Sanjit (Bunker) Roy

Barefoot College
Year founded: 

Barefoot College works with marginalized, exploited and impoverished rural poor communities, guiding them on a path towards self-sufficiency and sustainability.

Focus: Education, Renewable Energy, Rural Development, Technology, Women
Geographic Area of Impact: India, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bolivia, Africa
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 3 million (1972-2010)
Annual Budget: US$ 2.5 million (2010)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 30%
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

Created in 1972, Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, was inspired by the principles of Gandhi and around the concept of the village as a self-reliant unit. The college benefits the poorest of the poor, offering practical skills and knowledge through a learning-by-doing approach to education. In particular, the college focuses on training illiterate men and women to work in the areas of solar energy, water, healthcare, rural handicrafts, communications and women’s empowerment.

Innovation and Activities
Barefoot College demonstrates that illiteracy is not a barrier to poor communities developing themselves and that the most sophisticated technologies can be disseminated by poor rural men and women who can barely read and write. As such, thousands of people are trained each year to be teachers, doctors, midwives, dentists, health workers, solar engineers, water drillers and testers, hand pump mechanics, architects, artisans, designers, masons, communicators, computer programmers and accountants.

The Barefoot campus itself is a testament to the quality of its training programmes. Barefoot-educated architects and masons constructed most of the campus out of low-cost materials and it is the only fully solar-powered college in India.

Barefoot engineers have also helped electrify 35,000 houses with solar energy in 1,000 villages in 37 countries, saving 4.6 million litres of kerosene from polluting the environment. And since 1986, Barefoot engineers have helped collect rainwater in 901 schools in remote villages in India as well as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Sierra Leone and Mali, providing water for drinking and sanitation to 2.65 million rural children. In addition, 1,513 rainwater harvesting structures have been built in rural schools and community centres with a total capacity of 96.65 million litres of water every year.

The Entrepreneur
For over 40 years Sanjit (Bunker) Roy has demonstrated the power and impact of the grassroots community movement, and the need for social entrepreneurs to be social activists first. He was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s spirit of service and thoughts on sustainability. In 2010, Roy was selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential personalities in the world, and in 2008 The Guardian named him one of 50 environmentalists in the world who could save the planet. He has also won a number of other accolades, including the: Sierra Club Green Energy Award (2009); Robert Hill Award for Promotion of Solar Energy (2009); Condé Nast Traveler Environmental Award (2009); SUEZ Environment-Water for All Foundation Special Prize (2009); ALCAN Award for Sustainability (2006); Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship (2005); Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2004); Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy (2003); St Andrews Prize for the Environment (2003); Tech Museum for Innovatoin Award (2002); and the environment category of the Stockholm Challenge Award for Information Technology (2002).