One impressive human powered device that I saw at BarCampAfrica was this foot-powered water pump made by KickStart who are a group developing incredibly cheap and reliable devices for Africans. The fellow who was presenting what they do was Martin Fisher. This guy knows his business. I don’t know if it’s because he’s given this talk countless times or he is just solid in knowing what works and what doesn’t in providing these technologies.
While the name, Super MoneyMaker is rather cheesy, I think it’s all part of the fact that there are two sides to what KickStart does. One is creating these devices and selling them. The other is to educate people in the region about their devices and why they should spend $100 (this is about half to all what a family lives on in most regions) of their money on buying one of these pumps. Thus the rather obvious name. They understand the market. They know what’s needed. They’re making equipment to fill that market. This is a basic premise in the economies of Developed Nations, but it is something which is impossible for most external aid entities to understand when it comes to Africa. Kickstart gets it though.
As you can see, I’m a fan. I told Martin that and this is the difference from the previous article and Potenco. I will happily go on about KickStart and I could see by the smirks I got from others at the conference that they don’t think it’s all that significant. But, it is. Aiding a community with simple technology upon which they have ownership improves their lives immediately. Coming in, dumping mobile phones on them along with some portable chargers does nothing but give them another expense. People keep touting, “Oh, then they call in to the market and find out the prices and can sell optimally when they have a mobile phone.” I’ve heard this argument several times now to the point where I don’t buy it and chalk it up to Western views being tossed upon Africa to show that Western technology works when in actuality, it doesn’t. But, mobile phones are sexy. A simple, foot-operated water pump isn’t sexy. Yet, it is so necessary. I suppose this type of thing is hard to understand when you didn’t grow up on a farm like I did and understand that water is the most precious thing in the world.
I mean, sure, maybe down the road I’ll find out something awful about KickStart and truth be told, I found Martin’s statements about the UN to be less than amazing. But from where I was sitting, this group is one of the few that really knows what they’re doing in their initiatives in Africa.
Moving Towards Human Power Part 2