A social visionary ahead of his time: maybe we ought to catch up?

Posted on November 19, 2011


“I went to a very elitist, snobbish, expensive education in India and that almost destroyed me.” With these words social entrepreneur Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy opens his very inspiring TED talk, giving us a little peek into the remarkable work he has accomplished over the last decades for the poor in India and later also Africa.

His bottom-up approach to change is visionary and respectful, acknowledging the potential and brilliance of each human being. He emphasizes the extraordinary knowledge and skills of poor people who, unlike many of us, never have bought into mainstream. Roy sees potential and entrepreneurs, where many others traditionally have seen victims, and he has redefined the word ‘professionals‘. Based on this philosophy he started a college for the poor – and what the poor found important and useful, should be reflected in this college.  In 1972 the first Barefoot College was established to  provide basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable. Since then the movement has spread across India and to Africa – and won several awards for its visionary work. Hearing Roy speak is utterly refreshing and knowing that he has been doing this work for over 40 years, I am surprised that not more organizations, movements and leaders have built upon his thoughts and made it into a common way of creating sustainable social change.

It seems Roy and the Barefoot movement might have been ahead if its time. But perhaps it’s time that we as societies at large, catch up with those who in fact are decades ahead of us in their visions and compassion for humanity and planet earth. We can certainly learn from those who walked ahead and now are far down the path in front of us. The question is, do our leaders dare to acknowledge their place on the path and reach out for those ahead, and do we as citizens of the world, care to support and engage in those social movements?