Local agents of change
People are the focus of our work – after all, it is people leveraging their own strength who permanently improve their livelihoods. Innovative technologies and sustainable organizations are important factors, but even the best technology and the perfect business can fail if not adapted to cultural environments and local conditions. When this happens, development work can feel tedious or even impossible. That is why we want to make the best use of resources already available in a region or a community.
A successful collaboration isn’t just an idea – it is a solid structure and people on the ground. Insights into existing resources, individual hopes, and the political and cultural environment must be in place from the beginning. This is why it is important for each working process to start with listening. Simply listening and being heard shifts thinking on an issue and can open up new points of view.
At Siemens Stiftung, we adhere to the overarching principles of “Community-led development.”
- Development processes are planned and implemented at the community level – in villages, cities, and municipalities.
- To ensure that we pursue long-term, systemic change and not simply short-term victories, it is important for us that locals are actively involved in shaping their local policies and leadership structures.
- People define and achieve their own goals.
It does not matter if a community is extremely isolated or suffers from a precarious existence – we start by looking for hidden resources. It can be an individual person, but is quite often a group, community organization, informal small business, or informal startup that can move a community forward. We want to support them through collaborative work, launching pilot projects, or sharing knowledge and contacts. What emerges in the end is as individual as the people taking part.
Technology transfer done right
Since our work usually deals with technological solutions, it is easy to imagine transferring a solution from one place to another to improve living conditions for even more people. The words ‘replication’ and ‘scaling’ come to mind. But it is not that simple! The wrong technology in the wrong place can do more harm than good. This is precisely why we value thorough dialog within communities. Long-term success depends upon a common understanding of how to use and operate technology, goals, and the planned approach.
Taking development further
In Kenya, we work with some communities on water kiosks for safe drinking water (see: Safe Water Enterprises ). This often leads to new opportunities, initiated by locals. For example, hospitals such as the Health Centre in Ngoliba or the Nyangoro Health Centre use drinking water from the kiosks for their patients, while nearby hotels and businesses use it for their guests. In Kisumu, to name another example, kiosks subsidize the sale of water to the local communities with the sale of water to hotels and businesses in urban areas. Even in the very remote kiosks in Kwale on the Kenyan coast, local restaurants and bars are using water from the kiosks. Transport services have emerged to deliver water to outlying areas using bicycles, mule carts, and motorcycles. These initiatives aren’t just improving people’s health but are also helping secure the existence of local small business operators.
How can participatory design be used to make progress in underserviced communities?
A case study by the MIT D-Lab and Siemens Stiftung shows how this method of technology transfer can be successfully implemented.
Rolf Huber, Managing Director of Siemens Stiftung: “Finding the right technical solutions for the challenge” talks about organizational models in an interview (2018)
MIT D-Lab and Siemens Stiftung : “Aguajira: the practice of co-design for technology transfer” (2018)
“The White Elephant“, David Hoffmann of the empowering people. Network talks about experiences with a water infrastructure project in Conejo, Colombia and why it is so important to involve the community. (2018)