Barefoot Solar Mamas of the World


Democratic Republic Of The Congo
Burkina Faso
Sierra Leone

>5M $






This project has: i) trained illiterate rural women through learning-by-doing in 6 months to solar electrify their villages; ii) solar electrify villages in 35 of the Least Developed Countries as identified by the UN; iii) demystify and decentralize the installation and maintenance of solar technology and put it in the hands of poor communities.

Project Description

Barefoot College (BC) identifies non electrified villages of approx. 100 households in the poorest parts of the world. An open transparent meeting is held with all village stakeholders (men, women, NGO implementer, BC, and local government officials) to determine: households’ current expenditure on existing lighting sources (e.g. candles, kerosene, batteries, etc.); the village’s largest challenges (e.g. water, light, etc.); the villagers’ level of enthusiasm for a sustainable self-sufficient lighting solution which will cost no more than their current sources; and to build relationships to ensure village support for the program. By democratic unanimous process villagers must agree to: a monthly household contribution of no more than their current lighting expenditure to cover the cost of installation and maintenance by Barefoot Women Solar Engineers (BWSEs) of a much stronger and more sustainable household solar lighting system; provide a building to be used by the BWSEs as a workshop and to store solar equipment, tools and two years of spare parts donated to the community; form a impartial Village Solar Committee comprised of 3 women and 2 men to monitor and manage transparently the village’s solar program; and agree to a process which ensures transparency in the collection and management of monthly contributions. 2 women aged 35-50 are selected to be trained for six months, currently in India, as BWSEs to install and maintain new solar lighting systems in their village.


Barefoot College has trained 650 illiterate women as solar engineers who have electrified 1200 villages in 50 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia benefiting 500,000 people. The beneficiaries are families living on less than $2/day in remote indigenous, coastal, or mountainous villages.


Training BWSEs who then Solar Electrify remote villages around the world has contributed to 5 MDGs: Goal 1: Eradicate Poverty - According to TIME Magazine Barefoot College (BC) has directly and indirectly improved the quality of life of nearly 3 million people over the last 40 years. Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education – Since 1975 over 75,000 children who would otherwise not go to school have receive primary education through BC’s solar lit night schools for children. Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women - BC has empowered over 600 illiterate rural grandmothers to solar electrify over 1,200 villages in over 70 countries around the world. Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability - 5 million liters of kerosene have been saved by solar electrifying over 1,200 non-electrified rural communities. Goal 8: Global Partnerships - BC has entered into Global partnerships with the Government of India, UNWOMEN, UNESCO, Skoll Foundation, ENEL, Cartier Foundation and GEF Small Grants Programme of UNDP.

Business Model

The Barefoot College believes that to ensure economic and social sustainability the answer is a Partnership Model NOT a Business Model. The implementation of the project depends on the capacity and competence of rural communities to control, manage and own the process thus reducing the dependency on “outside” skills. The Partnership Model of the Barefoot College follows the life and work style of Mahatma Gandhi and is based on values of equality, collective decision making and austerity.

Lessons Learnt

Forty years of experience has taught Barefoot College that formal education and qualifications are not required for the rural poor to bring sustainable energy, clean water, and sustainable livelihoods to their communities. The College today stands as one of the very few Indian organizations that have successfully taken a lead role in setting new development paradigms by scaling a community based model to world-wide proportions by adopting a globally diverse, decentralized approach to implementing large scale solutions. For forty years it has been showing that the need to change, learn, unlearn and relearn and encompass diversity of workforce are the keys to making ongoing relevant impacts.

Key Feature

By crossing gender, age and literacy Barefoot College empowers women as serious change agents to take up their natural roles as environmental stewards and active participants in their own development. Barefoot’s Solar Program trains mature women to be capable and competent solar engineers to fill a basic and critical need for clean renewable reliable energy in remote rural villages around the world. Based on the success of its community-based rural development model, Barefoot is establishing 6 regional training centres in Africa which by the end of this decade are expected to train BWSE in 22 African countries creating the first ever international network of learning institutions focused on delivering knowledge across literacy barriers, to those previously left out of the conventional education system and development process. This commitment creates paralleled opportunities for and leverages new partnerships with national governments, on-the-ground partners and international donors.

Other significant information

Some special aspects of this project: i)Barefoot College(BC) is the only community based organization(CB0) in the world that clearly makes a distinction between Literary and Education. Just because a rural person is illiterate does not mean this person is uneducated. ii)BC is the only CBO in the world that targets illiterate rural grandmothers and in 6 months trains them to be solar engineers. In 6 years, over 600 grandmothers from 70 countries around the world have been trained. iii)BC is the only CBO in the world that has reached 35 of the Least Developed Countries identified by the UN. iv)BC is one of the few organizations in the world that believes in the life style and work style of Mahatma Gandhi. BC believes that only a bottom up approach that involves poor rural communities in planning and implementation can be sustainable. v)The global message of simplicity, austerity, collective decision making and compassion in action makes it a very special and unique organization.

Main Donor

Government of India

Implementing Actor

Barefoot College, Tilonia, Rajasthan, India (NGOs)