The Wheels of Change

Introduction

Technology is a variable in an economic model which has the potential of impacting other variables in a significant way. It makes life and work easy and often bring in economic benefits. But the transition between technologies in real world is greasy—literarily and figuratively, and costly. While one cannot deny the movement of the wheel and the impacts it has on the development sector, the ground realities on overcoming the initial inertia of rest to gain a momentum, is something that we learnt it through our field.

At Dhriiti: Challenges Faced and Barriers in Implementing Technology Driven Interventions

A snapshot

When Dhriiti- The Courage Within first introduced the samples of Arecanut plates with the communities in the Chaaygaon-Boko Blocks of South Kamrup district, it was hard for many people to believe that these were made from arecanut leaf sheaths which were previously considered as a waste. At best, these sheaths were either used by people to make boundary walls for their homes or used by children in games and it could be now converted into something useful, aesthetic and also relevant in the current ecological dialogue of bio-degradable products. Over time the people were convinced and Dhriiti embarked on Project Pragati.  After extensive mobilisation through the early months of 2018, the training phase of the program begun. If we had thought that convincing people onto on-boarding the project was the tough bit, we were wrong. The project works with 35 women spread across 16 villages and the very first phase of training involved the technical aspect of operating the hydraulic machine. This is where we faced the first roadblock.


Cutleries made from Arecanut

Prior use of Arecanut Sheaths

For most of the women, the closest they have operated an electrical device was putting on and off a switch. And here we were, training them not only to simply operate a machine, but also perform the necessary maintenance and repair works. To be fair to the reader, this is not a machine using a cutting-edge technology that is completely new to India. It has been here for a few years, if not widely known. The machine used here is a 2-Axis Hydraulic Machine completely operating on electricity.

The breaking in into the complexities of operating a machine took place slowly. To make the trainees understand a machine was trying to make it a part of themselves, ingraining in them what could go wrong, what each noise meant and how to prevent or repair if something happened. This was not a matter of a week or even a month. Even after the machines were installed in their homes, out of the purview of a training schedule and when the women started operating them on a day to day basis—the problems surfaced. Most of these women were primary school educated and the general physical laws of currents and circuits were not clear to them. Hence a noise here or a spark there could raise an alarm and the women would shut down the machine completely and stop working for days before reporting and/or getting the repair done. We increasingly found many of these problems weren’t as alarming as reported but was born out of the sole fear of operating a “machine”. This took us months to solve. Re-training, refreshing and demystifying the workings of a machine is probably the only way forward in such cases.

The second problem that we faced was that of electricity. In most of the rural areas, constant and stable availability of electricity is still a problem, especially during the nor-wester season and pre-monsoon. The snapping of electric poles was a major problem during stormy weather. But even all year round, there is hardly a continuous availability of electricity during the day. Hence the productivity and the actual operation time on the machines remained low. Also, frictions arose in a few villages when voltage fluctuations in other people’s home were attributed to the operation of these machines, despite many of the villages already operating way above the allotted capacities (number of households per transformer). Resolving such problems required social involvement and sometimes cutting through the red tapes of bureaucracies, government departments etc. The machines were phased into Industrial Electric Connections, which required both money and time. Getting Industrial connection presented another issue— it required updated land and revenue documents of the owner of the business, often not present with the rural communities.

Technologies are inherently a mode of improvement of operations but it is often the behavioural aspects of the users and the environment of operation that needs tweaking when bringing in a new technology. While all concerned in the field of development—government and the various stakeholders are aware about it—our engines of development often get clogged with non-uniform paces of work from the various stakeholders participating in the action. At Dhriiti, our humbling experiences have taught us that developments often do not happen immediately nor does it occur with a noticeable magnitude, as it is essentially happening in a larger system. The impacts of a project which involves introducing a new technology often takes the time to bring to harmony all the stakeholders and it is then that true benefits of an activity are revealed.

-Bidisha Sinha

Bidisha Sinha works as a Program Manager at Dhriiti – The Courage Within. She currently oversees the Project Pragati in Chhaygaon. She holds a Masters degree in Quantitative Economics from Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta and has 4 years of experience working in the field of climate change and sustainable livelihoods. She can be reached at bidisha.sinha@dhriiti.com for more information and interaction.

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