Using Sketchup 3D Modeling Software for Community Development and Relief

As a community development worker, I’m always looking for new tools that can help bridge the gap between donors, technical experts, policy makers and communities. At the same time, I have a strong belief in the principles of Appropriate Technology and try to keep my work as low-tech as possible for fear of alienating people because of unnecessary complexity, excessive cost or technical skill required for completing a particular task. As a person who has used GIS for nearly 20 years, I have found more times than not a simple hand-drawn sketch map can accomplish the same or more in less time than a scale map overlaid on high resolution satellite images – especially in a community workshop setting. Nonetheless, there are times when accuracy counts and clarity matters, such as when communicating with government agencies or policy-makers. Additionally, one could argue that the longer the design process remains the hands of stakeholders the more satisfied they will be in the end product.

Recently, I have discovered a new tool that I believe could find a good home among community development and relief workers. Sketchup (formerly Google Sketchup) is a software program that makes it easy to create and share 3D models. It’s is available as a freeware version (SketchUp Make), a paid version with additional functionality (SketchUp Pro) and a free beta online version at http://my.sketchup.com. It’s compatible with Mac and PC and can be run on Linux using Wine (a MS Windows compatibility layer). Professional engineering/drafting program such as Autocad will set you back about $380 per year and comes with a much steeper learning curve. Sketchup on the other hand is easy to learn, thanks to millions tutorials on YouTube (1,800,000 to be exact) and you can’t beat the price (free).

Autocad is designed for creating blueprints for buildings, airplanes, toasters, etc. Sketchup on the other hand focused on creating the easiest way to draw in 3D. I have found Sketchup to be an excellent tool to work between end-users and engineers and architects by providing end users much better means to communicate their vision. It allows end users the ability to visualize, think through and adapt many design problems on their own and saves the time and expense of having engineers and/or architects thinking through all these details.

I’ve been using the freeware version for the past couple of years and have found it able to do most of things I want it to. Connected to Sketchup is an extensive database of millions of user created and shared models including houses, cars, plants, lights, animals, people, furniture, industrial equipment, etc. All it takes is a few clicks to add any model to your Sketchup project. Sketchup also makes it easy to create scale models of existing buildings through its connection to Google Earth which allows you to import a scale basemap of any location on earth. Once in the model it’s easy to quickly reproduce buildings and the layout of entire communities, trees, plants and all! Once created you can export your 3D project as an real-to-life image or as a Google Earth KMZ file which can be opened and viewed in 3D in it’s proper location on the earth. Sketchup models can also be printed using a 3D printer.

Wind turbines created in Sketchup and modeled in Google Earth. Source: http://stigmergist.blogspot.com/2013/06/modelling-windfarms-with-sketchup-and.html

Now that you have a better idea what Sketchup is all about, below are some ways I feel Sketchup can be used as a tool by community development and relief workers.

1. For collaborative design, using it to build consensus, work through problem and generally “bring-to-life’ the ideas expressed by community stakeholders that can then be shared with donors, policymakers, architects, engineers and contractors.
Sketchup can greatly facilitate collaborative design efforts by giving people a more accurate and “true-to-life” representations than hand-drawn sketches, it can also give community members more control over the design process by enabling them to work through more of the nuts and bolts issues that can more readily be revealed with a 3D model such as issues with access, functionality, maintenance, wear and tear, etc.


Above: A model of a biogas latrine built by EWB at Shirali Primary Primary School in Kenya. Still under construction. Model will change a bit. (click on model to enable 3D view)

2. For communicating with donors and policy makers
Sketchup can be a powerful tool to express community needs to donors and policymakers by making outcomes more visible and tangible. It also creates greater accountability by giving communities and donors a clearer, more measurable expectation of outcomes.


Above: Plan for community gardens located at the Genesee Valley Farm Discovery Center. (click on model to enable 3D view)

3. For Development Communication and Education
Sketchup can be a great tool for development communication and education by empowering community workers to model realistic scenarios related to public health, community dynamics, visioning, etc. With the millions of models available in Sketchup’s 3D Wharehouse one can easily drag and drop latrines, hand wash stations, wells, farm animals, cars, etc. for use in educational slides, posters, handouts, videos, etc.

4. For planning temporary facilities and shelters in relief situations.
Sketchup is an excellent tool to plan temporary facilities and shelters in a relief scenario because of the ability to situation Sketchup projects to-scale in Google Earth. This combined with the ability to drag and drop “pre-designed” models for tents, latrines, water tanks, offices, etc. makes it possible to literally drag and drop to-scale models on an exact location on the earth, facilitating both rapid collaboration and design.


Above: Model of Italian army refugee camp. (click on model to enable 3D view)

Whether you’re a community development/relief worker or not, I recommend trying out the free Sketchup software and share your experience in the comment section below. If you’re interested in topics discussed in this post check out our online class “Technology and Community Development” which is part of our online certificate program in Sustainable Community Development.

50% Match on Donations to Approved Village Earth Global Affiliates Until April 7th!

Now until April 7th (or until matching funds run out) Globalgiving.org will be matching 50% all donations up to $50! Don’t miss-out on this amazing opportunity to maximize your impact on Village Earth’s Global Affiliates around the globe! Below is a list (and links to) eligible VE Affiliates. For complete terms of this opportunity go to https://www.globalgiving.org/leaderboards/little-by-little-2017/

 

April Courses in the Online Certificate Program in Sustainable Community Development

TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

Course Tuition:  $390
Continuing Education Units (CEU’s): 2
Duration:  5 weeks

 
Next Offered Deadline to Register Registration Status Offered By
April 21 – May 26, 2017 April 17, 2017 Open

Course Overview

Explore how technology, both a blessing and curse, is critical for individuals and communities accessing and managing resources. Consider equitable distribution of its productive gains, environmental impacts, debt burdens, health consequences and impacts on the social and cultural fabric of a community.  Examine some of the practical and ethical challenges faced by communities and community workers in their efforts to develop or introduce new technologies to enhance human well-being. Discover important concepts and strategies for successful participatory technology development, emphasizing principles developed by thinkers such as Ghandi and E.F. Schumacker.

Upon completion of this course participants will be able to:

  • Outline the history and basic principles of appropriate technology.
  • Work with communities to analyze their situation, develop strategic directions, and generate appropriate technology packages.
  • Support community-based technology generation efforts by creating linkages to information and resources.

Instructor:

frankFrank Bergh, EIT, LEED-AP

Frank Bergh is a 2011 alumnus of the Certificate of Community-Based Development Program at Colorado State University and has collaborated with Village Earth in training workshops in Community Mobilization for Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA). He is the VP of Grid Engineering at Sigora International, designing and implementing community-based renewable energy micro-utilities in frontier markets.

Frank has been an active member and leader within Engineers Without Borders USA since 2005, holding officer positions in at the local, regional, and national level. He is the former president of EWB-USA’s Great Lakes Region, former Chair of the Energy Standing Content Committee, and a former Board Member.

Frank has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering (2008) from Washington University in St. Louis. His professional and volunteer work has spanned 14 countries and 4 continents.  His career in the renewable energy industry has spanned wind energy, solar energy, and battery-based energy storage systems. He continues to advise several NGOs and startups on appropriate technology and participatory community development.


 

Building Climate Change Resilient Communities

Course Tuition: $390
Continuing Education Units (CEUs): 2
Duration: 5 Weeks

 
Next Offered Deadline to Register Registration Status Offered By
April 21 – May 26, 2017 April 17, 2017 Open

“The environment and the economy are really both two sides of the same coin. You cannot sustain the economy if you don’t take care of the environment because we know that the resources that we use whether it is oil, energy, land … all of these are the basis in which development happens. And development is what we say generates a good economy and puts money in our pockets. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.”   — Wangari Maathai

Course Description
 
Local communities around the globe are already affected by climate change. People in least-developed and developing countries are among the most vulnerable ones, yet they have the least coping capacity. Climate change impacts are localized and diverse therefore, the response needs to be as diverse and adapted to the local situation.
 
This class will explore key concepts of resilience, vulnerability, adaptive capacity and social capital in the context of community exposure to climate change. We will engage in critical analysis of tools and methods for building resilience to climate change and will look at several case studies from around the world.
 
Upon completion of this course participants will be able to:
 
  • Understand the variety of issues and challenges faced by organizations, nations, local and indigenous communities related to climate change;
  • Understand mitigation and adaptation options in community resilience-building;
  •  Make informed decisions when working with communities to critically assess the impacts of climate change and build a resilience plan.

Instructor:

Luminita Cuna, M.S.

TedxLuminita Cuna has a Master of Science in Sustainable Development with focus on Environmental Management from the University of London/School of Oriental and African Studies. Her Master’s thesis researched the impact of conservation policies on protected areas in the Amazon and their effects on the indigenous people that live in these areas. Luminita worked for 10 years in Information Technology, including at the United Nations. She studied International Economics and French at Mount Holyoke College, where she earned her BA. Luminita holds a Graduate Certificate in Management of Information Systems and a Professional Certificate in Journalism, both from New York University and a Certificate of Community Development from Colorado State University.

 Luminita is the founder and director of Maloca (a Village Earth affiliate), a grassroots support organization that works with indigenous communities living in the Amazon basin. Luminita has been traveling extensively to the Amazon region to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Brazil and has been working with indigenous communities in the Amazon since 2006. She participated several times in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, and in June 2012 she attended the Kari-Oca II indigenous conference, part of Rio+20 – United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

 

COMMUNITY MOBILIZATION

Course Tuition:  $390
Continuing Education Units (CEU’s): 2
Duration: 5 weeks

 
Next Offered Deadline to Register Registration Status Offered By
April 21 – May 26, 2017 April 17, 2017 Open

Course Description

Explore what turns a group of individuals into an organization or social movement.  Consider what structural, social, or  psychological barriers inhibit or prevent individuals and groups from getting involved and working together for change.  Examine the definition of community mobilization as both an initial and ongoing process central to any community and social change effort that seeks to build support and participation of individuals, groups, and institutions to work towards a common goal or vision. Learn from the theories and methods of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, whose work has guided some of the most successful development and education programs around the globe, including the Orangi Pilot Project in Pakistan, The NAAM movement in Burkina Faso, and the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka, among others.

Upon completion of this course participants will be able to:

  • Identify the role of community mobilization in the context of human rights-based approaches to community development.
  • Better outline the causes and psychological affects of poverty oppression.
  • Better communicate with individuals and communities to enhance trust and solidarity.
  • Assist communities to mobilize for collective action and cooperation.

Instructor:

David Bartecchi, M.A.

Dave received his M.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Colorado State University and has worked with Village Earth since 1998.  He is now the executive director of Village Earth.  Since 2000 he has been working with grassroots groups on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to recover lands for community-based bison restoration. He has also worked with the indigenous groups in Peru and Ecuador and trained and consulted on community-based development projects in in Azerbaijan, Armenia, India as well as with Native American tribes in California and Oklahoma.  He has been an instrumental part of several research projects with CSU’s Department of Anthropology including a 6 year longitudinal study of the informal economy on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota funded by the National Science Foundation, a survey of farmers and ranchers participating in the National Conservation Reserve Program conducted by CSU’s Natural Resource Ecology Lab and funded by the USDA, and community-based censuses on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations in South Dakota.

Dave teaches online courses in Approaches to Community Development, Community Mobilization, and Community-based Mapping.


 

APPROACHES TO COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

Course Tuition:  $390
Duration: 5 Weeks
Continuing Education Units (CEUs): 2

 
Next Offered Deadline to Register Registration Status Offered By
April 21 – May 26, 2017 April 17, 2017 Open

Course Description

Explore both the structure and practice of community development around the world.  Engage in a critical analysis of different approaches to community development, their historical development and underlying assumptions.  Gain an understanding of the structural and practical issues that promote or detract from the goal of community empowerment.

Upon completion of this course participants will be able to:

  • Outline  the historical development and underlying assumptions of different approaches to community development.
  • Identify the issues faced by the rapidly changing field of community development.
  • Distill key structures and practices for becoming more effective on the ground.

Instructor:

JohnStrawJohn Straw, M.Ed.

John Straw has an M.Ed. from the University of Illinois at Chicago, focused on social justice education, and his bachelors from the University of Michigan with a degree in Spanish and Education. John has spent five years working in Honduras and Guatemala on community-based health and development projects, and the past 15 years working with Concern America, an international development and refugee aid organization, based in southern California, with health, water, and income-generation projects in Latin America and Africa. He has been the Executive Director of Concern America since 2012.

The Enduring Relevance of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed for Community Development Workers

Like most people, when I first read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed I didn’t get it. It wasn’t until I read it again several years later after working with Indigenous communities in North and South America where I could finally appreciate its relevance. It’s not surprising I didn’t get it on the first read considering I’m a white male who grew up in an upper-middle class household in the United States. By comparison, I gave the book to a friend who grew up in Ethiopia, she said she couldn’t put it down and how it explained so much to her about the world. Pedagogy of the Oppressed is also difficult to read. Numerous scholars and activists have pointed out how his ‘leaden philosophical prose’ has a tendency to obfuscate the practicality of work.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed was first published in 1968 with the English version being released just two years later. Yet his work remains as relevant as ever and continues to be cited in academic books and journals. Below is a graph of the number of citations to Pedagogy of the Oppressed by year for books and journals indexed by Google Scholar since 1995.

Citations for Pedagogy of the Oppressed in Google Scholar

 

It’s clear that his influence is widespread but I find that very few community workers understand how to apply his concepts at a practical level. My goal in this brief blog post is to attempt to distill what I believe are the most practical concepts from Pedagogy of the Oppressed for Community Workers.

Freire’s philosophy, at its core, is existentialist which is the belief that the norms, values, beliefs and practices that define our culture are not fixed or preordained. Instead, we humans, as participants in communities and societies are not only reproducing culture but also actively creating and shaping it. In fact, for Freire, the ability to shape and create culture is what makes us “human” and what really makes Freire’s ideas liberatory. Human culture can vary dramatically around the globe from the Bushman of the Kalahari to the Inuit in the Arctic to the industrialized western societies – we have all developed different subsistence strategies, political organizations, kinship patterns, religious beliefs, etc.

This is where red flags might be going up for some people, and for good reason. The notion of culture change can and should evoke painful colonial images of forced assimilation and missionization but also more contemporary Eurocentric theories of cultural and economic modernization. Rest assured, this is not what Freire has in mind. In fact, these practices, since they are the imposition of culture, is what Freire refers as dehumanizing, a concept which is diametrically opposed to the process of humanization.

Allow me to provide an analogy. Slavery was an acceptable practice in the Americas since the first colonies in 1492 until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Notions of white supremacy and institutional racism are still prevalent features of American society. However, these practices likely wouldn’t have changed much without the Abolitionist movement and Civil Rights movements. These movements were made up of people who didn’t just accept the culture  of white supremacy as being fixed but instead were able to critically analyze it, envision something different and a path to changing it. In fact, this process and struggle is still taking place with movements like Black Lives Matter. Other examples can be found around the world the movements for indigenous rights, women’s suffrage, landless peasants, the list goes on and on.

For Freire, an oppressed person is a person who accepts culture and their station in life as being fixed, someone who is incapable or unwilling to critically analyze the culture they live in. According to Freire, these people live in a false reality – a reality where they have been taught to accept slavery, racism, sexism, and other injustices as being fixed components of their culture. Both oppressors and the oppressed can exist a state of false consciousness. The slave may have been taught that he or she is incapable of learning to read and owning his or her own farm and the wealthy slave owner may falsely believe the slave is fully human and capable of the qualities necessary to manage his own farm. Of course, in reality, both are are humans and equally capable if provided the same opportunities, but it’s their false reality which prevents them from questioning the injustice of the situation. Of course, the slave may be fully conscious of the injustice but terrorized to the point of inaction. Which helps illustrate Freire’s argument that in order for their to be true, lasting liberation, both the oppressor AND the oppressed need eject these false conceptions of reality and in the process become liberated.

The process for breaking free from from the false reality is called praxis which is a cycle of analysis, action and reflection. Essentially, it’s a process of identifying and challenging your conceptions of the world (accurate or false). To illustrate praxis, I’ll use an example from my work with indigenous communities in North America. Today, for most Native American Reservations in the United States, more than two-thirds of the farms and ranches are controlled by non-natives. As might be expected, this disparity in land use has had a dramatic impact on the ability of Native Americans to fully benefit from their natural resources. Statistics on income reveal that the total value of agricultural commodities produced on Native American Reservations in 2007 totaled over $2.1 Billion dollars, yet, only 16% of that income went to Native American farmers and ranchers.

The unequal land-use patterns seen on reservations today is a direct outcome of discriminatory lending practices, land fractionation and specifically, Federal policies over the last century that have excluded native landowners from the ability to utilize their lands while at the same time opening it up to non-native farmers and ranchers.

Despite the exclusionary policies of the past today Tribal members have more options available to them but because they’ve been alienated from their lands for so long, they oftentimes don’t know where to start and in many cases, have been given false information by Government authorities. For example, in strategic land planning workshops I facilitated across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation several Native landowners said me they were told the government would not conduct a necessary appraisal because the appraisal would cost more than the value of the land. I double-checked this and the government is required to do the appraisal regardless of the value of the land but this one piece of false information prevented countless of people from taking action their land that could have impacted their families for generations. False information and the general lack of information available to tribal members about their lands and the laws governing them contributes to a false understanding of the world around you, one where there is no path forward aside from the one that is prescribed for you.

This false reality is also shared by the oppressors. For example, the general American public has a far from adequate understanding of the ongoing struggles of Native Americans. In fact, I would argue that most American’s will agree that Native Americans were treated unfairly in the past but have trouble accepting that oppression continues to this day. Few Americans today could even explain the recent 2010 class action lawsuit Cobell vs. Salazar, the largest class-action lawsuit in American history brought by some 300,000 Native American landowners who argued that the government failed to pay them nearly 42 billion dollars in lease revenue collected by the government over the past 120 years serving as their self-appointed Trustee. Even fewer Americans know the government settled for only 3.2 Billion dollars, less than 7% of what was owed. This was a huge injustice but was only allowed because there was little fear of public outrage.

A praxis in this example would be to begin to challenge the limit situations you encounter day to day. For example, challenging the contradiction that despite most people on the Reservation would like to live on and utilize their lands most of the land is leased to non-tribal members. So it might start with trying to move forward in that direction – towards acquiring some land. In doing so you will likely encounter what Freire refers to as “limit situations”, according to Freire.

“Once perceived by individuals as fetters, as obstacles to their liberation, these situations stand out in relief from the background, revealing their true nature as concrete historical dimensions of a given reality. Men and women respond to the challenge with actions which Vieira Pinto calls “limit-acts”: those directed at negating and overcoming, rather than passively accepting, the “given.””

A limit situation from the example above would be the false information that “you can’t get an appraisal if the appraisal process costs more than the value of your land.” This, for many prevents action but if tested we will discover that it is not true and thus begging to clearing a path forward for others. If we continue on our journey we might find that the Government appraisal process, once initiated, is itself an obstacle because of the massive backlog and processing times. This can then be the next limit-situation we can confront and reveal the true nature of the problem – hopefully exposing the injustice and causing reform.

The example above, I feel it illustrates well the necessity for liberating both the oppressor and the oppressed. I feel it also illustrates another principle of Freire’s theory, that the oppressed must lead the process. According to Freire; “It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors…As the oppressed, fighting to be human, take away the oppressors’ power to dominate and suppress, they restore to the oppressors the humanity they had lost in the exercise of oppression.“

According to Freire, oppressors are unable to recognize their privilege.

The oppressors do not perceive their monopoly on having more as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves. They cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have. For them, having more is an inalienable right, a right they acquired through their own “effort” with their “courage to take risks.” If others do not have more, it is because they are incompetent and lazy, and worst of all is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the “generous gestures” of the dominant class. Precisely because are “ungrateful” and “envious,” the oppressed are regarded as enemies who must be watched.”

What does Freire say about people from oppressive classes seeking to become allies with the oppressed?

Given the preceding context, another issue of indubitable importance arises: the fact that certain members of the oppressor class join the oppressed in their struggle for liberation, thus moving from one pole of the contradiction to the other. Theirs is a fundamental role, and has been so throughout the history of this struggle. It happens, however, that as they cease to be exploiters or indifferent spectators or simply the heirs of exploitation and more to the side of the exploited, they almost always bring with them their deformations, which include a lack confidence in the peoples’ ability to think, to want, and to know. Accordingly, these adherents to the people’s cause constantly run the risk of falling into a type of generosity as malefic as that of the oppressors. The generosity of the oppressors is nourished by an unjust order, which must be maintained in order to justify that generosity. Our converts, on the other hand, truly desire to transform the unjust order; but because of their background they believe that they must be the executors of the transformation. They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change. A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.

Those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly. This conversion is so radical as not to allow of ambiguous behavior. To affirm this commitment but to consider oneself the proprietor of revolutionary wisdom — which must then be given to (or imposed on) the people — is to retain the old ways. The man or woman who proclaims devotion to the cause yet is unable to enter into communion with the people, as totally ignorant, is grievously self-deceived. The convert who approaches the people but feels alarm at each step they take, each doubt they express, and each suggestion they offer, and attempts to impose his “status,” remains nostalgic towards his origins.

Conversion to the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new form of existence; they can no longer remain as they were. Only through comradeship with the oppressed can the converts understand their characteristic ways of living and behaving, which in diverse moments reflect the structure of domination. One of these characteristics is the previously mentioned existential duality of the oppressed, who are at the same time themselves the oppressor whose image they have internalized. Accordingly, until they concretely ‘discover” their oppressor and in turn their own consciousness, they nearly always express fatalistic attitudes toward their situation.

Freire describes this relationship as collegial, the point when the oppressed “figure-out” the oppressor. I interpret this as the point when titles, status, and qualifications wash away and that both the oppressed and yourself realize that all that is facade – the only real value you have to offer is your solidarity (which is a sacrifice you are finally willing to make). It’s the point when all people involved are equally willing to listen each other’s ideas as they are to challenge and criticize them. I once was talking about this idea in a training and I noticed a group of people start whispering to each other. I asked them what it was about. They said “they just realized they did something wrong,” they recounted a workshop they were hosting in a rural community where, they as facilitators had a disagreement, they decided to pause the meeting to go outside to discuss. I asked why?, and they said “because we didn’t want them to see that we weren’t in full agreement but now we realize doing so was dehumanizing.” Precisely! They were talking about THEIR community and a point of confusion or disagreement should be utilized not to exclude the community but instead the engage the community in helping to find a solution. Furthermore, admitting their disagreement would only help the community to “figure them out” – to demystify their qualifications, making it easier for the community to share their ideas and criticisms.

Ironically, our insecurity as community workers can be just as, if not more, oppressive than our privilege. When you’re new to a community or situation our instinct is to try to be helpful, especially when you’re there as a community worker – you want to prove your worth, your value to the community by sharing what you know, your ideas, connections, possible solutions, etc. etc. However, this overeagerness gets in the way of what your real objective should be; listening, asking questions and just making connections with people. I feel it’s best to assume from the outset that you have nothing to offer besides your willingness to listen and learn about their world. Don’t give into the temptation to “be useful” until you’re confident you really can be but also, until people are comfortable enough with you to tell you when you’re wrong.

I know I’ve just touched the surface of Pedagogy of the Oppressed here but hopefully I’ve provided some insight into its practical application in a community development setting. I plan to write in future posts more about the practical applications of his ideas as well as ways we at Village Earth have interpreted and even depart from some of his ideas.
If you’re interested in learning more about Freire I strongly encourage you to participate in our online Community Mobilization course which is part of our online certificate in Sustainable Community Development at Colorado State University.

For-Profit or Non-Profit…The choice between inefficiency and neocolonialism.

By Frank Bergh, instructor for Village Earth’s Technology and Community Development course. This post originally featured on Engineering for Change’s blog.

Why member-owned co-ops are the best kept secret in humanitarian development

In publications like E4C, practitioners are exposed to diverse perspectives from experts in engineering for global development regarding the best strategies for community engagement, human centered design, appropriate technology, and social entrepreneurship. Among so many approaches to humanitarian impact, there remains a lively debate between the inherent merits of for-profit versus non-profit approaches. But is there a third way?

The choice between inefficiency and neocolonialism

Oftentimes, non-profit models are thought to be old-fashioned. They seem reminiscent of large, monolithic NGOs, some of which have been accused of excessive overhead and administrative costs, as well as mismanagement of funds in the context of disasters. Thought leaders such as Paul Polak have proclaimed “The Death of Appropriate Technology,” accusing global aid providers of creating non-viable markets with overpriced ideas that are highly prone to failure in heavily subsidized and poorly understood operating environments. This critique is certainly relevant in a world where upwards of 30-40% of water pumps in Africa are in disrepair, and developing economies are craving “Trade, Not Aid” for sustainable growth. Much has been written about how the phenomenon known as “Poverty, Inc.” has created an aid-industrial complex which fosters foreign dependency rather than local self-reliance in the case of Haitian rice or Jamaican dairy, for example.

Over the past decade, the discourse of development has favored social entrepreneurship models, whereby strict free-market principles govern the strategy and allocation of investment in emerging markets. Many of the former paradigms of Participatory Rural Assessment (PRA), community-driven strategic planning have been replaced by human-centered design (HCD) product-driven design interventions. The contrast in these approaches is the tendency of PRA to yield slow results with high overhead costs versus HCD’s emphasis on rapid prototyping and business models, with implicit assumptions that a market-based approach can address socioeconomic marginalization.

In the social entrepreneurship model, project-companies focus on tweaking known products in hopes that mass production will drive down costs for accessibility, while earning revenue via volume-driven franchise models to reach scale. While this model has yielded several incredible success stories (notably d.light became the world’s leading solar lantern thanks to $2.9M from the Acumen Fund), due in large part to “patient capital” from large foundations and angel investors, the ultimate success rate of start-up social enterprises in developing countries is largely unknown. There have also been some noteworthy products that didn’t live up to the hype (LifeStraw, Sockket soccer ball, PlayPump). This funding paradigm favors foreign entrepreneurs with access to capital rather than local stakeholders whose ideas are less likely to encounter deep pockets. The result is a neocolonialist distribution of foreign investment in products designed for – not with – those in greatest need.

What about crowdfunding?

Some donors have been enthusiastically supportive of startups with timely ideas that create crowdfunding appeals for game-changing startup funding. When we look at the actual results of these Cinderella stories (Solar Freakin’ Roadways raised $2,275,872, Gravity Light raised $399,590), we find ‘viral’ concepts that might have been shunned by investors, yet they attract large amounts of donor funding from everyday web surfers. Generally, these campaigns are made by not-for-profit organizations, but at times it can be used by social enterprises to raise capital without surrendering equity. However, this model decouples funding from outcomes in the field, promoting a lack of transparency and accountability that could render the product useless or even harmful to end users (if they ever get their hands on it).

So, is there another way?

We tend to overlook the capability of the public sector in funding or sustaining sustainable development work. This approach is easily validated by direct experience: If governments in emerging markets had sufficient resources, then the UN’s development goals (the Millennium Development Goals that have evolved into the Sustainable Development Goals) would already be satisfied. We would have clean water for all and universal electrification achieved by taxes, not donations, without any foreign intervention. Oftentimes, progress towards these goals is hindered by real or perceived volatility and corruption in public sector agencies for public works. Long-term project horizons may be compromised by changes to the ruling party in election years. Big aid projects might be derailed by lack of accountability in civil society for large government contracts issued to multinational firms or fledgling local companies. Clearly, public-sector actors need private sector collaborators.

7 cooperative principles

Cooperatives: Unfashionably effective

Many large infrastructure projects around the world are managed by cooperative governance structures. These entities are so far out of vogue as to be seldom even mentioned in contemporary discussions of humanitarian engineering. Could that be because cooperatives are primarily a sociological, not a technical phenomenon? Perhaps the engineering sector overlooks what it doesn’t understand. Take the following examples:

  • Rural electrification in the USA was not achieved by handheld solar lanterns. It was stimulated by a massive public works project under the Rural Electrification Act to put people back to work after the Great Depression. In rural areas of the USA, there are miles between electricity customers. For investor-owned utilities to serve those areas would have taken decades to see any return on investment based on meager electric consumption. Rather than create a massive new appendage of the Federal government, rural communities created over 800 member-owned electrical cooperatives to sustainably manage and maintain their infrastructure for the past 80+ years.
  • Remote water distribution systems installed by NGOs such as Engineers Without Borders USA have a lot to tell us about project sustainability. In 2013, EWB-USA hired local practitioners to audit all of its water distribution projects in Guatemala. It turned out that all of the projects with a full-time paid circuit rider (maintenance personnel) were in good working order, whereas the working condition of systems without a budget for cooperative maintenance was much more inconsistent. In other words, the sustainability of the bricks and mortar were primarily dependent upon the resilience of the cooperative social network that maintained it. Going forward, EWB-USA and many peer organizations now require a “water board” (basically a member-owned cooperative) to own and maintain its infrastructure and technology for improved sustainability.
  • Large-scale worker-owned cooperatives, such as Mondragon in Spain, have demonstrated the capability to compete in highly competitive consumer markets without compromising labor conditions or workers’ rights. The question remains whether this paradigm can thrive in emerging markets where skilled labor and capital are less plentiful.

In the matrix below, I examine differential factors and outcomes of various governance structures.

Matrix

Let’s start by asking the right question

As Einstein would say, “we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” When we fail to transcend the exploitation, oppression, and dependency of neoliberal and neocolonialist interventions, we replicate the same broken promises that developing communities have come to expect from Western intervention.

Aspiring development engineering practitioners often ask, “Should my big ideas be for-profit or non-profit?” In fact, the premise of starting the conversation around “my” ideas for other people’s livelihoods is inherently flawed, and perhaps reflects implicit bias in favor of foreign intervention rather than local self-determination.

On the other hand, philanthropists and impact investors looking to support big ideas often ask, “Should I be an investor or a donor?” In fact, delegating our capital to foreign owners presumes that community members are somehow incapable of taking ownership and autonomy for their own capacity building. Such presumptions are frequently built on discrimination, racism, or cultural superiority—infantilizing the very people we attempt to help.

Let’s re-frame the discussion. Let’s make the most significant question become, “What structure maximizes the resiliency, ownership, and self-determination of the end users?” Quite honestly, why else would we have been invited in the first place? If we really believe that the role of development engineering is to collaborate with communities in pursuit of a brighter future of shared possibility, then development practice must be re-oriented as pedagogy. Engineering-For-Change does not mean depositing “our” ideas and technology into “their” community, but fostering the mutual discovery and amplification of voices we’ve never heard before.

Design is a manifestation of creativity and creation is a means toward liberation. The goal of humanitarian development is not only to reduce vulnerability, but also to increase resiliency. Therefore, empowerment won’t be the destination unless it was also the journey. As development practitioners, establishing leadership and ownership within a local cooperative is the most effective way of deliberately working ourselves out of a job and leaving communities stronger than we found them.

 

If you’re interested to learn more about these concepts join Frank Bergh for his Technology and Community Development online course now enrolling through April 17. The course runs April 21 – May 26, 2017.

Why Should We Care About Climate Change. by Luminta Cuna

In a previous blog post I showed how the Amazon is drying due to changes in weather caused by land use change. Intense, large scale deforestation made space for immense grazing pastures and industrial monocultures like soy. Through a feedback effect, less Amazon forest means less rain, therefore the shrinking of this vast swath of trees in itself becomes a contributor to changing weather patterns. Last September, around Xingu Indigenous Park in Brazil, the biggest indigenous reserve in the world, a record 53,000 forest fires were detected. Dry, hot atmosphere led to even more forest destroyed and threw tons of CO₂ in the atmosphere, contributing, through a feedback loop, to more global warming.

Here in New York, since my last blog post 10 days ago, we experienced again a few days with 60 F followed by 2 days of blizzard and temperatures in the low 20s.  Everybody feels something is not right.

All over the world the effects of a warming world are already felt. Extreme weather events cause shoreline erosion, flooding, infrastructure damage severely disrupting daily activities. Melting mountain glaciers reduce water availability, which means failed crops and food security at risk. Heatwaves cause human deaths even in cities like Paris. Warmer winters enable pests and pathogens to survive and extend their range northward, spreading new diseases to humans, plants and animals. Crops and forests are decimated by fungi or mountain pine beetles. Vector borne diseases spread and new ones appear: the range of ticks carrying Lyme disease expands, the same stands true for mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus, Zika or dengue fever.

If some population segments in wealthy industrialized countries are still sheltered from the effects of our warming planet, other groups are already extremely vulnerable to these changes. “Building Climate Change Resilient Communities” class explores what makes these groups vulnerable and looks at mitigation and adaptation options to build community resilience to climate change effects.

In brief, vulnerability of a group or people is determined by three main factors:

1 – the extent to which they are affected by climatic events (sensitivity)

2 – exposure to hazards

3 – the ability to avoid or adjust to potential hazards, the capacity to anticipate risk, to respond to climatic events, to recover and change (adaptive capacity)

We now live in a world where mitigation and adaptation became necessary. Village Earth’s class Building Climate Change Resilient Communities explores some of the options:

Mitigation: fuel efficient vehicles, solar and wind power, efficient lighting solutionms, improved land management and cultivation techniques, composting, wastewater treatment

Adaptation: smart agriculture, crop relocation, building seawalls and storm surge barriers, water reuse (rain harvesting and ocean water desalinization)

To enrol in the Building Climate Change Resilient Communities click here. Registration is open until April 17, 2017.

Update from VE Affiliate Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Organization on the Pine Ridge Reservation

 MILA YATAN PIKA PTE OYATE OKOLAKICIYE
(KNIFE CHIEF BUFFALO NATION ORGANIZATION)

PROJECT REPORT

This report covers the period of November & December 2016, and January 2017.    Mila Yatan Pika Pte Oyate Okolakiciye (Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Organization) continues to provide a home/pasture for members of the Pte Oyate (buffalo nation) and the community continues to reap the benefits in terms of spiritual and physical nourishment from them.

 

November, 2016

November 05 – The Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Organization held a strategic planning meeting in Porcupine, SD with Dave Bartechi of Village Earth, Inc..  Working session included revisions of the vision/mission statement and the name change from Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Organization to “Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Society,” drafting a calendar of events and other organizational matters.

November 10 – 13 – The “Lakota Koskalaka Wica Yuwita Pi” (Lakota Young Men’s Camp/Gathering) was held in Porcupine SD.  This Camp was sponsored by a number of societies within the Tiospaye Sakowin organization.   Due to the interest, two camps are held annually – fall and spring.

The photos below show a number of activities during the Camp.

 

November 15 – The Society attended the Oglala Sioux Parks & Recreation Authority (OSPRA) meeting to make a presentation on a proposal to continue to sub-lease a pasture for a home for our relatives, the buffalo.  The Board of Directors approved a six month contract with an option to sub-lease for another six months if the land is available.

The Society received a $10,000 grant from the Tanka Fund to assist with the pasture lease payment and with operational expenses.  This is deeply appreciated and assists greatly with the care of the buffalo.

 

December, 2016

December 01 – The Society met to discuss and make further plans for the Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Society website.  A meeting will be held in March with a Colorado company who will assist with the work.

December 16 & 17 – The Society hosted the “Lakota Mental Health First Aid Training” in Rapid City, SD.  Twenty-two (22) participants representing various Sioux tribes in SD were in attendance.  Trainers were Ethleen Iron Cloud-Two Dogs and Richard Two Dogs of Porcupine, SD.

December 21 – Spiritual offerings were made for the Winter Solstice (Wanicokan)

 

January 2017

The weather in December and January was extremely challenging with frigid temperatures often ranging below zero for days at a time.  Along with extreme cold, blizzards covered the area with blowing and drifting snow.  Many of the Pine Ridge Reservation residents were snowed in and could not leave their homes.  For many days, schools were closed and events were cancelled due to this extreme weather.

 

 

Future Events and Plans

.The caretaker continues to check on our relatives, the buffalo, two times per week depending on the weather and road accessibility.
Will co-facilitate cultural learning sessions for the community on the sacred ceremony of the Wi Wayang Wacipi (Sundance,  the Inipi (purification/renewal ceremony) and other sessions as determined .
Will begin the planning and preparation for the Manhood Ceremony to be held in the Spring.
Planning and preparation is in the process for the following camps:
Young Men’s Camp – To Be Determined

Children’s Camp and Young Women’s Camp – July 5 – 9, 2017 at Camp Bob Marshall in the Black Hills of SD

Manhood Ceremony completed by a young relative.

 

 

Conclusion

Again, we extend a heartfelt appreciation to the people who support our efforts whether it be financially, physically or spiritually.  Your support is truly appreciated and we especially appreciate the Tunkasila (spiritual entities) for their continued support and guidance.  We also acknowledge the Pte Oyate (Buffalo Nation) for what they inspire in us and for their teachings, i.e., protection of the young, conservation of the land and the strength and fortitude to endure whatever is placed in our path.  Lila wopila tanka! (We thank you all very much).

 

CONTACT INFORMATION

Email:  [email protected]

Telephone:  605-441-2914, 605-407-0091

Website:  www.knifechiefbuffalonation.org

or www.villageearth.org look for Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Organization under Global Affiliate.

Village Earth Affiliate ICA-Nepal educates school girls on menstrual hygiene.

  1. During menstruation we should not use old clothes rags
  2. We should use sanitary napkins during menstruation
  3. We should safely discard the used napkins
  4. We are left behind others when we use cloth napkins
  5. Napkins should be changed every 4 hours.
  6. Napkins shouldn’t be thrown away haphazardly
  7. We should bath every day during menstruation
  8. We should pack the napkin with papers and throw in dustbin
  9. We must change time and again otherwise there will be infection

These were some of the points presented by school girls when they were provided with case stories regarding menstruation problem during an awareness program conducted at Dolagiri School of Changunaryan.

Menstruation is a biological process among women which plays a major role in reproduction. Yet this process is considered socially impure which is why women don’t talk or discuss about it in public. The superstition of being negatively affected if a girl on menstruation touches something has been so deeply injected in people’s mind that still in rural parts of Nepal, girls are bound to stay outside home or separetely during periods. The girls in rural areas still use cloth pieces which make them vulnerable to many diseases and infections.

Considering the need to raise awareness on menstrual hygiene and practices, Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) Nepal has started the awareness raising programs on menstrual hygiene and use of sanitary napkins among school students. As the part of this program, the first awareness program was conducted in Dolagiri School of Changunarayan. The program is supported by ICA Japan. Total 30 students aged between 13 to 16 participated in the program which was facilitated by Ms. Sarala Timsina, Ms. Pritha Khanal and Ms. Devaka Shrestha.

During the program the students were provided with case stories out of which they presented the points which they felt were significant regarding menstrual hygiene. After the presentation of 4 groups, the facilitators explained more about the menstruation and how one should feel pure and holy during the period. Also, facilitators focused more on use of sanitary napkins rather than cloth pieces as they produce stains and can be prone to infections.

At the end, ICA Nepal provided packets of “Surakhshya” sanitary pads to school. The napkins are produced by the local women of Changunarayan which is an example of micro entrepreneurship for women empowerment as well.

 

 

 

Unprecedented Climatic Changes Posing Challenges to Indigenous Communities in Amazon Basin

It has been yet another unusual (read “warm, extreme weather fluctuation”) winter in New York City. More than once this year we had both winter weather (snow storm, below freezing temperatures) AND 70 degree days in one single week. Just this past Wednesday New York hit a whooping 70F degrees. Today, 2 days later, New Yorkers shivered in 30F high temperature. Early February smashed the 52 year mark for warmest temperature on record with 65 F on February 7th. Early the next day, temperatures plummeted to 30F. Luckily for us New Yorkers the most annoying thing this winter was to keep at hand both warm and cold weather clothes. And fight a few nasty colds that went around the offices.

We were not the only ones experiencing strange weather. Far away in Brazil, in the middle of Mato Grosso state, the indigenous peoples that populate Xingu Indigenous Park experienced unusual weather as well. Rains did not arrive in October as they have been for hundreds of years. There was some rain in January and then heavy rain in February. What did this meant for them? A few months with almost no food. Hunger. Their main crop, manioc, is usually planted in September. Because rain did not arrive during it usual schedule, the first planted manioc crop died. The communities replanted a new crop (note that they save only a certain number of manioc stems for planting). The second crop died as well: it did not rain. Third time was a charm this year: after the third crop was planted, the long awaited rains finally arrived in January and it looks like the third crop will make it. Three months later than normal. Still the rain pattern was strange, with scattered showers alternating with several hot sunny days, unusual for this time of the year.

The indigenous people of Xingu were not as lucky as New Yorkers. The climatic variability they experienced affected their food supplies. They went hungry for weeks and months. New Yorkers just kept switching from flip flops to down jackets in a matter of days.

The weather forecast for both places: beyond normal. Yes, we might have seen less snow in NYC because of La Niña, but still… a drop of 40 F in 2 days?

In Xingu, years of deforestation replaced cool moisture-producing forests with hot, dry pastures for cattle and massive soy fields. This has caused permanent changes the regional weather: less rain during the rainy season and increased heat during the dry season. In 2016, a scorching July gave birth to wild fires that burnt for weeks and wracked havoc in the already shrinking Xingu forests. Once rainy summers (I witnessed a 5-day period of almost continuous rain just 3 years ago in December) turned dry.

Our comfortable lives in New York City may not be drastically disrupted for now. We just need to have winter and spring clothes next to each other in our closets, get frustrated about it and vent on Facebook about the crazy weather swings our city has. In Xingu however, people are concerned about their lives. What will happen to their existence if they cannot grow manioc, what will they eat? With no rain and low river levels, not even fish can breed properly. Manioc and fish make 90% of their diet.

The communities of the indigenous park started thinking seriously how to become more resilient to all these climatic changes. 2017 is not the first year that their crops died; 2016 was similar, with one crop failing, not two like this year. Similar to New Yorkers, they are also thinking that maybe this is the new normal. They now meet in the center of their villages to find solutions that will ensure their food security: from irrigation methods (but with what funds?) to moving the crops location to changing the planting season. They are scrambling to find the most appropriate solutions. There is not enough past experience to provide advice on how to deal with this kind of problem. The elders have never faced similar weather shifts in their lifetime. They can only draw on past experiences when they used to move their manioc gardens when the soil became too depleted of nutrients to bear crops. This option is on the table. In fact, one village decided to split in two and form a smaller village further away, to alleviate the pressure the 300 strong population puts on the surrounding crop soil (see blog entry).

These changes are not going anywhere. These anomalies are becoming the new normal. All humans need to adapt, ones faster than others. Communities, from New York to Xingu have to become resilient and adapt to extreme weather, a consequence of climate change.

The “Building Climate Change Resilient Communities” class offered by Village Earth in April offers insights on what climate change resilience is and how to adapt to this new climatic reality.

How to Teach Health: Providing Quality Primary Healthcare to Impoverished, Rural, Isolated Communities

By John Straw, Executive Director at Concern America and Instructor for the Village Earth Community-Based Health online course

Village Earth’s Community Health course focuses on the many challenges, but also opportunities, related to health care (or the lack thereof) in materially impoverished regions of our world.  The course explores a range of insights and actions from methods for determining health needs to creating community-centered approaches for bringing care with/for regions lacking this important human right.  One hopeful program is Concern America’s Health Promoter Practitioner model.  The organization has just self-published a 35-book set of training manuals and student guides in Spanish titled “Cómo Enseñar Sobre La Salud” (How To Teach Health), a resource for organizations wanting to implement comprehensive community health programs in which the people themselves are the health care providers.  The books will soon be sold through The Hesperian Foundation, publisher of the well known resource “Where There Is No Doctor.”

THERE EXISTS A MODEL OF COMMUNITY-BASED, PRIMARY HEALTH CARE THAT IS AFFORDABLE AND EFFECTIVE.  IT IS A MODEL THAT ENGAGES COMMUNITY MEMBERS IN ITS PROVISION: “THE TRAINING AND ACCOMPANYING OF HEALTH PROMOTER PRACTITIONERS”.

In the U.S., the term “health promoter” often refers to individuals who provide health education and basic health care follow-up under the strict supervision of a medical doctor.  In the regions of Latin America where Concern America works, these Health Promoter Practitioners’ depth of knowledge, skills, and ability to provide primary health care, in their native languages, is comparable to the work of physician assistants and nurse practitioners in the U.S.  As a result, in villages located hours away from health care centers and whose residents earn less than $2.00/day, high-quality, low-cost health care is a reality, saving and sustaining innumerable lives, using few resources.

In places like Chiapas, Mexico; Petén, Guatemala; and the Lower Atrato region of Colombia, the health care providers who give daily care in hundreds of villages and towns are not doctors or nurses but rather Health Promoter Practitioners.  These amazing community health care providers, many with less than three years of primary school, have been successfully trained as their communities’ medical practitioners who diagnose and treat patients, administer a wide range of medicines, and even perform surgeries like the tendon repair described above.

The series of books, entitled CÓMO ENSEÑAR SOBRE LA SALUD, employs the wisdom of Paulo Freire’s pedagogy, building on each student’s knowledge and understanding when teaching complicated medical concepts and procedures. There are 35 books in all and three levels of training: a teacher’s guide and a student handbook for each health care theme (e.g., Digestive System) taught over three years.   What is described, presented, and taught in CÓMO ENSEÑAR SOBRE LA SALUD has been fashioned by and in use by Concern America field teams in Latin America over more than 30 years and found to be extraordinarily effective in providing quality primary health care to impoverished, rural, isolated communities.  We want to multiply this model, which is why Concern America is writing CÓMO ENSEÑAR SOBRE LA SALUD.  It will eventually be translated into French and English and, hopefully, adapted to many indigenous languages.

 

FIRST LEVEL OVERVIEW

The Teacher Guides

Each First Level Teacher’s Guide covers important topics such as:

  • How to organize a course and how to teach Health Promoters
  • How to organize community groups
  • How to teach about the use of medicines
  • How to teach about respiratory and digestive diseases
  • How to teach about nutrition and environment

Student Handbooks

Each reference book for the Health Promoter student contains informative documents about how to prevent, diagnose and treat the most common sicknesses and when to refer a patient.

  • The language is simple.
  • The illustrations are clear.
  • The treatment and diagnostic guidelines are easy to understand.

SECOND LEVEL OVERVIEW

Teacher Guides

Second Level Teacher Guides cover the following topics:

  • How to teach about accidents and traumas
  • How to teach about reproductive health
  • How to teach about pregnancy and delivery
  • How to teach about chronic diseases
  • How to teach about dental and oral care

Student’s Handbook

  • The language is progressively more complex.
  • The graphics are explicit and educational.
  • The treatment and diagnostic guidelines are still easy to understand and to adapt.

ELECTRONIC ANNEX

AND THIRD LEVEL OVERVIEW

An Electronic Annex is included with the Teacher Guides. It is an educational tool where the teacher can find:

  • Pictures to project and ready to use Power Points documents
  • Sounds to listen to and recognize symptoms
  • Videos
  • Ready to print games, tests/evaluations and worksheets
  • Ready to print Student Handbooks with and without page numbers, giving flexibility to the teacher to build one’s own customized Student Handbook
  • A PDF of each one of the Teacher’s Guides and Student’s Handbooks from the “Cómo Enseñar Sobre La Salud” series
  • Third level handouts

THE ESSENTIAL MEDICINE INDEX

A vital part of the series “Cómo Enseñar Sobre La Salud,” the Essential Medicine Index (Índice de Medicamentos Esenciales) is THE REFERENCE BOOK of medicine for Health Promoters.

Its very simple and easy to read format and content makes it an indispensable every day tool for beginners and advanced Health Promoters. It contains information about the most prescribed essential medicines. It contains information about the most prescribed essential medicines recommended by the W.H.O.

 

For more information or to purchase the books, please visit Concern America Health Manuals.

To enroll in the Community-Based Health Course click here. Now enrolling through February 28, 2017.