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Technology with a Human Face

Developing appropriately scaled economic institutions comes with the need for appropriate technological solutions. Communities with the ability to produce and distribute their own goods have the ability to provide for their basic needs—shelter, food, clothing, and energy. This means both a pump for agricultural irrigation in Sub Saharan Africa and cannery for preserving the harvest in your own community. Most importantly it executes the skills of citizens to their fullest capacity. Schumacher calls the use of appropriate technology, production by the masses and stated that it “mobilizes the priceless resources which are possessed by all human beings, their clever brains and skillful hands, and supports them with first-class tools.”

To further the goal of developing “technology with a human face,” E. F. Schumacher founded the Intermediate Technology Group (ITDG). Recently renamed Practical Action, the organization’s mission is to develop appropriate technologies that raise people from poverty without threatening their way of life. Included in this mission is that technologies should be developed locally, in collaboration with those who will implement them. Doing so assures that projects meet specific needs, use available materials, maintain affordability, and are replicable on a regional scale. Developers and early users are also instructed in the marketing and sale of the implements, thus having the dual benefit of generating income and disseminating the technology.

Practical Action uses this localized approach for securing developing communities access to: energy; shelter; transportation; water and sanitation; food and agriculture; disaster mitigation; and communication. Currently, Practical Action is engaged in over one hundred projects primarily focused in South Asia, Sub Saharan Africa, and Latin American. In addition, their website  provides practical information on a broad range of appropriate technologies, providing accessible support for communities worldwide. A Spanish language version of their website further increases the availability of these resources.

For the past two and a half years Practical Action has been headed by Chief Executive Officer, Simon Trace. Before taking on this role he spent ten years working on development issues in Zambia and Nepal. Since joining Practical Action he has helped them to further develop their innovative programs and provide solutions to a greater number of people. Under his direction, Practical Action continues to be a leader in providing appropriate solutions to those most in need.

The Schumacher Center and Simon’s Rock course on Globalization and Community Ecology will be hosting Simon Trace for a talk on the programs of Practical Action and also on the wider lens of technology’s role in poverty alleviation on April 7, 2008. He will be speaking at the Kellogg Music Center on the Bard College at Simon’s Rock campus at 7:30pm. Tickets are 3 BerkShares at the door.

The event’s cosponsor, Simon’s Rock course Globalization and Community Ecology, is an exploration of the nexus between place, community and forces of global production.