Everything you need to know about Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy, the enabler of empowerment.
“Wherever I’ve been, and I’ve been to over 20, maybe 25, countries in Africa, I’ve noticed how their backbone is broken. They don’t have any confidence in themselves. They always think a white man will solve their problems from outside for them.” — Bunker Roy.
A product of the ‘silent generation’ who was born two years before India gained independence, Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy was born into affluence and could have gone the industrialist or business way given that he attended one of India’s best school, The Doon School and topped it up with a bachelor’s from Delhi’s prestigious St. Stephen’s College.
He though had different plans. With a “real” education digging open wells for drinking water as an unskilled labourer for 5 years between 1967 and 1971, he turned to social entrepreneurship when he felt the need to equip people with “real” skills. This led to the “Barefoot College” coming about in the year 1972 for which he is said to have taken inspiration from none other than the Mahatma himself.
The Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC), otherwise known by its pet name, the Barefoot College is an NGO in India is known for having done great work in bringing about much-needed changes. At the grass-root village level in India, it has done yeoman service in important fields that include education, skill development, women’s empowerment, health and provision of potable water, and rural electrification through the use of solar power.
In all, these are known to bring about significant and measurable upliftment in the lives of the rural populace in India. Without a set syllabus, as is the case with other educational institutions, the Village’s Barefoot College in Rajasthan’s Tilonia village in Ajmer district teaches its ‘students’ essential life-skills including gaining literacy, knowledge of accounting and every endeavour that makes people self-sufficient and forward-oriented in life — despite obvious hurdles and hardships.
Most of the education takes place in night schools which operate outside the traditional hours of education in normal institutions and is meant by design to facilitate those who have to work in order to survive and feed a family. So successful have these night-schools been that a 2008 study found girls far outnumbering boys! As for numbers, the same study found 3000 students in 150-night schools.
As for Bunker Roy, he does present a bag of contradictions of which the most outstanding feature has been his ability to stand out in whatever he has done in life! Excerpts of his personal achievements and attributes include:
- Got the right education digging open wells for drinking water as an unskilled labourer for 5 years (1967–1971).
- Was the Indian National Squash Champion in the years 1965, 1968 and 1971.
- Was profiled for his work at the Barefoot College by Time as one of the 100 most influential people.
- Greg Mortenson, an American professional speaker, writer, veteran, and someone known worldwide for promoting sustainable living has written about Barefoot College as being instrumental in training over 3 million people for jobs in the modern world in simple, sustainable settings that accommodate the students’ needs.
- Bunker Roy’s TED talk at TED Global in Edinburgh in October 2011 was translated into 45 languages with a viewership of 3.7 million.
- Was awarded the Padma Shree by former President of India Shri Giani Zail Singh in 1986.
- Outstanding Schwab Social Entrepreneur, World Economic Forum Davos Switzerland September 2002.
- The Stockholm Challenge Award for Information Technology Sweden October 2002.
- The World Technology Award for Social Entrepreneurship, World Technology Network New York 2002.
- Tech Museum For Innovation Benefiting Humanity California November 2002.
- St Andrews Prize for the Environment, Scotland May 2003.
- The Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy London July 2003.
- Tyler Prize April 2004 California USA.
- The Skoll Foundation 2005.
- US $ 1 million ALCAN Award for Sustainability 2006.
- SUEZ Environment-Water for All Foundation- Paris July 2009.
- Robert Hill Award: Promotion of Solar Energy: Hamburg September 2009.
- Asian Awards, Social Entrepreneur of the Year. London, November 2011.
- The Guardian London. 5th January 2008 identified Bunker Roy as one of the 50 Environmentalists in the world who could save the planet.
- Blue Planet Prize Japan November 2011.