Barefoot College is an educational institution where the students – members from the rural, poor community- create the curriculum and learning objectives. The Barefoot College theory of change is founded on the idea that people who may lack any formal education still have achieved significant learning through community & family education, learning-by-doing, and innovation. Although many of the rural poor lack formal education such as completing school grades or obtaining degrees, they possess the experiences and potential to learn and determine pathways to improving their standard of living.

The Barefoot Solar Initiative (BSI) is a part of this model, where students may learn solar engineering in order to install, repair, and innovate applications for solar technology. The BSI employs solar trainers from within the home community of Tilonia to educate willing participants with the intent that these newly proficient solar engineers will pass on their skills and new knowledge of solar science to other community members. The need for solar technology came out of a larger need for reliable and cheap energy sources. Communities needed energy to light classes after dark since the daytime hours were used for working, to power machines that increased total productivity, and to ensure the health and sanitation of water and food. The need for affordable and reliable energy came from the community, and the BSI aims to address this need.

The BSI began within Rajasthan, India, and has quickly expanded to reach communities in over 60 countries around the world. Barefoot College invites 20-35 women from rural, non-electrified villages to train for six months at one of the Vocational Training Centers. Currently, there are three training centers: Zanzibar, Sierra Leone, and on the main campus in Tilonia, Rajasthan, India. Barefoot College has also recently founded a new Vocational Training Center in South Sudan.

Objectives and beneficiaries

The Barefoot Solar Initiative selects, trains, and equips rural women to install, repair, and coordinate the access of solar electrification to all members of their home community through a six-month training course at one of the Barefoot Vocational Training Centers.

The Barefoot Solar Initiative transforms solar engineering from a formal education process into a community-based education process by teaching rural grandmothers, who are the community members most willing to share knowledge and practices with fellow community members.

The Barefoot Solar Initiative electrifies communities in rural villages where access to grid electrification does not exist through the training of solar engineers who live in or near the village. Additionally, the Barefoot Solar Initiative ships equipment to these solar engineers.

Strong points of the practice

A central part of the Barefoot College theory of change is 'demystification' of technology. Some may see solar engineering as too difficult or impossible for some people to learn, but the Barefoot College has proven that anyone can become a solar engineer if they are committed to helping their community. All solar engineers come from the region they will electrify. Almost all solar trainees are grandmothers. Many are illiterate. Still, each group of solar engineers convene for a training in different country and often in a different language and become proficient in the technical aspects required to install, maintain, and repair solar energy systems. Simply, if an illiterate grandmother from Tsaratanana, Madagascar- a village so remote that it takes two days to reach from the nearest town- can electrify the 100 homes in her village after receiving training from Barefoot College, we must stop regarding solar engineering as a practice that only some people can master.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

The Barefoot Solar Initiative model enhances a greater global effort to prove that energy solutions can be both affordable and sustainable. Through the BSI training course and shipment of solar equipment, the Women Barefoot Solar Engineers (WBSEs) are expanding access to electricity without adding a significant carbon footprint. Additionally, the introduction of solar light reduces the need for alternative forms of rural home lighting, such as burning kerosene lamps or using firewood, which have negative environmental consequences.

Replicability potential of the practice

The Barefoot Solar Initiative has reached over 700 villages around the world and 600 within India, all using the same model of village and trainee selection. Each village forms a committee to select trainees and coordinate the household contributions towards the solar equipment. Through this process, the community is able to define how the electrification will be managed. Then, the engineers complete a six-month training course. Upon completion, the village is shipped solar equipment and the solar engineers install home systems per the village committee's decisions. The Women Barefoot Solar Engineers are part of this village committee.
The replicability potential of this practice relies on the freedom for villagers to decide how the solar program will be run for their community. Although the training program is well-defined for every engineer, the installation and expansion of the program is unique for each village.