Solar Mamas Are The New Solar Engineers

The Barefoot College

1. No Poverty 7. Affordable and Clean Energy 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities


Unlike similar efforts by other organizations that require external experts to build and maintain solar power systems, the “Solar Mamas” program teaches poor, uneducated women how to assemble and maintain solar panels for electricity in their environment.


Karla Pena

Karla Pena


EGADE Business School Tecnologico de Monterrey

EGADE Business School Tecnologico de Monterrey


Ezequiel Reficco

Ezequiel Reficco

Francisco Layrisse

Francisco Layrisse


The Barefoot College experience starts in the training centers that deliver all participants – typically a large, global group comprised of pairs of women from the same village – with a 6-month course on solar panels and electricity. During the course, the women learn a common “language” of solar engineering through innovative teaching methods that use visual diagrams and instructions for the content. Then, the so-called “Solar Mamas” come back to their villages and work for local communities in order to develop solar panels and the system necessary for providing electric power to regular households.

The solar panels kits are simple, user-friendly and cost-effective. Because the kits are built by the “Solar Mamas” from components, they are more affordable by cutting out manufacturers from the supply chain, which increases their proliferation and sustainability.

Because the “Solar Mamas” are the experts, they have the opportunity to earn income from their solar-generating activities by installing and maintaining systems throughout their village. Each family pays for electricity, which supports the “Solar Mama” as well as provides support for further development of the program.

Solar Mamas Are The New Solar Engineers

Solar Mamas


There are other undertakings related to providing solar power or, more generally, access to electricity for rural people. The College is proud to have integrated Mahatma Gandhi's ideals into its lifestyle and work ethic. This is the most important distinction since the work is based on non-disputable principles:

Equality – every member of the team is equally important and respected. An individual’s education, gender, caste or class does not make her or him any less or more valuable.

Collective decision making – 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.

Decentralization – of planning and implementation at the grassroots levels, enabling and empowering individuals to articulate their needs.

Self-reliance – the College was born out of the belief that when people develop self-confidence and join together to solve problems, they learn that they can depend on themselves.

Austerity – in thoughts and actions, as well as a lack of barriers and levels that prevent direct interaction, has resulted in a sense of ownership towards the College.

Overall impact

With a geographic focus on the Least Developed Countries, The Barefoot College operates in 1,300 villages in 80 countries worldwide. The impact of direct training and services ripples out to about two million people, giving communities access to clean water and safe, reliable energy. They have taken an inspiring 40-year journey to learn and share the value of rural wisdom.

Impact measures:

  • 97 countries with trained Barefoot solar engineers
  • 18,047 households with solar systems installed
  • Over 2200 illiterate women proficient in designing, installing and maintaining solar systems that provide light and electricity to their villages
  • 14 out of 17 Millennium Global Aims

Business benefit

Working in partnership with the local community, the Barefoot Approach draws on a mix of resources including government and international funding agencies, private foundations, and corporate and individual sponsors to enable the appropriate investment for cost-effective and self-sustaining solutions for delivering solar power in poor, rural communities.

The funding model works by redirecting the $5 to $10 a month that each household previously spent on kerosene, candles or batteries, towards the maintenance and improving of the solar installation. Initially, Barefoot College makes an investment of up to $50,000 in solar equipment for 120 households in the participant’s village. After installation, the Solar engineers are paid a monthly salary for fixing and repairing the solar lamps or kits through this community funding. A committee headed by 4 women and 3 men from the village remains in charge of the equipment and the community funding also pays for the purchase of replacement components.

Social and environmental benefit

Barefoot College believes “Light and power are the keys to everything we do as an organization.” Linear and siloed “solutions” that are usually “offered” to the ultra poor do not create systemic leveraged change. The Barefoot College creates collaborative partners across the spectrum of governments, corporations, foundations, and local NGOs to foster opportunity that spreads in ways no one solution can anticipate or realize. This is how their Solar Mamas have become known around the world for their incredible work electrifying villages in every region. Solar doesn’t just bring light, it can #FlipTheSwitch on an opportunity that shines out in the darkness of poverty without limit.

As an example of an opportunity that can be articulated, but not anticipated, as sustainable light and power become more available, the amount of kerosene used in villages decreases and as that happens, health care outcomes improve. The Barefoot College estimates that in India, the Barefoot solar-electrification program saves two million liters of kerosene every year. A rural family in Africa burns around 60 liters of kerosene a year to light their home. The average kerosene lamp in Africa spews a ton of CO2 in less than 10 years. Solar lighting can replace kerosene and wood, and improve the health of people and the environment.


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The Barefoot College

The Barefoot College

Tilonia, Rajasthan, IN

Business Website:

Year Founded: 1972

Number of Employees: 11 to 50

The Barefoot College first started its solar program in the 1990s to provide access to electricity in the remote and isolated parts of India and is the only fully solar electrified college built and run by the rural poor. For more than 40 years The Barefoot College has designed new ways to nurture and support a journey for women to empowerment, one village at a time, one woman at a time. It demystifies and decentralizes technology by delivering new tools in the hands of the rural poor with a singular objective of spreading self-sufficiency and sustainability. It trains women worldwide as solar engineers, innovators, and educators, who then return to their villages to bring light and learning to their community.