by Jess MacArthur, IDE Bangladesh
As a millennial, I have to admit: I really enjoy technology and innovation. I love to read innovation blogs and to dissect innovation theory. So just over two years ago as I began researching how innovation intersects development in the world of handpumps, I felt a bit stumped. An estimated 184 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) today rely on handpumps for their domestic water and many of these use designs that were developed before I was born. Yes, that makes me young and maybe that make you feel old. But mostly, it made me sit back and think. Is this beneficial or is this concerning? At the time I was helping Water4 navigate the policy-sphere around new handpump integration. I wanted to know why certain handpumps have more dominance in certain areas and how innovators can pilot in the sector with both evolutionary and revolutionary designs.
This paper is what has come out of my search to reconcile the tension between up-and-coming ideas and tried-and-true strategies; the no-beards and the grey-beards; the innovators and the very experienced. In the publication I explore three major topics:
- what handpumps are installed in each country in sub-Saharan Africa;
- what types of policy govern these installations and
- how these policies are enforced and complied to.
These polices are called standardisation policies and I have spent the last two years studying and pondering how they impact the modern Africa. I was able to spent time on the ground in Zambia, Togo and Ghana. I sat for days over books of standardisation theory in the law libraries of Oxford University. I interviewed pump designers, pump manufactures, sector experts and development organisations. I talked to someone with knowledge of every pump-using country on the continent. I may have even chatted with you.
As I began to unravel the tangled web of standardisation in SSA three things became apparent:
- just because it is written down doesn’t mean it is;
- both standardisation and innovation are necessary for sustainable development; and
- there is no silver bullet.
Every 10 years or so the development world seems to shift to a new theoretical frame and I continue to hear rumblings that we are moving towards a surge in innovation – just like we saw in the 1980s. I hope so. I really do. I hope we see the passion and energy that characterized a decade that made such incredible positive impact on water access and technology through innovation. I think all we need now is a champion.