Technology plays a critical role in development for good. It democratizes innovation and breeds contextualized spontaneous solutions. However, in the geography of aid for development, technological innovation is no longer linked to the progress and power of industrial technology. Nor can technology be narrowly defined just as IT.
The real source of inclusive and sustainable development grows out of the invisible technological inputs embodied in human knowledge, skills, practices and attitudes. Technology is above all social in nature. It embodies the products, processes and organizations that people use as multipliers to extend their abilities to improve their lives. It involves the use of tools, materials and systems in benefit of human progress in a way that is relevant, appropriate and meaningful within a particular socio-cultural context.
The Perscitus-Afrikalabelle REIH Model
Perscitus International LLC, in partnership with Afrikalabelle, the Africa Division of Upboost LLC, has developed the Rural Economic Integration Hub (REIH) model to enable international development organizations to invest with a positive and lasting impact in rural development in Africa, by building effective partnerships with the private sector and government. At the same time, it provides forward-looking investors with an opportunity to generate significant and sustainable triple-bottom returns: financial, social and environmental.
The REIH approach focuses on the socioeconomic geography of innovation and technological transfer and is posited on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) framework for generating shared returns and improving livelihoods, through access to appropriate and affordable technologies. It takes an asset-based approach to social technology. And is designed on the basis of in-depth “fuzzy variables” map overlays that provide a clear picture of how the poor use their resource base to develop livelihoods and resilience strategies under their control and then subsequently mobilize this base to generate income, produce additional resources and transfer knowledge and practices to broaden economic opportunity. It is presently being developed on the ground in Senegal.
An REIH is a physical building constructed on a minimum of 2.5 acres of land located in a local market hub. The operational model is holistic and develops existing and underexploited traditional and non-traditional rural potentialities that can trigger cumulative effects and provide a “bang for your buck”. An example is an integrated refrigeration technology hub that serves as the “catalytic converter” for doing, learning and communicating along the entire fruit and vegetable value chain. The key is to adapt sophisticated refrigeration technologies to local storage and sales requirements and practices in a way that empowers local communities to “grow” functionally integrated supply and value chains: improved processing capabilities + refrigeration + free cell-phone service + market infrastructure + transportation. The objective is to generate incremental profit within a period of 3-4 years so it can serve to attract mainstream investors looking for niche markets.
In essence, the REIH model provides a blueprint for “inclusive rural development in a toolkit”. By taking a bottom-up approach that builds on local expertise and knowledge, it organically grows capacity for innovative solutions that are: socially and contextually acceptable, can effectively facilitate local economic development by addressing contextually relevant production constraints and supply and value chain limitations and barriers, foster productive partnerships to promote and facilitate access to technology, and provide financially viable solutions for the delivery of socio-economically responsible development. At the same time, it establishes a nourishing business environment that translates impact investing from a compelling concept into sound strategies for investment and business development.
What is unique about the REIH model is that it engages the ultimate user – smallholders, women, youth – in an inclusive stakeholder engagement process at community, village, farm and citizen level to identify risks, project costs and benefits, and to provide culturally, socially and economically significant results. Insights are provided project-by-project, phase-by-phase, and village-by-village to ensure a fully integrated system is achieved.
Getting Technology Right
The emphasis in U.S. foreign aid in Africa has shifted from the use of physical capital to technological progress and institutional and policy innovations. But, as stated by the renowned economist William Easterly, “the top-down leaders and experts in technology do not have enough knowledge or incentives to get it right for the reality of what is happening at the bottom.”
Aid for development through technological innovation and transfer needs to take a more people-centric model focused on social technological progress through an asset-based approach that ensures a positive return on investment. By generating combined social value and economic value, an REIH ensures innovation, incentives and resources generate positively impactful development.
Perscitus International is a U.S.-based company headquartered in Washington D.C. specializing in technology sourcing and systems development. Afrikalabelle is the Africa Division of the U.S.-based company Upboost that specializes in rural development through impact investment in agribusiness in West Africa.