Barefoot_College_pic1.jpg
www.barefootcollege.org
Barefoot College challenges the whole paradigm of "formal" education, the prestige associated with paper degrees and some of the artificial constructs that create hierarchies of learning. Barefoot architects, teachers, health workers and technical specialists in the energy and water sectors receive practical training at the college and then return to their communities to promote human and infrastructural development. Here we examine their solar training program.

Overview

Thumbnail Analysis - The Enterprise-Customer Connection

Discussion

Hypothetical case where an engineer becomes an entrepreneur

Supporting Documents




OVERVIEW:

Began: 1972, Tilonia, Rajasthan, India

What: A pro-poor, pro-rural educational institution that emphasizes practical skills, problem-solving, and self-reliance. One of their programs of learning is based around solar PV systems technology. Students, primarily rural women, come from all over India and the world to gain hands on experience designing and installing solar systems. There are no pre-requisites for attending Barefoot College, not even language requirements.

Now (2008): 20 colleges exist in 13 states of India. Focus subject areas include: teacher training, social and health awareness raising, rainwater harvesting, and alternative energy which is examined below.

Outcomes/Impact: The Barefoot Solar Engineers (BSEs) have, over the last 20 years, electrified over 12,000 homes in India as well as many institutions: 300 adult education centers and 870 schools. The campus itself is solar powered (over 50 kW installed capacity)
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THUMBNAIL ANALYSIS: The Enterprise-Customer Connection

Broader Context:


Delivery Side

End-User Side



+

-


Entrepreneur (e):
Bunker Roy as the program's champion, but not necessarily an entrepreneur
392 solar engineers have been trained, but work more as employees/technicians than entrepreneurs
Demand (d):
There is a strong demand for energy services in many of the isolated and harsh areas where solar engineers operate. Customers are paying relatively more for lower quality service.


+


+

Technology/technique (t):
Solar PV for household and institutional electricity; Solar thermal for cookers, dryers, and water heaters
Knowledge (k):
Awareness of the benefits arising from alternative energy are established through grassroots networks.
Customers are trained to use and maintain the technology.


+

+


+

Finance (Ef):
The college itself and the SHS installations are funded primarily through grants.
Finance (Cf):
SHSs are provided by government agencies, donor organizations, etc.
Customers contribute for maintenance and repair.


+
+


+

-

Services (Es):
Some capacity development provided with grants and by inter-mural transfer of trained staff.
Business development services lacking.

Services (Cs):
Fees are collected regularly and work overseen by village committees for operation and maintenance.
Systems are maintained and repaired by technicians.


+

+

Notes:
+ indicates an attribute is present and/or positive
- indicates an attribute is missing and/or negative
/ indicates an attribute partially present and/or positive
O indicates an attribute that is uncertain/imprecise, needs further exploration

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DISCUSSION:


The project is sustainable from the point of view that low-income residents, especially women, are trained as engineers; they tend to remain in the communities working and training others rather than seeking better paying jobs elsewhere. Environmentally, of course, the use of solar PV and solar thermal technologies is considered sustainable, especially with proper maintenance and battery replacement.

The scope of the project, though, remains fundamentally limited by the willingness of donors and governments to cover the capital costs of the systems. Historically, this has amounted to X per household. If it were generally agreed that every under-served citizen is entitled to a base electrical subsidy similar to the implicit ones accorded urban dwellers by virtue of their proximity to public infrastructure (which equals approximately Y), the Barefoot College implementation model would be a near ideal, grassroots way to extend and maintain that sort of public investment in energy “infrastructure.” This has yet to happen and public resources for low-income rural energy supply remain insufficient to reach the entire target population.

Even though a household's ability to pay is assessed by Barefoot associates and monthly contributions are collected for service and repairs, the households do not shoulder any portion of the hard costs. If at least some of this cost could be financed (rather than subsidized) and eventually recovered, then customer base could be expanded even while donated resources are held constant.

The monthly service costs average out to $4/HH/mo. It would interesting to explore how much typical households would be willing to pay per month and whether this amount could be matched with some credit system that would allow the households to actually own the systems after a number of years. Many estimates put the average un-electrified household willingness to pay for electric services somewhere between $5 and $10 / HH / month.

As a model, Barefoot College appears to fit in a category of activities headed by a single champion. While the impact that this one champion has had is by all means impressive, if each (or even some) of the engineers were encouraged to properly transition from “engineer” to “entrepreneur” the net impact could be even more dramatic. The barriers that each engineer would face in becoming an entrepreneur are significant in this case. Consider for a moment that the engineer is attempting to run his/her own enterprise.
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Hypothetical Case where a BSE starts own enterprise:





“Enterprise” Side

"Customer” Side



O

Entrepreneur (e):
The engineer would serve as the entrepreneur and would require the motivations necessary for this role change (not all would qualify).
Demand (d):
There is a strong demand for energy services in many of isolated and harsh areas where solar engineers operate and customers are paying relatively more for lower quality service.


+


+

Technology/technique (t):
Solar PV for household and institutional electricity; Solar thermal for cookers, dryers, and water heaters
Knowledge (k):
Awareness of the benefits arising from alternative energy are established through grassroots networks.


+


O
O

Finance (Ef):
No known channels for meso-level financing exist.
Barefoot College might be able to gather financial resources and donate/lend them to the entrepreneur (acts as wholesaler and capacity builder).


Finance (Cf):
No known programs in place to provide SHS subsidies directly to customers outside of Barefoot College programs.
No known established relationships with MFIs.
Customer existing and improved income and savings levels need to be examined more closely.



O

O
O


+

O

Services (Es):
Excellent technical training services are provided by Barefoot College.
No business development services yet; these would be needed.

Services (Cs):
Customers are trained to use the technology.
Systems are maintained and repaired by engineers.



+
+

Notes:
+ indicates an attribute is present and/or positive
- indicates an attribute is missing and/or negative
/ indicates an attribute partially present and/or positive
O indicates an attribute that is uncertain/imprecise, needs further exploration


The Barefoot College BSE program has, in many ways, succeeded but caveats are in order. It will continue to succeed as long as 1) donors and governments are willing to both fund the college as well as the SHS installations, and 2) as long as a capable and motivated champion remains at the helm. As risks, the first of these can be mitigated by further exploring both the extent of the customers' willingness to pay the capital costs as well as the possibility of making SHS subsidies a more permanent aspect of government policy. The second can be mitigated by replicating the entrepreneurial experience and creating a portfolio of Barefoot solar businesses. These actions may help not only to further guarantee the program's long-term survival, insulating it from adverse shocks, but may also aid in achieving more rapid and “organic,” or self-perpetuating, scale-up.
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Supporting Documents:


http://www.barefootcollege.org