You are currently viewing ‘Empowering women and demystifying technology’ with Barefoot College

Barefoot College has been connecting rural communities to solar, water, education, professions, and advocacy for over forty years. We asked Global Monitoring and Evaluation Director Lauren Remedios about her work leading monitoring and evaluation activities, the Barefoot College training model, and how “solar mamas” are using SurveyCTO in India.

Tell us a little about how Barefoot College is using SurveyCTO.

Empowering women and demystifying technology (making it accessible to the most remote and poorest regions of the world) are the main goals of the Women’s Barefoot Solar Initiative. Since 1989, Barefoot College has been training women to solar electrify their remote communities. It starts by training semi-literate and unschooled women (mothers and grandmothers) to become Women Barefoot Solar Engineers (WBSE), fondly known as “solar mamas.”

We believe that formal education and qualifications are not required to bring about a change in their community. Every year, approximately 80 semi-literate/unschooled mothers and grandmothers from India and least developed countries come to Tilonia, Rajasthan every year and immerse themselves in a six month solar engineering training program.

“By using the SurveyCTO app and sending in not just their data but their observations, successes, and issues, they are made to be a part of the leadership and change in the organization by constantly giving their feedback.”

The women train to create, install, repair, and maintain solar home lighting systems. Additionally, the WBSEs learn to fabricate solar cookers and solar water heaters, make bio degradable sanitary napkins, and mosquito nets. This training takes place in a hands-on and practical environment; the women learn by hand-signals, colors, and drawings because no one speaks a common language at the training campus. At the end of six months the trainees graduate as Women Barefoot Solar Engineers (WBSE). As per the prior agreements with their villages, these professionals go back to their respective communities and electrify the households with solar lighting units. They assume the responsibility of repair and maintenance, run the Rural Electronic Workshop (REW), and receive a monthly salary.

Since 1989, Barefoot’s flagship solar electrification program has trained 664 illiterate and semi-literate women as solar engineers. They have electrified 40,000 rural households in 1265 villages in 64 countries across Latin and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia to serve 500,000 people, installing and maintaining equipment and receiving a salary for their services.

The SurveyCTO system is used mainly for this barefoot initiative as well as other barefoot “solutions” such as our education program, bee-keeping program, and our health program.

Where are you in the project now?

The organization is grassroots, and M&E is fairly new to Barefoot College. We are working on collecting data from all of our past and present projects and doing a meta-analysis, which we will be happy to share when the report is ready.

What are some of the innovative ways you’re using SurveyCTO?

The SurveyCTO app is being used by solar mamas who are trained to collect monitoring data on a six-monthly basis. For women who have rarely left their own village, it requires undeniable courage and endurance to leave their community for the first time to travel to a far-off land (India) where everything, from surroundings, language, food, and weather, to clothes, culture, and habits, is different. The first month is a period of many adjustments in their lives but with time, care, and support from their master trainers they learn to adapt.

“Learning by doing” is the philosophy adopted for training by the Barefoot College. By using the SurveyCTO app and sending in not just their data but their observations, successes, and issues, they are made to be a part of the leadership and change in the organization by constantly giving their feedback.

Photos courtesy of Barefoot College.

Chris Robert


Chris is the founder of SurveyCTO. He now serves as Director and Founder Emeritus, supporting Dobility in a variety of part-time capacities. Over the course of Dobility’s first 10 years, he held several positions, including CEO, CTO, and Head of Product.

Before founding Dobility, he was involved in a long-term project to evaluate the impacts of microfinance in South India; developed online curriculum for a program to promote the use of evidence in policy-making in Pakistan and India; and taught statistics and policy analysis at the Harvard Kennedy School. Before that, he co-founded and helped grow an internet technology consultancy and led technology efforts for the top provider of software and hardware for multi-user bulletin board systems (the online systems most prominent before the Internet).