If economic leaders are really for "inclusive growth" as discussed in the recently-concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, it's time to set their sights on the rural poor.

Bunker Roy, Founder of the social work and research center Barefoot College said the APEC economic leaders should strongly consider shifting their focus.

“Unfortunately the inclusive growth that people are talking about right now are not including the rural poor enough, and that is what makes it a bit sad,” he told Karen Davila for ANC's Headstart.

Roy said people from rural areas are instrumental in the growth of a nation, noting that all they need is to be heard and to not be discriminated.

“The rural poor all over the world have so much to offer and they have such a rich tradition of knowledge, skill and wisdom that people don’t have time to listen to. If you only listen to them, you’ll find they are more inclusive than ever, but you cannot treat them separately or differently, you cannot discriminate, and inclusive growth sometimes tend to discriminate,” he said.

And Roy knows this best, having been an effective mediator between the bigwigs and the commoners, the CEOs and the poor.

“I think CEOs need to meet people who they can equate with or be comfortable with. If there’s too much of a contrast between the way the CEO lives or thinks with the person who's living in the poor or with the poor in very remote villages, they tend to not believe that this could have been possible," he said.

The social entrepreneur shared that arrogance is a no-no.

"Just treat them as human beings and listen to them, [to] what they have to say. You might reject them afterward and say this is not what I want to do, but they have something to say and that is very simple,” Roy added.


When Roy started Barefoot College, he went to communities with nothing but trust in people, and that’s how he convinced the underprivileged to act.

Roy said he refused to just donate money. Instead he asked the community to help raise the money by planning what they intend to do with the donations.

Barefoot College eventually made solar engineers out of 40 illiterate grandmothers in just six months.

“It’s amazing that you convince them that you are confident that they will make it...the feeling of solidarity, the feeling that they cannot fail, they are the ambassadors of their country and they know they are the only solar engineers of their country,” he said.


Roy said the future lies in the bottom-up approach, treating CEOs and poor people as equals.

“The future today is not a business model but a partnership model where everyone is an equal partner, there is no chance or no future for a top-down approach, it has to be bottom-up," he said.

“There is no urban solution to a rural problem; you have to have a rural solution to a rural problem. When you have solar companies giving solar plants, that is feeding an urban solution. If you want to go rural, you have to decentralize and demystify, and you have to go right down to the community level and give them the opportunity to look after themselves, ” Roy said.

Roy believes that lasting change is not learned in universities--it is in living with communities. Hence, future leaders and policy makers should have practical experience.

“The role model should be someone who’s practical, down to earth, grounded, so they are the ones who are going to change from below,” he said.