Barefoot College has been built on five non-negotiable values (equality, collective decision making, decentralisation, self-reliance and austerity). These values have grown from the perceptions of the staff, the lessons learnt, and the sacrifices that have been made collectively by the people who work at the Barefoot College.
EqualityEvery member of the team is equally important and must be respected. An individual’s education, gender, caste or class does not make her or him any less or more valuable. All are eligible for any staff position; all eat together in a common dining hall where they sit on the floor and wash the dishes they use. This was a new experience in a traditional society where caste hierarchy was still very common. After initial hesitation, it proved to be revolutionary move and is now part of an internalised and valued routine. No one at the College earns more than $150 a month and the difference between the highest and lowest paid is in not more than 1:2. Everyone in the College receives a living wage, not a market wage.
Collective Decision MakingFlowing out of the concept of equality, Barefoot College provides equal opportunity for all in decision making as well as planning and implementation. Collective decision making is considered essential for problem solving. The structure of the organization is largely flat, encouraging a free flow of information and giving voice to the concerns of all the groups, making everyone accountable to each other.
DecentralisationBarefoot College is based on decentralisation of planning and implementation at the grassroot levels, enabling and empowering individuals to articulate their needs. The College works to support a flow of information between itself, the rural communities, field centres, partner organisations and the Government. The Barefoot College encourages a high degree of freedom and autonomy to its functionaries at all levels.
Self-RelianceTo ensure a sustainable development process, self-reliance and self-esteem are given high priority. The College was born out the belief that when people develop self-confidence and join together to solve problems, they learn that they can depend on themselves. Natural resource management and adequate provision of basic needs are all looked after within and by the community. Barefoot health workers, engineers, accountants and teachers have replaced the urban based, paper qualified professionals on whom communities elsewhere are still dependent.
AusterityThe Barefoot College believes in simplicity and moderation for a balanced way life. As most members of the College come from rural backgrounds, living conditions have been made simple so that they feel comfortable. Everyone works for the collective aspirations of rural communities rather than striving for individual material goals. Austerity in its thoughts and actions, as well as lack of barriers and levels that prevent direct interaction, has resulted in a sense of ownership towards the College.