Bunker Roy began the Barefoot College in 1972 with the belief that the solutions to the problems of rural India lay in the villages, not in outside assistance. Since its inception, the goal has been to work with marginalized and exploited rural poor living on less than $1 a day, lifting them over the poverty line with dignity.
The College has applied rural traditional knowledge and skills to build homes for the homeless, collect rainwater in schools and communities where potable water sources are scarce, and spread socio-economic messages at the grassroots level through puppetry. Only technologies that can be understood and controlled by the rural communities have been introduced to improve the quality of life of the poor.
The Barefoot College trains women in areas traditionally dominated by men. Since 1972, over 6,525 housewives, mothers & grandmothers, midwives, farmers, laborers, and small shopkeepers have been trained as Barefoot midwives, handpump mechanics, artisans, weavers, parabolic solar cooker engineers, FM radio operators and fabricators, dentists, and school teachers.
Women who are single mothers, middle-aged, divorced, physically challenged, or illiterate are prioritized for training because they need the opportunity and income the most. The organization has identified more than 7,000 women with leadership qualities and empowered them with skills and in processes of democratic participation.
In one of its most innovative programs, the College trains women to be solar engineers, addressing issues of rural poverty as well as access to energy. As part of a program with the Indian Government, the College operates an exchange program where uneducated women are selected from rural villages and brought to Tilonia for a six-month fellowship. Because many of the women are illiterate, they learn through memorization and color-coded charts. They return with the skills necessary to electrify their village with sustainable solar technologies. The woman is then paid a monthly retainer to fix and maintain the solar equipment.
The Barefoot College Tilonia has trained 1,708 illiterate or semi-literate rural women from 96 countries and has electrified over 75,000 households, saving about 45 million liters of kerosene from polluting the environment. One of the greatest impacts of the program is the increased confidence of women from marginalized backgrounds who are now valued as changemakers in their communities.