Faulty Development Practices   Leave a comment

UPDATED: Feb. 12, 2011

I flew from Boston to Philadelphia this last Friday to lecture at Rowan University on Jan. 29th. As mentioned before, I worked with Rowan’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) team on two different projects while I was serving in Peace Corps. Rowan’s Engineering Department requested I come and speak to their students and faculty about international development, especially with regard to The Gambia. I prepared for days on my lecture: 50+ PowerPoint slides; printed off 40 some-odd notes; and neglected my school work all of last week to focus energies on this 3-hour speech. The event was worthwhile; I just hope the audience got what they wanted out of the lecture (after spending hours catering the talk to their specific requests).

Rowan has an EWB Chapter, in which their undergraduate students work on inventing devices (in conjunction with faculty) which are intended to assist people living in the ‘global south’. They have come up with devices/projects based on ‘problems’ they see or have heard of, and hit the ground running with their ideas. For example, it was noticed that areas conducive to growing pineapples or coconuts requires climbing very tall trees in order to gather the fruit. People injure or kill themselves due to not using any safety gear. RU-EWB produced a tree climbing device using steel (because it is predominantly found globally and the cheapest metal worldwide) with which a person can scale a tree safely. This all seems fine and dandy, but let’s get practical here. Will a villager haul this huge steel contraption from his/her home to a grouping of trees, attach the device to the tree, climb and gather, and come back down – and repeat again to each tree – when she/he could climb the tree alone faster? And what about the harness, webbing, and carabiners? Are there going to be efforts and funding to provide each climbing device owner with a set of Westernized climbing gear as well, or will local materials suffice in making safety gear for the climbers?

This is all on top of whether the project designers asked a/the community or (even better) a set of communities in different nations if they (the communities’ populous) needed this device to better their lives via a safer way to collect items they may consume and/or sell? (Need vs. Want disease). The answer is no. Does development work perform naturally like this; assume now and ask questions later? I respect (and I can’t stress that enough) the efforts of EWB and their Chapter at Rowan University; I have worked with them before and have a good rapport with their students and faculty. But this is a prime example of faulty development practice. Putting aside the (almost) nonsensical restrictions that EWB puts on their Chapters, the ‘good intentions’ of developed nations could be seen as a neo-colonialism and therefore should never be taken lightly.

*note: The above is nothing new from what I addressed to my audience on Jan. 29th. The PowerPoint (modified) from the lecture can be downloaded here.

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Posted January 30, 2011 by Travis Warrington in Development

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