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“Powering up last-mile communities by demystifying technology and decentralizing control through a network of rural women”

Barefoot College trains marginalized illiterate and semi-literate women from the Global South to become Solar Engineers, able to provide access to clean solar energy even in the remotest regions. They learn how to design, make, install and repair solar lanterns and home-lighting systems and have become known as “Solar Mamas”

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In 1996, with Pierre Amadu’s help, the first Solar Project, training people from Tilonia village in solar lantern design, began at Barefoot College. Enthusiastically received, it encouraged Barefoot College to launch a formal Solar Training Programme in 2000, with funding from the European Union. This was piloted in six Indian States. Supported by UN Women and the Asian Development Bank respectively, training for women from Afghanistan (2005) and Myanmar (2007), followed. In 2008, the Government of India’s Ministry of External Affairs empanelled the programme under the ITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation) initiative. Since then, Barefoot College has trained 1708 rural women from 96 countries. They have brought electricity to more than 75000 households, saving around 45 million litres of kerosene

Solar Training Programme

The programme involves illiterate and semi-literate village women in their mid-forties (some are grandmother). Together with Barefoot College Tilonia staff, their villages select them for a six-month residential training course at Barefoot College, where they learn to design, make, install, and repair solar lanterns, solar home lighting systems, and charge controllers, and set up rural electronic workshops. Candidates from all over the world speaking different languages learn from master trainers (speaking yet another language,) to identify electronic components through colour codes and shapes. They learn to perform technical tasks by following practical examples and acquire the skills they need to bring solar power to their communities.

Electrifying Villages

A solar committee is formed in each village chosen for electrification. On returning to her village, each women solar engineer sets up a global electronic workshop and assembles and installs the free solar equipment she receives from Barefoot College Tilonia. Every beneficiary household contributes a fixed amount each month to the village solar committee’s joint account, ensuring a regular income for the women solar engineers. The account includes  money for the renewing the stock of spare parts and batteries, and for running the solar committee.

The Rural Innovation Laboratory

 This research and development laboratory is the crux of the solar section: it develops solar-related products locally, according to community needs. All the products included in the Solar Mamas’ training, including solar lanterns, home lighting systems, charge controllers and so on, are designed here. Prototypes for solar products such as the projector for the night schools, the IoT-based (“Internet of Things”) charge controller, dryer, sheep-shearing machine, water filtration and vending machine are also developed by the team.

Our Initiatives

Barefoot College Tilonia currently runs four specific solar energy projects, one bringing electricity  the Pacific Islands using the skills of women solar engineers already trained through the ITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation) programme, one for training solar engineers funded by ITEC, one establishing in-country training centres in four African countries and one bringing solar electricity and more to eight villages in Assam. 

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Bringing Solar Power to the Pacific Islands

Supported by the Ministry of External Affairs, India
The project’s primary goal is to electrify 2800 households from 14 Pacific Island countries through the women solar engineers already trained through the ITEC solar training in India. It also aims to provide work opportunities for the same women by supplying the necessary equipment and materials for three types of livelihoods: making sanitary napkins, crafting candles and making mosquito nets. India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) funds the purchase of all necessary solar and livelihood items as well as their shipment and local transportation. The MEA covers the cost of  the electrification for the 2800 households as well as project monitoring and evaluation costs. 

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ITEC Solar Training

Our collaboration with the Indian Government’s Economic and Technical Cooperation Programme (ITEC) began in 2008, when the Ministry of External Affairs empanelled Barefoot College as one of its training institutes. To date, Barefoot College Tilonia is the only registered civil society organisation operating a training institute in rural India. From that 2008 beginning ITEC has met the travel, accommodation and six-month training costs for 24 trainee batches, through which 884 rural illiterate or semi-literate women from the most marginalised communities in the poorest countries have become solar engineers. The ITEC partnership has led to the electrification of 40,000 households in 410 villages, covering 96 countries and contributing to at least eight sustainable development goals. 

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Barefoot Training Centres in Africa 

Supported by the Ministry of External Affairs in India,
this project 
[ began in [????.] It is converting existing infrastructures in four countries – Senegal, Burkina Faso, Liberia and Tanzania – into Barefoot Vocational Training Centres (BVTCs). Buildings are being renovated and re-furnished for the purpose, including appropriate accommodation for women, and the facilities needed for solar training are being set up. In each country the Government of India's MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) is funding the establishment of the training centre, construction of a rainwater harvesting tank, two years of the running costs of training and the necessary travel expenses. In addition to offering training for women in the four nations, these BVTCs have the capacity to enable women from neighbouring countries to come for solar training and eventually take solar power home to their own villages.


Solar Power in Eight Assam Villages

This project is supported by ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation). Its main aim is to train twelve rural women from villages in Assam’s Hailakandi and Cachar districts to bring electricity to 550 households. Between December 2021 and May 2022, solar training was conducted in Barefoot College’s Solar Training Centre in Sikkim. In addition the Centre ran awareness-raising sessions focused on women’s health, leadership-building, financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills, with the object of building the new engineers’ confidence so that could become community leaders and bring about change more widely. Training, travel, transport and electrification costs are fully funded by ONGC.

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