poverty and inequality. He founded the Social Work and Research Centre (now known as Barefoot College) in 1972 to demystify technology and put it to good use in the hands of poor communities. This radically simple approach to ending poverty, by tapping the wisdom, skills and resourcefulness of the poor themselves, is less expensive and more successful than approaches that rely on external experts. Barefoot College recruits illiterate villagers and trains them to build and maintain life changing technologies and systems such as solar electricity, water and sanitation, schools and clinics, artisan businesses, and community engagement. At the time of the Award, Barefoot College was operating in communities across India, had experimented with local replication in sites in several other countries, and was poised to initiate local replication in some 30 communities in Africa and the Middle East by inviting leaders to learn the system at the home campus in India, then growing the most successful toward national scale in their own countries.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • Barefoot College has extended its reach to more than 80 communities in seven countries.
    • More than 37,000 individuals have trained and worked as “barefoot” teachers, doctors, health workers, solar and water engineers, mechanics, designers, builders, carpenters, computer technicians and instructors, accountants, recycling professionals, business owners and service workers.
    • Each year, Barefoot College trains about 180 grandmothers from India and from the least developed countries as solar engineers. 64 countries have solar engineers, and 1,160 villages have been electrified. This results in annual savings of 2.7 million liters of kerosene.
    • 45,000 people have light because of Barefoot College.
    • Rainwater collection systems are functioning in more than 900 communities.
    • 400 Barefoot water engineers have provided 2.8 million children with drinking water and sanitation at schools.


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