Right Technology

Full Title: *Appropriate Technology in the Sri Lankan Situation*

_A free rendering from a Talk delivered at the TOOL Congress on Appropriate Technology – February 1976, University of Nijmegen, Netherlands_

‘Technology is only a means to an end. No sensible person will contest the need to eradicate poverty and hunger, the importance of providing the basic and essential needs of the population and of improving the standards of life by using technology. .. To the people of Sri Lanka cultural and spiritual development is still part of their total living pattern. What technology they select, therefore, should be appropriate to their total approach to life’

It is with a sense of oneness with all of you who are present here that I participate in the deliberations of this congress. The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka which I represent here is closely associated with Tool in its thinking about development strategies and with several grass-roots projects which are jointly carried out for the benefit of the poor in my country. In the development of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement the governmental and non-governmental organisations and the people of Netherlands have been most helpful to us. Above all the enlightened and progressive economic co-operation policies followed by the Government of the Netherlands in its relationship with the poor world is a source of strength to all of us who are trying to build up our societies on the principles of self-respect, self-help and self-reliance. All these factors make me feel one with you who are assembled here in the University of Nijmegen.

Science and technology is such a vast and complex subject that laymen like myself should not attempt to make simple generalisations on its application to human situations. However, I believe that like any other tool in the hands of the human being, science and technology also should be subject to the moral principles of human behaviour and control. When science and technology become amoral and take over the control of man in the same way as it does with any other thoughtless and senseless material objects then it has gone beyond its usefulness and needs redirection. In highly advanced societies one has to ponder and see whether this critical stage has been reached, and if so, what corrective action should be taken to make science and technology continue to serve man and not to enslave him. On the other hand, in spite of their so called backwardness, the poorer countries still have a chance to learn from the mistakes of the rich countries in their applications of scientific knowledge and technological know-how to their own situations with a view to avoiding such imbalances. The theme of this congress, namely Appropriate Technology, has a relevance, not merely to developing countries but to humanity in general as well and such a discussion therefore is most appropriate to the times we are living in.

The elite in most newly independent countries made a costly mistake for their people by adopting the western model of development, education and technology. The conditions in our countries, apart from the prevalence of several centuries of a dependent psychological situation, were not conducive to unquestioned imitation of values. technologies and institutional forms from Western societies. Yet these values were imposed upon us by our ruling elite in blind imitation of the West. Most of those who took over the reins of government and policy making from the colonial powers were not an integral part of the culture, traditions and the mass of the people of our countries. In such a situation it was not surprising that the same sophisticated and capital intensive technologies were introduced to our countries in ignorance of the realities of our past civilisations, and the present rich human resources. The price we have had to pay in the form of mass poverty, unemployment, social and political unrest and dependency as a result of neglecting our own resourcefulness and potential is enormous. I believe that appropriate technology viewed from this position may well show us a way to the re-discovery of our own potential for creating a self-reliant social order, beginning from the re-discovery of man himself.

Sri Lanka has a well-preserved and recorded history of over 2500 years. Long before the scientific revolution of the West, the early periods of the Sri Lankan civilization were characterized by a highly advanced system of tank construction irrigation, agriculture and architecture, which would necessarily have required advanced scientific techniques in these fields at that time. All these techniques were integrated with the life of the people so that man was not alienated from himself or his community. The social and political organisations always kept man at the centre so that his ultimate objective of attaining the highest possible cultural and spiritual levels was supported by the techno-economic system rather than hampered by it. This situation was completely reversed by the strategies adopted immediately after the second world war and the resulting technological tutelage which distorted our cultural milieu.

Foreign experts, the new missionaries in the post independence era were advocating high technology and capital intensive projects and industries as the panacea for the country’s underdevelopment. A feverish modernisation programme started. Engineers, doctors, scientists and managers were trained abroad and their level of performance was to be maintained at the same high Western standards. Contracts were signed, loans were obtained, heavy machinery was imported, a few factories were put up and at the end of all this Sri Lanka also came into possession of what people now call several “islands of technological incongruity”. They never got integrated into the total pattern of life of the farmer or villager or the community as a whole.

Technology is only a means to an end. No sensible person will contest the need to eradicate poverty and hunger, the importance of providing the basic and essential needs.of the population and of improving their standard of life by using technology. But all sensible people should seriously think of the human cost of artificially creating endless material wants and of the craze for directing all our resources and know-how to increasingly satisfying these wants. A purely materialistic approach to life will not take us to increased happiness or to the joy of living. Human life is meant for and is capable of higher achievements in other more satisfying fields as well. To the people of Sri Lanka cultural and spiritual development is still part of their total living pattern. What technology they select, therefore, should be appropriate to their total approach to life.

Some people misunderstand our total approach to life and think that we are anti-scientific and opposed to material advancement. They say we are trying to put the clock back. This is a misconception. There is clear evidence both in Buddhist and Hindu teachings of the importance of having a sound economic base for the progress of a society. The difference lies in our different approaches to economic development and end purposes. Lord Buddha in His Noble Eight-fold Path leading to perfect enlightenment has included Right Livelihood as its fifth factor. In one of His discourses Lord Buddha mentions the four characteristics of a right approach to economic action, namely , (i) diligence in efficient productive activity, (ii) preservation of what is produced and conservation of nature, (iii) the right social milieu in which one should work, and (iv) a balanced approach to consumption.

The first factor brings to the participant (i) the joy of personality awakening through constructive and creative labour, (ii) harmonious social integration by working as a member of a group and (iii) satisfaction of the needs of life through productive work. In this economic philosophy there is an in-built motivation for self- aggrandizement that activates both the employee and the employer. Instead of productive work debasing their human relationships, they are lifted up to higher human levels and relationships. There is no alienation of the human being from his essential self or his work.

Similarly consideration is given to ecological factors, to psychological and social equilibrium and to limits of consumption in this economic philosophy. In short we have our own indigenous thinking about economics and development and the type of technology we choose, evolve and develop may well add a new dimension to the experience the rich countries have gained. To together we can learn from our experiences and develop a new techno-economic base built on non-exploitation, on sharing, equality and respect for one another. Advanced technology has failed to do it. Can appropriate technology by its freshness of approach achieve it?

Please, permit me to caution you on just one of several pit-falls we might have to avoid in developing appropriate technology. We are living in an era of liberation. When oppressed people wake up, the oppressors also hasten to play the role of liberators. When people demand participation in decision-making the bureaucratic establishments are the first to support the cry and ‘people’s participation becomes another jargon in their development vocabulary. The so-called first and second development decades of the United Nations’ bureaucracy provided the people of the world proof of tons and tons of such manipulative jargon without much concrete benefit to the people themselves.
Appropriate or Relevant or Intermediate Technology with Dr. E.F. Schumacher as its prophet may draw many disciples from among the privileged both in the rich and the poor world. There is nothing surprising in this trend as it is the way things do happen. However, if Appropriate Technology becomes a preserve of the few and if it turns out to be another elitist exercise to which the poor have no access, all your endeavours will end in disappointment and frustration. Therefore I strongly believe that all Appropriate Technology programmes should be directly related to concrete grass-root development action. The beneficiaries should have direct access from the problem – identification stage to the problem-solving experience, so that the programme becomes their own.

Let me illustrate this. When I first met a TOOL representative I brought him face to face with a group of unsophisticated youth, who were trying to irrigate their dry zone land.

Together they studied the problem and within seventy two hours they had their first crude windmill turning and lifting water to their rice fields. A shared psychological situation, a shared social milieu, a shared concern and a shared joy of achievement brought them together in a long term partnership of true liberation through co-operation. They established a firm partnership between the Sarvodaya and TOOL movements. This type of action- based man to man relationship can prevent Appropriate Technology becoming a mere fashion of the times. It can help to develop a sound people’s movement raising productive levels and quality of life.

This example brings out a clear difference between the two approaches – the monolithic advanced technological approach and the appropriate technology approach. The latter has to work with people mostly, less with systems. Hence the practitioners of Appropriate Technology have to develop a humanistic philosophy and an inward vision within their own personalities. As Appropriate Technology by its very definition has to be different from country to country and even from one place and another in the same country it will not have the omnipresent mechanistic uniformity that characterises a vested interest such as technocratism. Therefore the binding universal feature of appropriate technology is a sound system of human values or what you may call a humanistic philosophy.

Sarvodaya is such a humanistic philosophy. The word Sarvodaya means the concept of the awakening of all — the well being of all or respect for all life. When one accepts this idea as the centre of his or her philosophy of life, invariably such a person is motivated into sharing his or her time, thought and energy (Shramadana) to remove the cause that brings about suffering in others. When as a result of one’s efforts the less fortunate. especially the most deprived in a society, become free and happy, that in turn brings about a detached joy in such a person. A life dedicated to earning that joy of service becomes a life of psychological equanimity and peace and is unshaken by the vicissitudes of life. Through such persons a non-violent but total revolution can be generated involving hundreds and thousands of willing hands to work for self-development. The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka has successfully shown how a thousand villages could be awakened to their own potential through such motivated individuals. The movement has out of its experience over years of work with thousands of people developed very precise and logical techniques of social change linking the traditional with the most modern. Without destroying the existing social tissue it seeks to implant the most socially appropriate, scientific and technological advances in response to the hopes and aspirations of the people whom it seeks to serve.

In the Sarvodaya Village Development Scheme in Sri Lanka, before we introduce technology, we seek to lay down three levels of infrastructure.

Firstly, a psychological infrastructure making individuals aware of the causes of their poverty and possible solutions.
Secondly, and social infrastructure, organising the people for mass action to solve their own problems and demonstrating the effectiveness of mass activity, organising camps in which the participants from within and outside villages (quite often from foreign countries too) gift their labour (Shramadana) for providing a basic utility in the village by the construction of access roads, a water reservoir, a school or a community hall.

Next, based on these experiences the social structures such as pre-school children’s groups, school-going children’s groups, out of-school youth groups, Farmers’ groups and mothers’ groups are organised using the village leadership which emerges during these exercises.

Thirdly, an improved physical infra-structure is created in the form of roads, water supply facilities, meeting places etc.

These three stages are followed by training programmes for selected youth both for community leadership and for the acquisition of appropriate technological skills conducted in Sarvodaya Development Education and Training Institutes. The training itself is not formal or rigid. It is a process of learning together by problem identification and finding solutions. By such participation training four main objectives for rural appropriate technology have been evolved:

# To discover, organise and up-grade the available knowledge and know -how in the villages.
# To develop and utilize to the maximum all individual talent and labour for co-operative effort.
# To concentrate on goods and services beneficial to the community, and
# To protect and conserve the resources and the environment.

With these guide-lines it is possible for the trained youth to choose innovations most suitable for a particular situation. On their own return to villages and with the assistance of elders and other members of the community, they formulate a total plan for village development. This plan would embody not only industrial and agricultural projects but also such factors as nutritional supplementation to correct diet deficiencies, pre-school and medical care as well as long-term plans for ensuring economic and social security for participant youth. To supplement the asset of labour they possess capital requirements have to be provided for them. For this purpose we have organised a revolving fund. At this stage every attempt is made not only to couple the grass-root development plan to those of governmental regional plans but also to utilize the services and institutions of government for its implementation.
I give this experience to you to illustrate one strategy that could be used to bring appropriate technology direct to the people with their own initiative and as suited to their own situation. On this grass-roots foundation appropriate industrial techniques and systems to make the fullest use of human resources and to make them most productive with material resources available in the country can be developed. In Sri Lanka suitable institutional structures such as Divisional Development Councils. Agricultural Productivity Committees and Self- help Housing Societies are also being developed by the government as safeguards against abuse by vested interests. It may well be that with correct political leadership and social consciousness on the part of people, a country like Sri Lanka can develop Appropriate Technology as an important part of the national strategy for development.

As the Appropriate Technology concept is new and is just getting off the ground it has its own advantages and difficulties. The advantage of beginning with the involvement of the poorest and neediest in developing countries should be foremost in our minds. However, the political and economic dimensions of an expanding Appropriate Technology Movement both at national and international levels should not be forgotten.

The public and the governments is our countries have to be more and more enlightened about our approach by pragmatic programmes. In place of high level, costly experts, concerned and motivated mid-level scholars and students from universities and technical institutes and other skilled people who can live with common people should be facilitated to work in developing countries and together with them so evolve programmes for development.
New concepts and strategies for research have to be developed. In short a vast untapped area of thinking and action lies ahead of us. I believe that this congress will give all of us encouragement and hope to accept the challenges of this much needed task for the benefit of humanity.