By: Maria Gotti | Sustainability Projects and Practice Sharing Analyst at Enel | April 28th, 2016

As of 2012, Enel Green Power’s partnership with the Barefoot College - Indian NGO founded by Bunker Roy - has provided access to electricity to numerous rural communities in Latin America.

The Barefoot College is located in Tilonia, a very small village near Jaipur (Rajasthan) and it is where illiterate women from isolated, non-electrified areas, learn how to install and service photovoltaic panels. None of these women has ever left the village where they usually live and where they were born, but they are sent on the other side of the world where they are going to spend several months. After a six month training in Tilonia they become “Solar Engineers” capable of working autonomously and learn how a very small gesture, transferring their knowledge, can change the life of entire communities.

“Some people think that a 49-year old woman cannot learn anything anymore,” said Norma (solar engineer in Mexico). “However, by installing 60 solar panels in our village, we showed that even women of our age can learn. Today we have, in our community, solar lamps that use energy from a 10 watt panel; and also 40 watt photovoltaic panels connected to batteries and 30 m long cables, which have helped us electrify the entire village. And this has actually changed our lives. Now we are different women, in the eyes of our community: we have knowledge of solar power, and our families are proud of us.”

The “solar mamas” project belongs to the communities. It is not a program based on the donation of solar panels, but rather an entirely sustainable initiative that, through the solar committees established by the NGO and the communities themselves, defines entry fees and pays salaries to the engineers. As of now, 39 women from nine countries in Latin America (Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Chile)  have been trained. The project is now expanding in Enel’s world and has also been launched in Kenya.

Why does Bunker Roy maintain his activity in Tilonia and is not willing to export his training closer to where the communities are? He says that it would not be the same thing “You need to take these women away from their world, their family and their community, and insert them in a context of challenge, where they are brought face to face with other cultures. In six months they will be able to know more about solar panels than a college graduate after five years of studying.”

The partnership between Enel Green Power and the Barefoot College is part of Enel’s larger ENabling ELectricity project aimed at providing access to electricity. Today there are about 1.3 billion people in the whole world that have no access to electricity, 85% of which live in rural areas and only a third of them will be electrified in the next few years. This is why Enel has increased its efforts for finding innovative solutions to accelerate local development, bringing electricity in these communities and helping them be independent, self-sufficient and capable of creating value. 

VALUE FOR BUSINESS 

Use a single partnership for numerous Access to Electricity projects which are part of larger ENabling ELectricity project and help the company reach the set Access to Electricity SDG target. Moreover, the partnership enabled Enel to test and gain expertise in the application of the CSV model in different contexts of isolated and rural areas.

VALUE FOR THE STAKEHOLDERS

Provide new job opportunities and promote social-economic development, predominantly for women due to female empowerment. The entire program grants discounted access to electricity in isolated areas, which entails developing and increasing the communities’ living standards with no additional expenses. 

Link to Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Wa21J5ScM4 

Project Fact Sheet - Barefoot College.pdf