• 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 75 countries.
    • More than 60,000 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.
    • Barefoot College has trained 785 semi literate and illiterate Women Barefoot Solar Engineers who have brought clean light to more than 550,000 people in 1320 villages. Saving circa 3.0M litres of kerosene annually.
    • More than 1M liters of water are collected every year through barefoot College water installations and then  women engineers who maintain and build them.
    • Barefoot College ‘rural education for rural children’ alternative education system, educates more than 7000 children annually
    • Barefoot College today is in the process of opening Barefoot Regional Women’s Vocational Training Centers in the following additional countries with a sponsorship from the Government of India; Senegal, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Tanzania, South Sudan and Guatemala.


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