Skoll Foundation


Barefoot College

Skoll Awardee(s): Bunker Roy
Award Year: 2005
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Economic Opportunity, Education, Environmental Sustainability

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“It’s a place to try new, daring, and crazy ideas. It’s a place to fail – and try again. It’s all part of the learning process. The courage to try and attempt to make innovations work is respected in Barefoot College.”

Sub-Issues: Clean Energy; Livelihoods; Post-Secondary Education, Women and Girls’ Education Poor village residents’ resourcefulness and practical skills are often under-valued and overlooked as drivers of community development, needlessly limiting opportunity.

The Skoll Awardee: 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 since joining the portfolio in 2005:

  • 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.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.