GATE and the rural industries innovation centre- five years of fruitful cooperation
A Comparative Analysis
The Rural Industries Innovation Centre (known as "RIIC") is Botswana's national appropriate technology hardware centre. It identifies, adapts, or designs technologies geared to employment creation and renewable energy, and also provides training to increase rural productivity.
The RIIC is owned and operated by Rural Industries Promotions (RIP), a non-profit organization registered as a company limited by guarantee. RIP, including the RIIC, receives about half of its financial support from the government, and the balance from foreign and international agencies, contracts, and income-generating activities. The current annual budget is just over P1.25 million US dollars and the staff numbers about 150.
Since 1983 RIIC has been cooperating with GATE in a wide variety of areas and in both implementing projects and exchanging information. These include information services, institutional strengthening, biogas, windmills, shallow borehole technologies, desalination, village-level sorghum systems, building materials, the establishment of a non-ferrous foundry, and many others.
Notable successes despite problems
Although RIIC is a national, not an international agency it has provided training, support, and information to a number of other groups in developing countries, mainly from Africa, and in particular from the "front line states" which form part of "SADCC" - the Southern African Development Coordinating Conference - which was set up to reduce economic dependency on South Africa. RIIC receives about 3,000 visitors each year and produces and disseminates many publications.
Perhaps the single greatest difficulty encountered by RIIC in trying to develop and disseminate village level technologies for production and employment is that Botswana's economy is dominated by large capital-intensive mass production companies, both from South Africa and in Botswana itself. Other constraints include the very small population (and thus small market) of one million people (spread over an area the size of France and Belgium put together) and the harsh, arid climate which makes arable farming extremely difficult and hazardous. Despite these problems, RIIC has scored some notable successes, which include the following:
• Hundreds of rural jobs have been created through the dissemination of productive technologies developed in Botswana, including agricultural processing machines, metal fabrication equipment, renewable energy technologies and others.
• Over four hundred villagers have been trained in appropriate technology skills- as blacksmiths, bakers, carpenters, and tanners. The majority of them are in business as informal-sector entrepreneurs, and a few have formed co-ops in the formal sector.
• Many individual farmers and groups are benefiting from low-cost, reliable water supplies made available through the installation of RIIC pumping and desalination technologies.
• By providing support to small workshops and coordinating their activities, RIIC is creating further jobs and reducing imports. For example, animal drawn planters, which were previously purchased from South Africa, are now all produced locally under RIIC supervision.
• The government has benefited from RIIC's work, and many projects in water pumping, agriculture, and wildlife are utilizing RIIC technologies.
• Some of the RIIC's products, such as the unique sorghum dehuller, are being exported to ten other African countries. In 1986 RIIC won first prize for the dehuller hardware and software in an international competition for development technology organized by the Italian Government-sponsored Centre for Peoples' Development, in competition with twenty-two developed and developing countries.
GATE has played a part in many of the "success stories" of RIIC.
The normal method of evaluating the performance of an organization like GATE would be to look at how well it seems to be meeting its objectives. In this article, however, a slightly different approach is adopted, namely comparing GATE's approach with that of other agencies involved in supporting organizations like RIIC in developing countries. The article may appear unbalanced to the extent that there may be more said about these other agencies than about GATE, but it is hoped some lessons will be learnt and the reader will gain some insight into the problems that organizations in developing countries have in dealing with "donor agencies" and "cooperating agencies".
Drawing: Hannah Schreckenbach
Donor and "cooperating agencies" a necessary evil?
RIIC has had contact with, and in many cases is still working with thirty "donor agencies" and nineteen "cooperating agencies".
Although there is a clear distinction in our filing system between the two types of agencies, in practice the line between the two is very unclear.
Before looking at the issue of "what makes GATE special" it is useful to review some of the positive and negative aspects of the various agencies that we are dealing with, within the context of RIIC's overall objectives and strategy.
RIIC has clearly defined primary and secondary objectives which are as follows:
Primary: to develop and adapt innovative technologies for improving the quality of life for rural people end for creating opportunities for labour-intensive rural employment.
Secondary: to identify the needs of rural people; to reduce imports by promoting renewable energy and to develop and utilize local resources and skills. Additionally, to provide technological training to create employment for the informal sector and to ensure proper evaluation and dissemination of RIIC technologies. This secondary list of objectives also includes promotion of small/medium-scale production activities, transferring the manufacture of developed technology to the private sector, promoting awareness of RIIC aims and activities and to maintaining the financial and economic viability of the RIIC.
The RIIC also has clearly defined clients, as follows: rural groups, rural artisans, customers for RIIC products and services, the Government of Botswana, local development institutions, foreign countries and foreign development institutions and donor agencies and cooperating agencies.
Although "donor agencies and cooperating agencies" are the last mentioned group, management and senior staff spend a disproportionate amount of their time, perhaps as much as 20 to 25 per cent, addressing the needs of this group, and in particular dealing with their complicated and widely differing reporting requirements, producing proposals, responding to inquiries, and hosting personal visits. In order to meet the needs of this groups RIIC has established computer programs and has some staff working virtually full time fulfilling these needs. One of the ironies of the situation is that the agencies which state in the strongest terms that they "want to reach the poorest" tend to be the ones that demand the most in terms of narrative and financial reporting. In an article called "Domination by ">Cooperatiom<" published in the magazine "IDRC Reports" Bruno Wambi states that "Technology is like genetic material - it is encoded with the characteristics of the society which developed it' and it tries to reproduce that society."* Although his article is mainly about how Western technology transfer in the name of "development" weakens developing countries and destroys their culture, to a lesser extent we find that donor agencies and cooperating agencies place demands on recipient organizations in developing countries to change their development strategy more and more towards a "top-down" approach, and one in which the most competent and busiest staff find themselves forced to spend an increasing amount of time responding to donor needs, instead of the needs of the people.
Drawing: Hannah Schreckenbach
Too much technocracy
The motives of these donor and cooperating agencies vary widely, and their objectives and ideologies also frequently fluctuate dramatically over fairly short periods of time. Some of the motives and methodologies include the following, or in most cases combinations of the" following:
Groups whose primary objective is "development education" in their home country. In order to effectively "conscientize" their home populations they need first-hand experience of the "Third World situation" and thus impose upon the "receiving agency" persistent demands for information out of all proportion to any financial or technical support they may provide. While this development education is in itself a worthy objective, it is not one of our objectives, and we have to continually ask ourselves "what business are we in?" RIIC is a national organization working with the rural poor, and we must be "patriots and partisans" before we can be "citizens of the world". In fairness it must be said that many of the groups who have development education as one of their objectives achieve a healthy balance with the objective of supporting groups in developing countries.
Technocratic organizations. Although the message is gradually being understood that it is consultation, information, education and extension that make for successful projects, there are still some organizations that lay too much stress on the technology itself.
Coupled with the problem of technocratic organizations, but by no means confined to them, are the agencies which "over-research" a project before they will provide any support for it. Some of these agencies have project design outlines of thirty pages long or more - the person filling in the from virtually has to have a Master's degree in economics or business studies. They also develop a "computer scenario" for the project. As time goes on, of course, the realities of the field situation conflict more and more with the computer model, and the foreign agency then accuses the local agency of having been dishonest in its application, or of not having provided accurate information at the beginning of the project. So we not only need Master's degrees, we have to be prophets as well!
The majority of agencies, and GATE is happily one of the exceptions, also operate on very short time horizons, often as short as three or even two years. There are very few projects, especially in the field of rural technology and dissemination, where such short-term goals can be realistically set. Not only does the nature of the project of ten change when confronted with the realities of experience in the field, but there is nearly always "slippage" on time deadlines, which were probably set in any case at an unrealistically optimistic level to satisfy the donor. Fortunately, through experience, donors are learning that very short-term inflexible support can do more harm than good, and are increasingly prepared to extend projects for further phases.
Although some agencies may rightly criticize the receiving groups for inadequate or late reporting, or for poor financial management, many such agencies are also very badly managed and suffer from financial crises resulting from poor financial control. Thus, some agencies on which we have been relying for continued support on projects have had to withdraw suddenly because they no longer have the funds. This can be extremely destructive as, if it is in the middle of a project, it is usually very difficult to find another sponsor to provide further support. This unprofessional behaviour is also not limited to management issues. For example, one German agency which is not even funding RIIC got hold of copies of the RIIC Motswedi windmill without our knowledge, and built one in Germany with no approval from, or consultation with, our organization.
Agencies which rely directly on support from their own governments, especially in the case of agencies supported by the U. S. Government, are also forced, perhaps through no fault of their own, to operate on very short-term budgets which may be suddenly cut or eliminated, leading to the same problem as described above where we plan a long-term cooperation with them which is suddenly terminated at short-notice.
In addition to the normal reporting and visits from representatives of donor or cooperating agencies, another cause of unproductive time from our point of view consists of "special evaluations" of the project or of the relationship between the donor and the recipient agencies. In the case of one such evaluation (unfortunately this time it was GATE!) RIIC suggested that there should be some internal evaluation of RIIC’s operations for our own use, but because of time constraints this could only be limited to a few hours and was therefore not very useful. RIIC also never received the results of this evaluation although we had been promised a copy of the report in English before the evaluation started, and we understand that the reason is that the evaluation was so poor that GATE did not want to publish the results.
Some elements of the GATE/RIP partnership
It can be seen from the above that an organization like RIP/RIIC has to "juggle" with a whole variety of problems imposed by the organizations which we rely on for our financial survival.
Fortunately, to offset many of these negative factors, some agencies, including GATE, have experienced field representatives who are realistic about the problems of working in a developing country, and who can act as a link or "middle-man" between the donor agency, and its bureaucracy, and the development organization which is actually implementing projects. This is extremely important, as can be seen from the opposite example of a contract from a certain foreign government to support RIIC’s windmill programme. In a period of "cooperation" lasting over two years, never once did a field representative visit the project or see any of the work that was being done at RIIC and in the field. Their evaluation of the "success or failure" of the project was based therefore entirely on written reports, and their "input" into the project was based on complaints about late reporting (valid, but that is not the issue), arithmetical errors in financial reports, and so on. In other words, they showed no interest in the project itself, but only in satisfying their own bureaucratic requirements.
The term "cooperating agency" suggests an equal relationship of mutual respect in which the partners recognize that, while the goals and objectives of each partner may differ, and perhaps even the development philosophy may differ, yet the cooperation will enhance the ability of each to achieve those objectives. We believe that our relationship with GATE has followed this pattern, and has been a successful one. In particular the relationship with the field representative has been a good one, and the meeting in Germany of the various agencies with which GATE cooperates was very useful, not only in forging new relationships with those groups, but in enabling us to gain a deeper insight into the development philosophy and strategies of GATE. We believe that "technology should be the application of science to the art of living", and we believe that GATE shares that belief. In more specific terms, RIP has always stated that "appropriate technology must be a technology liberation; liberation from poverty, hunger, unemployment, and dependency." GATE's commitment to similar ideals has been a great encouragement in our cooperation with them.
One concern which has been raised on a number of occasions, both by the field representative and other GATE staff at the meeting in Germany, is that the partners in the developing countries see GATE as "just another source of funds". In one sense this concern is a valid one. Our contracts with GATE are important to us from the funding point of view both because of their continuity and because of their flexibility. Unlike other agencies GATE does not impose projects or project guidelines on us, does not demand that project plans be changed to meet their own internal objectives and recognizes that development is a complex and long-term process. Reliable long-term sources of finance, even in small amounts, are very important for the stability of development organizations and for "institution building". More important than the amount of funds involved is that this is a partnership in which we do not have to compromise our own principles and which is not based on any paternalistic "handout" philosophy.
Unlike a lot of other agencies GATE realizes the vital importance of information and much of RIIC’s work centres around information sciences in the broadest sense. Bruno Wambi, President of the Congolese Association for the Development of Library and Archival Documents, states that "Ninety per cent of the people in our countries are forced to live in silence because they do not speak the language of technology and progress. Their silence is political, technical and ideological. The remaining ten per cent of people believe that this is a logical state of affairs. What then is the basic condition for development?"
Two-way flow of information
An important element of the relationship with GATE, both for RIP and for other cooperating agencies, is a two-way flow of information, where each can learn from the experiences of the other. GATE refers to a "question-and-answer service" which is a convenient shorthand, but perhaps gives the impression of a rather narrow and highly-structured arrangement. In fact both GATE and RIP provide "software" support to other development agencies at many different levels including published materials, unpublished reports, audio-visual materials, through visits and personal contacts, through both formal and informal training, and through providing the technical solutions to problems. In the case of RIP we are fortunate that in Botswana our sister organization, the Botswana Technology Centre, has a very efficient information service, including a large library and data bank. Thus much of the information which would otherwise be obtained from GATE can be obtained directly from the local organization. Nevertheless, it may be interesting to note that RIP/RIIC and GATE have had exchanges of information in the following areas:
Desalination technologies, proposed advisory centre for local building materials, village level sorghum systems, sharing of experience on AT in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Ghana, information audio-visual, and printing systems in cooperation with the Botswana Technology Centre (including a joint newsletter produced by the two organizations), small-scale building technologies and stabilized soil technologies, biological crop protection, shallow borehole technologies, directory of local products from developing countries, soap making, articles for "gate" magazine (which resulted in several requests from other countries on dehulling technology, desalination and informal sector technical training), work with street children in Nairobi, windmill designs and detailed drawings, and biogas. There is also a current proposal fore joint RIIC/GATE video production. RIIC’s enquiry service facilities, supported by GATE, have also responded to many requests from other developing and developed countries.
However, just as science is never neutral, neither is information, unless it is put to use in the service of our objectives in reaching the people of our community. Information thus has to be seen, and used, within the context of RlP's philosophy that "appropriate technology must be the technology of liberation".
GATE has cause to be proud of its development philosophy and strategy and its projects to date, and we look forward to a continuing fruitful cooperation.
The cooperation partnership between GATE and the Rural Industries Innovation Centre (RIIC) in Botswana has now been in existence for five years. for RIIC it has been a success. The Botswana partner appreciates not only the financial support it receives from GATE, but also - and especially the fact that the two organizations are clearly "on the same wavelength". Another positive aspect is that in contrast to the numerous other organizations with which RIIC cooperates, GATE is also in a position to make longer-term commitments.
La cooperation entre GATE et RIIC (Rural Industries Innovation Centre) au Botswana en est a sa cinquième année d'existence. 11 s'agit la d'une cooperation très fructueuse pour RIIC. Le partenaire autochtone apprécie non seulement le soutien financier apporte par GATE mais aussi le fait que les deux or,qanisations soient "sur la même longueur d'ondes» Un autre aspect positif est que, contrairement aux autres nombreuses organisations avec lesquelles RIIC coopère, GATE est en mesure de s'engager a long terme.
Cinco años de existencia tiene ya la cooperación entre GATE y el Rural Industries Innovation Centre (RIIC) en Botswana. Y es une cooperacion exitosa pare el RIIC. La contraparte botswaniana no solo agradece la ayuda financiera a traves de GATE, sino sobre todo el hecho que ambas organizaciones tienen la misma longitud de onda. Otro aspecto positivo es que GATE, al contrario que les otras numerosas organizaciones con les que coopera el RIIC, está en condiciones de asumir también un compromiso a largo plazo.
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