Imagine a world where rural women and communities are empowered to be self-sufficient and resilient. That is the world that Barefoot College International is working around the world to create.
Why does Barefoot College International exist?
Barefoot College International was founded to address the needs of the most remote and marginalised communities around the world. We do this by empowering rural women as agents of change, through a variety of localised education and skills development programmes.
Moreover, our programmes address 14 of the 17 UNSDGs, in collaboration with underrepresented communities around the world.
We exist to work collaboratively with rural communities, supporting them to sustainably address their most pressing challenges. We address issues including climate change, food insecurity, gender inequality, and lack of access to education and economic opportunity.
By training rural women, we provide them with the tools they need to redress the balance of power and shift it back to rural and indigenous people. We do this whilst also combating climate change, breaking gender barriers and protecting traditional ways of life.
How Barefoot College International Works
Barefoot College International operates with the communities, through the communities and for the communities that we support.
Our programmes operate with a number of key principles at their heart:
A woman-centric model
Barefoot College International gives women and girls access to education and opportunity. This empowers them to become catalysts for change.
We recognise the huge impact that women can, and do, have on the world’s biggest challenges, from climate change to driving social change and development.
We empower women through access to education, resources and opportunity. This gives them the tools they need to socially and economically uplift their entire communities, creating a ripple effect that impacts us all.
We put knowledge into the hands of women, ensuring that it is passed on through the generations and stays within communities. The result is an improved local environment, a reduction in migration away to cities, and protection of rural traditions, knowledge and ways of life.
Learning by doing
We believe that experiential learning and practical skills training actively drive change, particularly in our Solar, Livelihoods, and Agriculture programmes.
Systemic marginalisation leaves the women we work with without formal education, resulting in low to non-existent literacy levels. This situation often causes others to overlook them as the powerful resource they truly are.
The development and protection of their communities shouldn’t be affected because of a historic lack of resources. So, we created training that focuses on practical demonstrations and hands-on learning experiences.
By living and breathing the training for a period of months, the women, like our latest group of Guatemalan solar engineers, leave fully trained, confident and with newfound aspirations. They are ready to take on new positions of leadership and decision-making when they return home.
At Barefoot College International, we emphasise local leadership and community participation in development initiatives.
In remote communities with social structures that historically undervalue women and girls, we collaborate with village leaders and families to gain support for the women training with us.
We recognise that each country and community faces unique needs and challenges. These require tailored solutions. By partnering closely with communities, we identify the most suitable solutions and adapt our programmes accordingly.
For instance, in Cameroon, we tailored our livelihoods program to include mushroom growing, while in Zanzibar, the training focuses on beekeeping and textile crafts like reusable sanitary napkin production.
By actively listening to the women and understanding local needs, we enable them to maximize their income potential and create sustainable, long-lasting impact.
Sustainability and self-sufficiency
We actively promote long-term solutions that empower communities to achieve self-reliance and resilience.
We train each woman who becomes a solar engineer to build, install and maintain solar home lighting systems, ensuring the longevity of the impact we help create.
Our work goes beyond training women for new livelihoods or implementing renewable energy solutions. Through our ENRICHE curriculum, we provide women with the knowledge they need to build aspirations, develop digital and financial literacy, and advocate for their own rights and futures.
Each woman passes on this information to her sisters, friends, and children, fostering resilience and increasing equity for future generations.
We also incorporate self-sufficiency and sustainability through regenerative agriculture initiatives. These support communities in becoming stewards of the land while generating profits for themselves.
By integrating these principles into our teaching methods, we ensure that every programme’s outcome is sustainable and promotes self-sufficiency.
Moving towards decentralisation
At Barefoot College International, we firmly believe that local teams can best deliver local solutions. That’s why we began decentralising our training operations in 2015.
The pandemic accelerated this process, and we now operate five training centres that offer locally-led training. This approach empowers each region to make decisions locally, supported by a limited number of centralised functions.
Our journey toward decentralisation has transformed us into a more agile and responsive organisation, providing training closer to home for thousands of women. This locally-led model enables us to better address the needs of local communities. It shortens training programmes and reduces our carbon footprint due to fewer travel requirements.
Barefoot College International’s Programs and Initiatives
We have several flagship programmes that focus on key areas of development and work hand in hand to provide each woman who trains with us the skills and knowledge to return home as a leader.
This programme brings clean, renewable energy to rural communities by training local women as solar engineers. Each woman is trained to build, install and maintain solar home lighting systems. Each goes on to electrify an average of 50 homes in her community.
Installing clean, renewable energy in remote off-grid communities increases the hours within which children can learn, and community members can earn a living.
This reduces reliance on harmful fossil fuels, such as kerosene, which improves climate and leads to a reduction in respiratory and ocular illnesses.
We also promote Solar as a livelihood for the women we support, who go on to earn a living maintaining the solar systems, training other women as Master Trainers, or selling solar products such as torches and lanterns. As well as providing a livelihood source, this also reduces the waste produced through the use of batteries.
Over 2.5 million people now have access to light as a result of Barefoot solar engineers around the world.
The reduction of gender inequality is not only a pressing social issue but one that would have a significant impact on global economics, with the potential to add $28 trillion to the global GDP.
Through the ENRICHE curriculum, we support women’s aspirations and provide them with an opportunity to build confidence, skills and knowledge. The programme focuses on eight key areas:
- Aspirations and Agency
- Digital Literacy and Skills
- Rights & responsibilities
- Women’s Wellness and Health (Including sexual and reproductive health)
- Sustainable living
- Financial literacy
- Entrepreneurship skills
- Micro-enterprise skills
This programme empowers women to develop essential skills, enabling them to take a bigger role in social and financial decision-making. It also fosters connections among women based on shared experiences.
Many women believe that their second-class status is deserved because of their gender. Through ENRICHE, we challenge this mindset, breaking generational cycles of harm and trauma while equipping each woman with actionable skills for social and economic advancement.
Our Livelihoods programmes work on a number of different levels. First, we support rural women with the skills development and resources to launch profitable livelihoods, such as honey, textiles or agriculture. They receive training, in addition to receiving tools, livestock or other resources to grow their business.
However, our support does not end once the woman launches her business. To create continuous income, we also work to connect these businesses with fair supply chains, at fair prices.
We know that by investing in rural women, we are investing in the long-term economic uplift of their entire community. Implementing these programmes in a localised fashion means that each enterprise is relevant to the local area, and meets local demand for products.
Our Livelihoods training works closely with our work in Regenerative Agriculture. For example, our Coffee livelihoods initiative in Guatemala ensures the highest quality products with regenerative techniques. This means that each livelihood is built with environmental sustainability at its heart.
We work with women farmers, applying permaculture principles to create solutions that address their needs and support the environment. Through sustainable farming methods like agroforestry and silvopasture, we mimic nature, enhancing biodiversity, enriching the soil, increasing carbon storage, and diversifying income sources for farmers. This approach ultimately improves livelihoods and strengthens ecosystems.
Our workshops begin with an evaluation of the farmers’ needs and teach them valuable skills, such as digital literacy and an understanding of their supply chains. This empowers farmers to make informed decisions about their businesses.
Once the production capacity of the farming communities is understood, our team helps them connect with markets. Through hands-on workshops, the community selects members with sales skills to set up and manage income sources.
Once established, this new supply chain, owned by the community, can generate sales at local, regional, national, or even international levels.
Barefoot College International’s Global Impact
Through our innovative approach, we have garnered attention and praise from governments, NGOs, and international organisations. Most importantly, however, we have seen the impact first-hand that our initiatives have on rural communities.
Communities where solar energy is installed by Barefoot solar engineers, see a 98% reduction in kerosene use. This leads to fewer health concerns and to improvements for the environment. Additionally, children in these communities have better access to education, and women take on leadership roles.
Our successful collaborations have created an impact in over 90 countries worldwide. As a result, over 2.5 million people have access to light, and there are more than 3,500 women solar engineers. This means that our global impact through all of our programmes now reaches more than 5 million people.
Success stories from across the global south demonstrate the power of community-driven development. We are incredibly proud to continue building on this success as we grow. Our model has also influenced policy and development practices, inspiring organisations and governments to prioritise grassroots solutions.
Recognised for Our Work
In 2022, we were awarded the Presidential Medal for the Environment by Guatemala’s government, for our work in the region. This is just one example of how our work makes a difference to local people and the planet.
How to Get Involved with Barefoot College International
There are several ways you can support Barefoot College International and contribute to our mission:
Donations and fundraising initiatives: Financial support is crucial for our charity to continue. Please consider making a donation or starting a fundraising campaign if you can.
Partnerships and collaborations: Much of our work is made possible through the support of corporate donors and partners, or through charitable trusts and foundations. If you are interested in making an impact through your donations, please get in touch today.
Spreading the word: Help raise awareness about our work by sharing our stories and successes on social media or within your network.
Volunteering opportunities: Share your skills and expertise by volunteering. We’re always looking for enthusiastic volunteers, either to support us with our work in the field, or in communications, fundraising or finance capacities.