In a recent Nicholas Kristof interview with Bill and Melinda Gates in The New York Times, when asked about any mistakes they made during their immense philanthropic endeavors, they mentioned that they would’ve taken a more “low tech” approach.
“So what mistakes did they make in their philanthropy? They say they started out too tech-focused. Now some of the measures they promote are distinctly low-tech — like breast-feeding, which could save the lives of more than 800,000 children worldwide each year.”
This topic resonates deeply with the global sanitation crisis the world is currently facing as well. For all the technological advances we make, for all the whiz-bang toilets we manufacture, there are also societal and educational hurdles we need to get past before any of this has an effect. These obstacles are easily as complex as the technology being developed and, in many cases, they are problems that can’t be solved quickly with the simple flip of a switch.
This is why field work is so important and, for our toilet project, has been invaluable.
Through active engagement with the people who are going to be using our toilet everyday we are listening and learning about their needs and potential concerns. Through this communication process, we are developing a sanitation/waste treatment solution that won’t languish after it’s been deployed. We’ll have already educated them on its use and maintenance. And they will want to use it because it’s familiar, clean and safe for anyone to use.
You see it happening more and more around sanitation, and hygiene (particularly in regards to women and girls/children). People are talking and it’s vital that we keep that dialogue alive and, most importantly, learn from it moving forward.
Having a conversation – engaging and educating people – is about as low-tech as you can get. Seeing the intrinsic value in this dialogue will be key to solving the world’s sanitation problems. We need to continue to have these conversations. Otherwise all of these high-tech solutions we’re so busy creating will only sit, unused, collecting dust, while antiquated ideals and ideas of how sanitation should be, carry on.