“All this appropriate technology sounds pretty interesting and potentially really beneficial, but why is it that I haven’t come across any of the things you’ve mentioned in all of the villages I’ve visited?”

A friend recently asked me this question. He has a very valid point – he has not come across any of the technologies I’ve mentioned or worked on thus far simply because they aren’t out there. There are plenty of designs in existence, but they aren’t being used on the ground. So, where is the technology?

It seems to be stuck in the development phase. Stuck in NGOs that push donor funded technologies which are not necessarily ready or appropriate. Stuck in universities that focus on design and testing but have little capacity to follow up with dissemination. Stuck in charitable foundations that give away technologies only to find them broken and neglected the following year. The technology is stuck in the developed world – exactly the place that it shouldn’t be.

There’s a lot of people working on design, but what happens afterwards? Very few projects actually make it to the market level, and an even smaller number scale up. One excuse is that the design is specific to a single community, but that should not inhibit all of the other technologies that are meant to target multiple communities in multiple countries.

People have tried giving things away. People have tried pushing solutions. None of it seems to work, or if it does then it’s a temporary, unsustainable fix. If the technology is worth it, then there should be a market for it. We need to find these markets.

The more I travel, the more I see the need for a business model to disseminate appropriate technology. We need a way to ensure that what we’re building fits what the community wants. We need a way to change the perception of the white helper into people helping themselves. We need to support local entrepreneurs instead of leading them to believe that some NGO will come in and give them an easy way out. The more I travel, the more my focus shifts from design to dissemination at the market level.

Now, if only someone could find this business model for not one, but all of the appropriate technology out there…

(Photo: Jinka, Ethiopia, 2009.)