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Barefoot College – Empowering Communities to Create Power

Barefoot College’s central belief is that the knowledge, skills and wisdom found in villages should be used for its development before getting skills from outside.

Photo of Meena Kadri
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Barefoot College empowers and trains women in low income communities in rural India and beyond to provide basic services including solar power & clean water towards goals of sustainable, self-sufficient communities. Their inspiring approach has demystified technologies and decentralised their uses by transferring the access, control, management and ownership of sophisticated technologies to rural men and women, who can barely read and write.

“Every year, the Barefoot College team will identify a few villages in India and in other developing countries—places where it would seem impossible to have a solar electrification system, especially one implemented by illiterate grandmothers. Next, the Barefoot team works with local and national organisations to establish a commitment with the village elders. The elders agree to select two grandmothers to be trained as solar engineers, to choose a village committee composed of men and women to help operate the solar program, collect funds from each participating household and provide a workshop building where the grandmothers can run their operations. The solar engineers are specifically middle-aged women. These women have strong roots in the village; they influence daily life and play a major role in its development rather than migrating to neighbouring cities soon after training, as younger community members might.”

Check out details on their Solar Solutions. “Each of the solar electrification solutions pioneered in rural, remote, non-electrified villages by Barefoot College has proved that both illiterate and semi-literate men and women can fabricate, install, use, repair and maintain sophisticated solar units through basic knowledge share and hands-on practical training. The Barefoot College has harnessed solar energy not only to provide light but also to create employment for the unemployable, to boost income for the poor, to save the environment by reducing carbon emission and not cutting trees, and most importantly, to provide self-reliant solutions within village communities.”

I really like their values-led approach – which highlights: Equality, Collective Decision Making, Decentralisation, Self-Reliance & Austerity.

How might we be more inclusive in our community engagement around renewable energy? How might we create a sense of purpose through engaging folks in renewable energy?


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Photo of Jes Simson

Oh I love this post Meena. This is systems design at its best. I think that your point about designing inclusive renewable energy systems is so important. Renewable energy is often polarising which can create an us and them mentality. Communities are only going to rapidly transition to renewable sources if the systems behind them are inclusive.

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