Ordinary People can do extraordinary thingsAn Indian NGO provides services and solutions to problems in rural communities, aiming to make them self-sufficient and sustainable. Its philosophy is deeply rooted in Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas of spirit of service and thoughts on sustainability. Gandhi believed that knowledge, skills and wisdom found in villages should be used for its development, before skills are brought in from outside. This has been applied from the outset: the college itself was designed and built not by urban architects and contractors, but by the locals, who had ample experience of building their own houses.
Management education is not just about preparing individuals for the challenges of running big companies; it is also about educating communities so that they can support themselves. Rural India is home to some of the poorest people in the world, many of whom live on less than $1 a day and who are illiterate or semi-illiterate. Because of this, they can’t get even the lowest paid job, meaning there is little chance of rising above that $1 a day line.
Barefoot College is an NGO that provides services and solutions to problems in rural communities, aiming to make them self-sufficient and sustainable. The college is founded on six non-negotiable values: equality (in everything from social acceptance to wages), collective decision making (there is a free flow of information across the group), decentralization (autonomy is encouraged at every level), self-reliance (this brings enormous self-confidence), and austerity (we believe in simplicity and moderation for a balanced way of life).
The practice of sustainability extends right into college life: all Barefoot initiatives, from the social to the political and economic, are implemented by ‘Barefoot Professionals’ – men and women who were themselves taught by other Barefoot Professionals. By the end of their time at Barefoot, its students will have practical skills that they can use to benefit their community. That might be as a school teacher, doctor, midwife, solar engineer, or hand pump mechanic – the list is endless.
Founded in 1972, Barefoot has seen a variety of different teaching practices and volunteers pass through it. Its philosophy is deeply rooted in Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas of spirit of service and thoughts on sustainability. Gandhi believed that knowledge, skills and wisdom found in villages should be used for its development, before skills are brought in from outside. This has been applied from the outset: the college itself was designed and built not by urban architects and contractors, but by the locals, who had ample experience of building their own houses. Barefoot also upholds Gandhi’s belief that technology should be used in rural villages, but that the villagers should have control of it. Everyone is treated as equal, regardless of caste, age, ability or sex. More than 6, 525 women of all ages have passed through Barefoot and are now skilled professionals who can put what they know back into community life, whether as a midwife, an artisan, or an FM radio operator and fabricator.
The relationship between teacher and student is unique: more often than not, the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher, because we believe that everyone has something valuable to impart to others. No certificates or diplomas are given at the end of the course as this often encourages migration to city slums, and we feel that the individual and the community benefits more from their remaining at home and using their skills there. All our programs, plans and projects are reviewed by a Governing Body four times a year. The GB members have a huge range of experience, some in education, some in civil service, and some in health and social development. Barefoot Professionals are members of the local community who have themselves been taught by other Barefoot Professionals.
The Barefoot College extends beyond its campus in Tilonia, Rajasthan. Anyone who has worked or trained with the college is its ambassador. Also, in an attempt at decentralization, the College has set up eight field centers in Rajasthan and a society called SAMPDA (Society for Activating, Motivating, and Promoting Development Alternatives). As a result of this, the Barefoot philosophy has been copied across India, in 14 states as far apart as Jammu and Kashmir and Tamil Nadu. This is management education for the world where it is needed most.