Cartier Philanthropy - Grandmothers switch the lights on

Grandmothers switch the lights on


Barefoot College, Tilonia, India, trained 14 illiterate or semi-literate middle-aged women from Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam to become solar engineers. Following a 6-month training course, the graduates brought solar electrification to 11 villages which had no prospect of being connected to the traditional power grid. 739 households have been solar electrified. Access to clean electricity has lowered lighting costs, enabled income generation, supported educational activities and reduced or eliminated the fire hazards and indoor pollution of traditional paraffin lamps.

Focus area
Women’s Social and Economic Development
Cambodia Myanmar Vietnam
Barefoot College

Results achieved

The Barefoot approach has made clean solar technology available to neglected communities, placing this technology directly in the hands of the villagers themselves and promoting new ways of empowerment and collaboration.
The Barefoot model challenges traditional notions and attitudes whilst educating middle-aged illiterate or semi-literate women (often grandmothers) from impoverished rural communities because they have a vested interest in their village and no desire to leave it to find a better job. This ensures that the knowledge acquired does not flow away.
The programme’s main objective is to empower women through technology, in particular the management of their community lighting and mobile phone charging supply.

The following results were achieved:

  • 14 illiterate and semi-literate middle-aged women from Cambodia (4), Myanmar (6) and Vietnam (4) were trained as Barefoot Solar Engineers at the Barefoot Campus in Tilonia, India. The training taught them to fabricate, and install home lighting systems giving them both technical skills as well as self-confidence. This has led them to become influencers in their communities and role models to both young men and women
  • 739 households were solar electrified by the graduates who are now responsible for the repair and maintenance of solar panels in their communities. They are also responsible for sharing and disseminating the solar technology in their community, and for training other women, thereby passing on their knowledge and sustaining the model.
  • Village Environmental Energy Committees have been set up in the three countries to monitor the solar equipment maintenance, manage solar initiatives and collect the monthly contributions from the electrified households. The members were trained on governance and book-keeping.
  • The solar-electrified villages experiences reductions in air pollution, fire and health hazards and see significant reductions in deforestation and land degradation.
  • The quality of social and economic life in the targeted communities is enriched as access to electricity multiplies opportunities, enabling activities after dark such as night schooling, small evening businesses, food processing and handicraft production. In many cases small shops have opened in rural communities, increasing access to basic products.

Barefoot College joined forces with GRET in Vietnam as well as with other auxiliary partners in Myanmar. GRET was also commissioned to undertake a technical assessment of the work carried out in Cambodia.